World

Women in Macedonia region banned from religious ceremony marking Epiphany

  • Macedonian Dusan Cimev, center, retrieves the wooden cross from Vardar River, cast by Macedonian Archbishop Stefan during the Epiphany ceremony in Skopje, Macedonia, on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015. Macedonian Orthodox Christians celebrate Epiphany across the country, commemorating the baptism of Christ according to the Julian calendar. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

    Macedonian Dusan Cimev, center, retrieves the wooden cross from Vardar River, cast by Macedonian Archbishop Stefan during the Epiphany ceremony in Skopje, Macedonia, on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015. Macedonian Orthodox Christians celebrate Epiphany across the country, commemorating the baptism of Christ according to the Julian calendar. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)  (The Associated Press)

  • Men jump into the cold water of the Vardar River to retrieve the wooden cross cast by Macedonian Archbishop Stefan, during the Epiphany ceremony in Skopje, Macedonia, on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015. Macedonian Orthodox Christians celebrate Epiphany across the country, commemorating the baptism of Christ according to the Julian calendar. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

    Men jump into the cold water of the Vardar River to retrieve the wooden cross cast by Macedonian Archbishop Stefan, during the Epiphany ceremony in Skopje, Macedonia, on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015. Macedonian Orthodox Christians celebrate Epiphany across the country, commemorating the baptism of Christ according to the Julian calendar. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)  (The Associated Press)

  • Macedonian Archbishop Stefan throws a wooden cross to bless the waters of the Vardar River in Skopje, Macedonia, during the Epiphany ceremony on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015. Macedonian Orthodox Christians celebrate Epiphany across the country, commemorating the baptism of Christ according to the Julian calendar. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

    Macedonian Archbishop Stefan throws a wooden cross to bless the waters of the Vardar River in Skopje, Macedonia, during the Epiphany ceremony on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015. Macedonian Orthodox Christians celebrate Epiphany across the country, commemorating the baptism of Christ according to the Julian calendar. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)  (The Associated Press)

An Orthodox Christian diocese in eastern Macedonia has banned female swimmers from taking part in the annual blessing of the waters ceremony to mark the Epiphany holiday.

Tens of thousands of people across the landlocked country Monday attended river and lakeside religious ceremonies, where swimmers raced to retrieve crosses thrown into the water.

Women were banned from taking part in the eastern Bregalnica area, where clergy said the cross should be retrieved by a man because of his role as traditional head of the family.

Police intervened in the area last year, when a female swimmer reached the cross first but had it forcibly taken from her by a man.