HOLY WATER — DURING EPIPHANY AND BAPTISMS
by Rev. Fr. Stylianos Muksuris
The water we drink is one of the most basic elements of human life. Every living and breathing organism needs water to live; without it, we die. Water is also used in several of the sacraments and divine services of the Orthodox Church. For example, water is always mingled with wine during the service of preparation, or proskomide, before the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. In addition, water serves as the chief element in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Finally, during the service of agiasmos, in which homes or the school year is blessed, it is water once again that is sprinkled over the building and the people.
Generally speaking, the use of material items in Orthodox church services signifies a very important tenet of the Christian Faith, namely, that all created matter, as affirmed in Holy Scripture, is good and beneficial to man (cf. Genesis 1:4, 12, 18, 21, 24, 31). And since God is the very author of creation, He Himself works through the natural order to touch the life of man and communicate with him. Through the drinking and sprinkling of water then, as the most basic of elements, God’s grace is communicated to man in an invisible but most profound way.
When water is placed in a large bowl for the service of agiasmos or when it is poured in the baptismal font in preparation for the baptism of a child or an adult, it retains its natural qualities; that is, it never ceases being the cool, refreshing water it is. However, when prayers are offered over the water, it becomes consecrated. In other words, although it retains its natural qualities, it is imbued with the invisible yet very powerful presence of God. Thus, when we partake of the holy water, it is not simply our bodies that are refreshed but our souls as well. In the holy water, God’s powerful arm is outstretched to us and His hand touches our very being, healing us and reconciling us with Him. In the consecrated baptismal waters, “sanctified by the descent, power, and operation of the Holy Spirit”, the water is transformed into “the water of redemption, the water of sanctification, a purification of flesh and spirit, a loosening of bonds, a forgiveness of transgressions, an illumination of the soul, a washing of regeneration, a renewal of spirit, a gift of adoption, a garment of incorruption, a fountain of life” (consecration prayer during the rite of Holy Baptism).
In the mind of the Church Fathers, holy water serves as an image of the redeemed world. In other words, water that has been consecrated by God’s grace has essentially been returned to that state of blessedness God intended for the world at Creation. It has been permeated by God’s presence – it has been deemed good. In the same way, we are called to consecrate our lives to Christ Jesus our Lord, to receive sanctification in the sacraments the Son of God established Himself, to be transformed and integrated into the Kingdom, and to become good ourselves. As holy water sanctifies us and unites us to God by having God touch our lives through it, so too can we, as consecrated vessels, unite others to God by having the Lord work through us. A blessed Epiphany season to all!