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Putin takes dip in icy Russian Lake Seliger on Epiphany

MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken a dip in icy lake waters to celebrate Epiphany, a major holiday in Orthodox Christianity marking the baptism of Jesus.

Russian television stations have shown the 65-year-old Putin approaching a hole cut in the ice on Lake Seliger in northwestern Russia and then dunking himself in and crossing himself.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the president had dipped in icy waters on the Epiphany before, but Friday marked the first time he publicly did so.

When asked by a reporter, "Is it cold?" the Russian president responded, "No. It's great," the AFP news agency reported.

In Orthodox tradition, water blessed by a priest during Epiphany week is considered holy and pure, and believers attribute healing powers to it.

Authorities set up bathing sites for believers all over Russia, including some areas in Siberia where temperatures dipped below -22 F.

Last year, two million Russians took part in the ritual, which normally takes place on January 18 and 19, the AFP reported.