Orthodox Christians in Russia observe the feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 19, rather than Jan. 6, as in the West, because they follow the Julian calendar, which observes Christmas on Jan. 7.
The ceremony to purify the spirit drew half a million worshipers to natural and artificial pools at 4,000 sites across Russia on Friday, the government-run Channel One reported. Some of those people took a dip in the sea at Sochi and others plunged into water amid -58 degree weather in remote Yakutia. That region holds the title of the world's coldest permanently occupied village, where even eyelashes freeze.
The devotional moment represented another bare-chested media day for Putin, a leader who oversees a corrupt political system, imprisonment and torture of gays, ongoing harassment of and violence against journalists and apparent involvement in U.S. election meddling, but also a public relations operation to sustain the mythos of his machismo.
Putin has garnered wide attention for photos and video footage of him shirtless on horseback, shirtless fishing, shirtless hunting and now, shirtless worshiping.
This is not the first time Putin has taken part in the Epiphany ceremony, although it is the first publicly viewed occurrence, Peskov said. That may represent an effort to appeal to religious voters ahead of the March presidential election, which comes as public support of government policies dips to its lowest in a decade.
Putin has made an effort in recent years to connect religion and Communism, Newsweek reported, two concepts at odds since the anti-religious Russian Revolution a century ago.
The U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, will take part in an Epiphany ceremony over the weekend near Moscow, embassy spokeswoman Maria Olson said.
This post was updated to correctly describe the Julian calendar.