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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Faithful Fret at Warm Winter

MTPeople dunking themselves in the Moscow River during Epiphany on Friday.
The Orthodox faithful indulged on Friday in the annual tradition of plunging through ice holes into freezing water, but a key ingredient was missing: It was not cold.

Grandmothers, robed priests and burly businessmen can usually be seen leaping through holes in the ice on frozen rivers and lakes across the country to celebrate Orthodox Epiphany. Freezing temperatures mean special helpers have to skim off the ice that forms in seconds in the ice holes.

But the warmest winter in a generation melted the ice and snow, leaving the faithful fretting about their traditional winter swim.

"We have never had such weather -- I have never seen anything like it," said Vladimir Grebyonkin, 66, who takes a dip every year and is chairman of a winter swimming association.

Christian Orthodox Epiphany celebrates the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan when worshipers believe the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove. It is celebrated on Jan. 19.

"You of course do not really have to have snow -- there was no snow where Christ was baptized. So we will be taking a swim as usual," Grebyonkin said, before inviting a reporter to take a dip.

People have been shocked by this year's blazing -- for European Russia -- weather.

"This year there is no ice and so no holes in the ice: believers will have to just jump into cold water," bemoaned the popular daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Not just believers, but bears at Moscow Zoo have had their winter habits undermined by the heat: the bears dropped off late for their hibernation and two have already woken up early.

But they may have woken up too soon. A snowstorm blew into Moscow over the weekend, blanketing the city in white and sending nighttime temperatures down to minus 5 degrees Celsius. The temperate is expected to dip to minus 7 C on Monday night and then to minus 10 C by the end of the week, reported Sunday. Daytime temperatures are forecast to hover around zero, but a strong wind will make the air feel colder.

Moscow airports have not been affected by the wind and heavy snowfall, but pilots have been advised to make flight decisions at their own discretion, RIA-Novosti reported.

An air traffic control official told the news agency that visibility at the airports was normal -- more than 1,000 meters -- and no flights had been re-routed to alternative airports.

The Atlantic wind, which swept across Europe before reaching Russia and has been dubbed by Russian meteorologists as "Cyclone Kirill," has brought down 15 power lines and shut down more than 100 power sub-stations in northwestern Russia, RIA-Novosti said.

(Reuters, MT)