For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
If the earth could speak or sing, I’m sure that the most often heard word would be “ouch” and the song would sound like a country song (no offense to country music, but many songs have a melancholy theme like “my tractor is broke, my wife is leaving me and the dog died”). I imagine the song of the earth would sound like “the air is filthy, the water’s dirty, and there is trash everywhere.” And the “ouch” would be for every time we drop a piece of trash somewhere.
Today is the feast of Theophany. The centerpiece of this feast of the revelation of the Holy Trinity, for the first time in human history. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, is baptized in the Jordan River. History says that the Jordan River reversed course when the Son of God entered into it, out of awe and fear that the Creator was touching the water He created. The Holy Spirit alights on Christ, and the Son of God is heard endorsing Jesus as the Christ, “This is my beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)
In every church, there is a ceremony called “The Blessing of the Waters,” where a basin of water is blessed. The prayers in the service call upon the Holy Spirit to come down on the water, as it came down and alighted on Jesus at Theophany. The prayers call on the Holy Spirit, through the water, to sanctify us. The most basic building block of the human body is water. We then partake of the water, so that this blessed water becomes part of our bodies and hopefully reconsecrates them. With blessed water entering us, hopefully we take the opportunity to reflect on the cleanliness of our bodies—what we think about, what we see, what we do, how we take care of ourselves from both a hygiene and health perspective. All of these things should be part of the blessing of the waters.
There is also a custom to bless water outside. This is to reconsecrate creation, taking the blessed water from the church and pouring it into a body of water in nature—a lake, a river, an ocean. In countries where it is cold, people cut holes in ice and snow in order to bless water. In warmer areas, a ceremony is held outside where a cross is thrown into a body of water and retrieved by young people who dive in to get it. (In cold weather areas, where no one is going to dive for the cross, the priest or bishop ties a ribbon around the cross and throws it into the water and then pulls it back. I’m guessing that on one such occasion, the ribbon broke, and the priest said “that’s an expensive cross, someone dive in and get it and you’ll get a special blessing,” and perhaps this is how a new tradition came into being—many of our Orthodox Traditions are born like this. And why teenage boys? Because who else is going to jump into freezing cold water and think that is cool? Again, just my take on this). Where I live in the Tampa Bay area, we have the largest Theophany cross dive in the western hemisphere in nearby Tarpon Springs, where I’ll be today, the problem with the cross dive is that this is what people are going out to Tarpon Springs to see—the “brave young men”, who is going to get the cross, etc. It’s even advertised in the local media as the annual cross dive.
The purpose of the blessing of the waters is to reconsecrate creation—ourselves and our planet—and this is totally getting lost in a popular cultural event which is quickly becoming devoid of spiritual meaning. When we receive Holy Communion, an extraordinary experience given to ordinary people, it is supposed to change us. We are supposed to become extraordinary—what we say with our mouths, what we think with our minds, etc. As we partake and are sprinkled with Holy Water, this water that has been graced by the Holy Spirit, is also supposed to make us extraordinary. We should think carefully how we can contribute to the improvement of the environment. It should start off with the language we put out into the environment—words of encouragement or words of judgment. It should include our hands and making sure they do not drop things into the environment that pollute it. How amazing it would be if all 25,000 people who descend onto Spring Bayou in Tarpon Springs picked up five pieces of trash—we’d leave that place sparkling. Unfortunately, the opposite will be true—a cleaning crew will have to come in and clean up the mess of 25,000 people. How about cleaning our yards, trimming our trees, taking shorter showers, and not wasting food. There are so many small ways we can be better stewards of our environment. I’m not suggesting radical things like not driving, but simple things like not littering or being wasteful.
Going back to the beginning of this message, if nature could sing and announce your arrival, based on how you treat nature, would that song be “Ode to Joy” or the menacing tune played when Darth Vader enters a scene in “Star Wars”? And as we reconsecrate creation today, think how you can be part of the solution to a better environment—not only from an ecological perspective, but from a safety perspective and a positive/negative perspective—how can you be a positive force, rather than a negative one, in the world, specifically in the environment.
Your kingdom, O Christ God, is a kingdom of all the ages, and Your dominion is from generation to generation. You who were incarnate by the Holy Spirit and became man by the ever-virgin Mary, have shone on us as light, by Your advent, O Christ God. Light of light, the brightness of the Father, You have brightened all creation. Everything that breathes praises You, the express image of the Father’s glory. O God, the One who is and who pre-existed, and who shone forth from the Virgin, have mercy on us. (Kekragaria, Vespers of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: Have you ever imagined the sounds of nature actually singing to the Lord?