What is the significance of the blessing of the waters?

The feast of Epiphany celebrates the Baptism of Christ by St John the Forerunner. On this day, and on the day before (5 January), the Church performs the Great Blessing Service during which the Bishop or Priest calls upon the Holy Spirit to bless the waters. In many parts of the world around this time there is also another Blessing Service during which huge crowds go to the sea or river and those waters are blessed as well.

As we all know, we use water to clean. St John of Damascus says that Christ was not baptised because he had a need for cleansing, but rather that He appropriated our need for cleansing.

The same Saint goes on to explain that there existed an impression that demons lurked in water. Christ was baptised to destroy the heads of the demons, to wash us of sin and to bury in the water the old Adam.

Christ was baptized and became a model and example for our perfect Baptism which occurs with water and the Holy Spirit.

St Gregory the Theologian describes five types of baptism: (1) the baptism of Moses, which brought only temporary cleansing; (2) the baptism of St John the Forerunner, who baptized the people with the baptism of repentance; (3) the baptism of Christ, by which people become Christians and which occurs through the action of the Holy Spirit; (4) the baptism of martyrdom and blood; and, (5) the baptism of repentance and tears.

We can take two key spiritual lessons in these concepts. First, we must not fall into despair. One may have been led astray and fallen deeply into a life of sin. Sometimes people come to their senses and feel enormous shame for the sins they have committed, but believe there is no hope for them. They feel they can never return to the Church and they despair of their own salvation. The truth is that they can be cleansed, and with the help of Christ and the Church they can be transformed. This blessed journey of return begins with repentance and confession – a spiritual guide is needed and miracles of repentance do occur. It may not be easy but if they surrender themselves to Christ and come to love Christ, bad habits and passions can be broken.

The second lesson is that if the demons do not use despair to keep us away from Christ, they may use pride and complacency. Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). If we believe we are righteous, if we are constantly excusing ourselves, if we find fault in others and never in ourselves, then Jesus did not come for us. The truth is that we are all sinners. If we honestly examine even a section of one of our days, we will discover many feelings, thoughts, words and actions that are sinful, wrong, foolish and bad. We all need to be cleansed and transformed by Christ. As we say in the Liturgy, “may we complete the remainder of our life in peace and repentance.”


† Fr D. K


Source: Lychnos December 2020 – January 2021