I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
I Corinthians 10: 1-4 (From the Epistle at the Great Blessing of the Waters)
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when He came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art My beloved Son; with Thee I am well pleased.”
Mark 1: 9-11 (From the Gospel at the Great Blessing of the Waters)
One of the Liturgical rituals that takes place on the Feast of Theophany is the “Blessing of the Waters.” In all churches, at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, the priest will bless a basin containing water, then plunge a blessing cross into the water, the sprinkle water over the entire church building, and as people leave, he will bless each one of them by sprinkling them on the head with the now Holy Water. People can also take bottles of the Holy Water home and are encouraged to drink some of the Holy Water on the feast of Theophany. Holy Water is also something that can be kept year-round in a home. It is not sacramental, like Holy Communion. Some people like to drink the Holy Water frequently. If you have a bottle of Holy Water that is getting close to empty (but it not empty), simply add more water to it. Non-Orthodox may also approach to be sprinkled with Holy Water and may partake of Holy Water.
Why water? Why bless water as opposed to something else? Most of the earth is comprised of water. So is most of the human body. Water is the most basic substance on earth. The purpose of blessing the water is to re-consecrate the waters, and through the waters, all of the world, on this feast of the Theophany of Christ.
History holds that before the time of Christ, the Jordan River reversed its course when Christ descended into the river to be baptized. The phenomenon continues to this day each year at the feast of Theophany, when the waters are sanctified, the flow temporarily reverses. With Christ coming to the earth, the “flow” of the history of mankind was changed. Where there was no hope for redemption, now there is hope. Where there was gloom over sin, there is now forgiveness. Where there was nothing to look forward to at the end of life, now there is salvation.
The Feast of Theophany not only reminds us of this, but calls us, in the first days of the New Year, to reconsecrate ourselves, our lives, our purpose, our time, our bodies, etc. and to rededicate them to Christ. As the Holy Water unites with our bodies, it is with the hope that the prayers and blessings uttered over them will also enter into us.
In areas where there is warm weather, the Blessing of the Waters is also held outdoors. A cross is thrown into a body of water and young men plunge in the water to retrieve it. I have always liked this custom of blessing a body of water. When I was a child, I “dove for the cross” in Long Beach, CA, and with the blessing of the water and the throwing of the cross into Long Beach Harbor, not only the harbor was blessed, but water from that harbor goes into the Pacific Ocean and flows throughout the world. In Florida, where I have served for many years, a similar service is held in Tarpon Springs, blessing Spring Bayou, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Symbolically, the blessing of waters outdoors blesses the entire world.
As we are still only a few days into the New Year, as many of us make resolutions to rededicate ourselves to healthy eating and exercise, we should rededicate ourselves to a more committed and healthy spiritual life as well. A great way to start is to attend the Divine Liturgy on Theophany, be blessed with the Holy Water and be reconsecrated through the beautiful prayers that are offered. One of the prayers, authored by Patriarch Sophronios, appears after today’s Prayer Team Message. The prayers in the service that continue after this one are borrowed from the Sacrament of Baptism. While we do not re-baptize in our church, these prayers of baptism are offered over the congregation at the Feast of Theophany. And while we are not immersed in water on Theophany, the Holy Water that has been blessed comes onto and into each of us, recommitting us (if we’ve approached with the right demeanor in our souls) to the Christ and the Christian life.
Please take a few minutes and slowly reflect on prayer which follows. It’s language is beautiful, powerful and timeless. At a time when we need prayers over the whole world, it is a time for all of us to focus our prayers on the healing of our whole world. This is what the prayers of Theophany ask each year. Never has it been more important for us to come and offer them together. If possible, attend the Divine Liturgy today, either in person or on line. If that is not possible, please take a few minutes and reflect on the prayer which is below.
We glorify You O merciful Master Almighty King from all ages; we glorify You the Creator and Maker of all; we glorify You the only-begotten Son of God, fatherless from Your Mother, and motherless from Your Father. In the former festival we saw You as a babe, but in the present one we see You as our perfect and revealed God, from perfect God. Today the hour of our festival has come, and the choir of the saints assembles with us, and Angeles celebrate together with men. Today the grace of the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, has descended upon the waters. Today the Sun, which knows no setting, has risen, and the world is illumined with the light of the Lord. Today the moon with shining rays shines forth upon the world. Today the glowing stars adorn the universe with the splendor of their luster. Today the clouds refresh mankind by raining down righteousness from heaven. Today the uncreated willingly accepts the laying on of hands from His own creature. Today the Prophet and Forerunner approaches the Master but is seized with fear, seeing the condescension of God for us. Today the streams of Jordan are changed into healing waters by the presence of the Lord. Today all creation is watered with mystical streams. Today the offences of men are washed away by the waters of Jordan. Today Paradise is opened to men, and the Sun of righteousness shines upon us. Today the bitter water of the time of Moses becomes most sweet for the people from the presence of the Lord. Today we were released from our ancient woe, and as a new Israel we were saved. Today we were redeemed from darkness and illumined by the light of the knowledge of God. Today the gloom of the world is lifted away by the revelation of our God. Today all creation is made bright from Above. Today error has been abolished and the coming of the Master is showing us the way to salvation. Today those Above celebrate with those below, and those below converse with those Above. Today the holy and joyful festival of the Orthodox rejoices. Today the Master comes to baptism, so that He may lift mankind up high. Today He who stoops not, stoops down to His own servant, so that He may set us free from bondage. Today we have purchased the Kingdom of Heaven, for there is no end to the Kingdom of the Lord. Today earth and sea share the joy of the world, and the world has been filled with gladness. The waters saw You, O God, the waters saw You and were afraid. Jordan was driven back when it saw the fire of the Godhead descending in bodily form and entering in it. Jordan was driven back when it beheld the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending and hovering around You. Jordan was driven back when it saw the invisible made visible, the Creator made incarnate, and the Master in the form of a servant. Jordan was driven back and the mountains leaped when they saw God in the flesh, and the clouds cried out marveling at the One who came, light of light, true God of true God, as they beheld the feast of the Master in the Jordan today. For He Himself plunged in the Jordan the death of disobedience, the sting of error and the bond of Hades, and gave to the world the Baptism of salvation. (Prayer of Patriarch Sophronios of Jerusalem, Trans. by Fr. Evagoras Constantinides, from the book “Ten Special Services.”)
Rededicate yourself to Christ and the Christian life on this feast of Theophany!