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News 21 Jan 14

Holy Day Takes Aggressive Turn in Macedonia

Macedonian clerics say traditional Epiphany ceremonies - when crosses are thrown into rivers and retrieved by divers jumping in - are turning into a far-from-Christian bunfight.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Vodici in Struga, Macedonia | Photo by: Zlatko Menkinoski

Clerics of the Macedonian Orthodox Church - the country's main faith - have voiced dismay about the thuggish behaviour shown by some participants in an ancient religious festival.

On Sunday, to mark Orthodox Epiphany, youths traditionally compete to catch a cross thrown into a nearby river.

In recent years, however, there have been complaints that what should be a joyful competition to find the cross has become increasingly bad-tempered.

In the central town of Stip, police had to intervene to retrieve a cross that was grabbed out of the hands of the winner, a female contestant.

Appeals by the local priest for the thief to return it did not help, and he went home with it before being reported to the police.

The main ceremony in the capital, Skopje and attended by the Church leader, Archbishop Stefan, was also marred by unsporting behaviour.

Contestants annoyed the priests in charge of the ceremony by refusing to get out of the water of the Vardar River before they had thrown the cross into it. The priests had to threaten not to throw the cross into the river at all before they saw reason.

“There is no justification for those who compete for the cross out of material reasons,” Boban Mitevski, an Orthodox cleric, complained, adding that “participation in Church rituals should be marked by humility and patience, and faith is of the utmost importance”.

On the feast day of Epiphany, Christians celebrate the revelation of Jesus Christ as the son of God.

The commemoration of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, seen as his manifestation to the world as the son of God, is especially important among Orthodox Christians.

In Macedonia, Epiphany is known as "Vodici". At ceremonies in a number of areas, crosses are thrown into nearby rivers, and retrieved by men and boys, for good luck.

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Traditionally, the Church rewarded the person who found the cross with a copy of the bible and a blessing.

But in another upsetting development, clerics say people now expect to get TVs, computers and home appliances.

They say the growing gift culture is encouraging the wrong sort of people to take part in these events.

“The alarm has been raised, and we should see that in future we act in accordance with our Christian teachings, which place order and humility above chaos and gluttony,” a priest from the Church said.

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