THE EPIPHANY BLESSING OF THE WATERS.
(Specially written for FIRE AND WATER.)
On the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) or Twelfth Day, as it is still called in England, throughout the whole of the Oriental Church, whether Orthodox, as the Russian branch claims to be, Coptic, Nestorian, Abyssinian, or Armenian, the ceremony of blessing the water is practised. The origin of this is traced back (1) to the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan by St. John the Baptist, and (2) to the marriage at Cana of Galilee, where Christ wrought His first recorded miracle—the first of His public ministry—when He turned the water into wine. Each of these manifestations of. His Divinity is commemorated by the Church Universal in her Epiphany services, objectively, by the Holy Eastern Church; subjectively. by the Anglican and Anglo-American and Roman Churches. Hence, one of the ancient names of the festival is “Festum Lavacri”—the Feast of the Washing—referring, of course, to Christ’s Baptism, in memory of which the Church before the schism between East and West, used to administer Baptism with the same amount of high ceremonial as on Easter Day or Whitsunday—a custom which still survives in the Eastern Church, but has been given un in the Western branches.
On this day, therefore, the Eastern Church blesses water, on the ground that that of the Jordan was consecrated by its contact with the person of Christ. Epiphanius, also, one of the earlv fathers of the Eastern Church, in writing of the miracle at Cana of Galilee, associates it with this feast. He says that it happened “about Tybi it (January 6),” and adds in perfect simplicity and good faith that on the anniversarv of the miracle on that day “sundry fountains and rivers [among them the Nile] were changed into wine.” The liturgy of St. Ambrose, also (a Western’ liturgy) refers to the Baptism in the Jordan and says that “on this day (the Epiphany) the springs of water received Thy blessing and took far away from us the curse of Adam.” He also mentions the ceremonials blessing and consecration of the water. In the liturgies of the Gallican Church, especialy in the Gothico-Gallic Missal and the Gallican Sacramentary (Western compilations), as well as in the Mozarabic, or Spanish Missal, the same allusions and ceremonies arc to be found; but, as already stated, the Epiphany teaching and practice of the Western Church on this feast is subjective, while that of the Eastern Church is objective, as is seen in the solemn benediction of the waters of the river Neva—founded on the Epiphany liturgical rites—that of the water in the baptisteries, and the rest. The prophetical lection, epistle, and Gospel for this rite are respectively Isaiah xxxv., lv., xii. 3-6; I Cor. x. 1-4; and St. Mark i. 9-11.
This consecration of the water look place at night between the eve of the Epiphany and the celebration of the feast itself, and is alluded to by St. Chrysostom, who mentions that the worshipers would carry some of the consecrated water home with them, and that it would keep sweet and pure for a year, even for three. The Russian peasant of to-day, misunderstanding and twisting out of its symbolical signification the meaning of what is to him a mysterious ceremony, entertains many superstitious ideas as to the supernatural powers of the water thus blessed
The Oriental ritual as used on the occasion, while it commemorates the Adoration of the Magi in conjunction with the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan and the miracle at Cana of Galilee, by the ceremonial attaching to the blessing and consecration of the water brings the second and third of these events into much greater prominence, and has the formularies so arranged as to embrace, first and chiefly, the waters of the world as typified by a single river—the ancient Nile—pagan Egypt’s object of adoration, the emblem and source of fertility—for all the Orient, and for political reasons, the Neva at St. Petersburg, the almost sacred river of the dominions of the Czar— the head of the Russo-Greek Church, and, second, water to be used for Baptism and the purposes of ceremonial sprinkling. The whole idea is evidently based upon Nature-worship, of which the worship of water as a symbol of purity and fertility formed a great portion.