SIOUX CITY -- Nearly a dozen Siouxlanders braved the bitter cold Friday to observe local Eastern Orthodox priests bless the Missouri River in Sioux City.

Each Jan. 6, Eastern Orthodox Christians throughout the world celebrate Theophany, which in Greek mean "manifestation of God." The day commemorates the baptism of Christ and the divine revelation of the Holy Trinity. While all parishes hold an in-church Blessing of the Water Service, annual outdoor services along a major waterway like the Missouri is a rarity in the Midwest.

On Friday, parishoners gathered behind Bev's on the River in Chris Larsen Park for a blessing led by The Rev. Father Dimitri Tobias of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church and The Rev. Lucas Rice of St Thomas Antiochian Orthodox Church. Mayor Bob Scott was among the attendees.

Each priest tossed into the river and then retrieved a blessed cross, symbolic of Christ’s baptism in the River Jordan.

As part of the Blessing of the Water tradition, holy water is given to the faithful to consume and to use in blessing their homes. In the weeks following the service, clergy visit the homes of parishioners and conduct a service of blessing, using the water blessed on the holiday. An associated tradition has been the tossing of a cross into the water to be retrieved, in warmer climates by divers.

In Sioux City, The Rev. Lucas Rice introduced the annual service five years ago.

This year, outdoor services also were held in seven other cities within the Metropolis of Chicago, which includes Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota and large portions of Missouri and Indiana. In Iowa, blessings took place in the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, the Des Moines River in Des Moines and the Mississippi River in Dubuque.

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