The president appears healthy.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin dipped into frigid waters early Friday at a lake in northwestern Russia to mark the Orthodox observance of the Epiphany, which commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.
The president arrived for the pre-dawn ceremony flanked by journalists with video cameras and monks holding gold icons depicting Jesus and his mother Mary, then strode to a wooden platform cut into frozen Lake Seliger. He lowered himself into the water, made a sign of the cross and submerged himself for a moment, in a scene captured by state media. His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the temperature was about 21 degrees Fahrenheit.
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.