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.).
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.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. 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.