The Water of Life
Yesterday, a mild January Sunday, with a gray sky overhead releasing a misty rain, the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia was blessed. It badly needed it. Silt and weed buildup over the last decade or more has rendered the river a challenge for rowers. The usual bureaucratic red tape has held up much needed dredging. Yet these matters were nowhere near the forefront of reasons prayers were made over the river. The theme and rationale for the Orthodox Blessing of the Waters was the Epiphany of the Lord.
Almost all of the Orthodox jurisdictions in the Philadelphia area, along with the Anglican Fellowship of the Delaware Valley, were represented at the Blessing. They came to the boathouse to carry out a valued rite of recalling Jesus' Holy Baptism - His immersion in the murky water of the Jordan, an act which consecrated forever that particular body of water.
The service yesterday also marked a renewal of closer fellowship between traditional Anglicans and Orthodox, a friendship which had been lagging in recent decades. I am getting to know a number of Orthodox clergy in and around Philadelphia, and that has been a blessing in and of itself.
During the "Blessing of the Waters" it is not only the river which is blessed. The congregants are sprinkled with holy water and presented with bottles of the same to take home. They are reminded of the divine gift of water, a sign of the beneficence of our God; water to quench our thirst, grow our crops, clean our bodies, and bless ourselves and others. The Blessing of Waters is symbolic of the blessing of all Creation by our Heavenly Father, who at the beginning looked upon everything which He had made, and it was good. It recalls for the faithful their own baptisms, and the sealing of our souls by the Holy Spirit, thus binding us to Christ and to the Kingdom of God.
Water has been a constant companion in my life. I have always lived near lakes, rivers, streams and oceans. I have lived "in" them, as a swimmer, rower and fisherman. I have harvested their bounty. I have meditated upon their power and beauty. Most importantly I have been baptized by water and the Holy Spirit.
What a sight it was yesterday to see the vested clergy with choir and congregation standing on the dock overlooking Boathouse Row and the City [with the appropriately named and historic Water Works building in the background. It was a reminder, in the midst of the secular disorder, that God is still in control of the world. He makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall, the rivers to rise and the desert to bloom.
God bless you this week,
Fr. Thomas Monnat