Epiphany/Theophany: Blessing of the Waters

Blessing of the Waters

The feast of the Epiphany or Theophany is a very special feast day in all of Catholic and Orthodox Christianity and is marked by remembering Christ’s baptism in the Jordan. Typically, water is blessed on this day. The rituals differ from church to church but here are some blessing of the water rituals (intentionally kept brief):

Megas Agiasmos, Greek Orthodox Great Blessing of the Water.
Epiphany, Theophany in the Eastern and Orthodox Church, is one of the oldest and most important feast days of the Orthodox Church, commemorates the manifestation of the Holy Trinity which took place at the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River. The blessing involves an “exorcism” casting out the evil spirits and then plunging the cross into the water. The ritual is done in a vessel containing the water and is done outdoors (wells, rivers, sea, etc.).

Blessing the Waters

Eastern Rite: Ukrainian Catholic Blessing of the Water, is done by recitation of ritual prayers, the use of oil and salt, and then plunging a set of three candles into the water. This is done indoors using a large bowl of water. The photo shows the ritual being done outdoors, blessing the waters.

The Roman Catholic ritual is similar, in that a vessel of water is blessed using salt, oil, and immersion of lighted candles, while reciting the ritual prayers.

The Maronite ritual is much simplified and consists of a prayer invoking God’s blessing on the natural element of water. Three lighted bits of charcoal, each in the name of a person of the Trinity, are plunged sequentially into the water, accompanied by special prayer.

Poland Spring Holy Water

In a local Maronite ritual at St Ann Maronite Catholic Church in Troy, New York, I was present and observed the ritual. During the ritual the priest sent one of the sacristans out to get a case of small Poland Spring Bottled Water, which they then proceeded to distribute to the assembly. This raised several questions in my theologian’s head: Did this unusual action of including commercial bottled water mean that the Poland Spring water was now “holy water?” Did the blessing done on the water in the bowl somehow “jump” out onto the bottled water? Somehow using the profane in a sacred ritual was scandalizing. I had never seen such a thing done on such a solemn occasion in all of my inter-ecclesial experience.

Holy Water To Go

To be very honest, I was nothing less than shocked to see this being done. Having witnessed the sacred solemnity in the Orthodox, Byzantine, Roman Catholic rituals, where we bring holy water bottles if we want to take some home, this experience in the Maronite parish and the use of commercial bottled water (not even present during the blessing), was a real shocker! Based on my studies of liturgical leadership, this is one of the instances where the presider, the priest, made a very bad impression.

Please share your experiences and impressions; leave your comments on these observations.


One response to “Epiphany/Theophany: Blessing of the Waters

  • David the Nicene Hobbit

    I attend a Maronite parish here in Austin, Texas. I can tell you that our priest, Monsignor Sawyer, does it right. What is distributed is what has been blessed. There ARE priests who do things that are not proper but, for the most part, I think Maronite priests “do it right”.

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