More than 1,000 Orthodox Christian faithful attended the annual Epiphany Day blessing of the waters in Famagusta in Cyprus‘ breakaway Turkish Cypriot north. It was the first time the ceremony has taken place since 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup aiming at union with Greece divided the island.
In keeping with tradition, Archimandrite Avgoustinos Karras hurled a silver cross into the cold waters of the eastern Mediterranean as about 20 daring swimmers dashed into the sea to retrieve it. The ritual is called the Blessing of the Water and symbolizes Jesus’ baptism in River Jordan.
Organizer Pavlos Lacovou told The Associated Press that several Turkish Cypriots also attended Wednesday’s ceremony.
Acting as the backdrop to the ceremony was the Turkish military-controlled suburb of Varosha that has remained a virtual ghost town for 42 years, ensconced in a chain-link fence that keeps everyone out.
The ceremony was the latest in a number of recent, faith-oriented acts of rapprochement between the island’s majority Orthodox Christian, Greek-speaking and the Muslim, Turkish speaking populations. They aim to underscore that religion doesn’t drive a wedge between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.