An estimated two million Russians took a dip in icy waters Monday to celebrate Epiphany, a major holiday in Orthodox Christianity marking the birth and baptism of Jesus.

Water blessed by a priest on the Epiphany week in Orthodox tradition is considered holy and pure, and bathing is believed to have healing powers.

In Moscow, authorities set up 60 official bathing sites for believers Monday night, from open air pools to holes in the ponds. Temperatures in Moscow were –10 C overnight.

Three times into the icy water cleanses the soul.

Ice pool - Moscow Epiphany

A man dunks three times in a pool of frigid water in the centre of Moscow, 50 metres from the Kremlin. Women in furs and men in parkas queue in long lines, before they strip down in warming huts and climb into the pools in the dead of night. Dunking in holy water is meant to cleanse one’s sins. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

One each for the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Devout

A woman emerges from icy water at Revolution Square, just steps from the Kremlin. In Russia the ritual of cleansing one's body of sins for the Epiphany requires three dunks in the icy water. One for the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Those who brave the dunking describe it as 'magical,' ‘euphoric’ and ‘spiritual.’ (Corinne Seminoff/CBC )

The water is sanctified and purified through prayer before it's considered holy and fit for immersion.

Blessing the water

His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia blessing the water at the official Epiphany ceremony in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The water is sanctified and purified through prayer before it’s considered holy and fit for immersion. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

Russia has a growing number of people who say they are believers.

Deep prayer - Moscow Epiphany

In Moscow’s Church of Christ the Saviour, a worshipper prays at the divine service of the Epiphany. Russia has seen a steady climb in the number of people, young and old who say they are believers. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC)

Three young Russians come to the Epiphany ritual for the first time.

First timers

Trying to stay warm and psyched, three young Russians wait in line in sub-zero temperatures, bracing themselves for a plunge in the frigid Moscow River for the first time. They came to the banks of Moscow’s most popular swimming hole. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC)

Holy water is kept at home for drinking and purifying the soul throughout the coming year.

Filling up with holy water

People line up to get jars and bottles filled with Holy water blessed by the Patriarch of all Russia. They keep the water at home for drinking and purifying the soul throughout the coming year. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC )

Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church blesses a congregation.

Patriarch Kirill of Russian Orthodox Church

The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, blesses the congregation by anointing them with holy water. Part of the ritual of the Epiphany to cleanse the body and soul of its sins over the previous year. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC )

Making their way to the river …

Making their way to river

Two girls shed their outer clothes in the snow beside the river and step quickly to the open water. At –11 C, with no wind, this Epiphany night was relatively mild. In some parts of Russia, people dunk in water at –30 and colder. The water is warmer than the air.

Russian rescue personnel help people into the water.

Moscow River

In Khoroshevo-Mnevniki on the Moscow River, hundreds of people come in the wee hours of the morning to immerse themselves in a hole cut in the frozen river. A wooden frame marks the spot, as Russian rescue personnel help people into the water and watch for any signs of cracking ice on the river, or of hypothermia. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

With files from The Associated Press