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Due to the country’s past, religious practice is a very private matter in contemporary Albania. However, once you interact with the people living here, you may still witness some rites and activities that are religious or at least have religious origins. One example of this is the use of holy water by both Orthodox and Catholic Christians. Besides its ritual use during religious ceremonies, the water is sprinkled onto humans, other living beings, and physical objects to convey blessings and ward off evil, or ingested to cure all kinds of illnesses and diseases.
In Eastern Orthodox Churches, the use of holy water goes back to the story of the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist. According to tradition, John baptised his followers in the Jordan River in order to symbolically wash away their sins. Since Jesus was God Incarnate and had no sins to wash away, the effect of his baptism was slightly different: The water itself became holy instead. This miracle is commemorated and re-enacted by Easter Orthodox communities every year on January 6, and definitely worth a visit!
The holiday is called Theophany or The Blessing of the Waters, and is all about exactly what the name tells – the blessing of the waters. Usually, Orthodox Christians first gather for a mass inside the church. After the mass, a procession leads to the nearest natural body of water, where a priest ceremoniously throws a cross into the water. Now the fun really starts: Under the loud cheers of the bystanders, a group of youth will dive into the cold floods and compete to retrieve the cross. The swimmer who wins the fierce battle, receives a special blessing to himself and his household and some small gifts. He also usually is allowed to keep the cross for some time after the event.
If the weather is too cold, sometimes the ceremony is instead taking place inside the church or another building, and the natural body of water replaced with a small swimming pool. In either case, the believers in the end fill some of the now blessed water into vessels and take it home, to use it throughout the year.
Tip: You can witness the Blessings of the Water for example in Elbasan, Durres, or Berat.