Yesterday I stood huddled in a small group of Orthodox Christians from around my city, nearly outnumbered by the priests from the various parishes, as we chanted prayers and heard the readings for the Feast of the Theophany. Even though Indiana, like most everywhere else, is having a mild winter, it’s still January and it’s still cold. I have missed the service every year since my conversion because of work obligations (pesky thing, work), but with it falling on a Saturday this year, I was so excited.
We held the service at the headwaters of our three rivers, swollen and debris-filled from so much rain. And the site selected, behind some ramshackle houses, on a moldy boardwalk running to the city’s skateboard park, was less than pristine.
But it seemed appropriate to me, especially as the basil-filled cross-shaped ice cube broke up and floated all green and clean-looking in the muddy water. The priests dropped it into the water after prayers blessing the waters and recognizing the significance of Christ’s baptism, the revelation of the Triune God, and then our own baptism for the forgiveness of sins and uniting us with Him. Then this morning, after Divine Liturgy, I was able to make a long-awaited, much-needed confession.
As I watched the ice cross after the service, standing on that wooden walkway by myself, I was at the same time disgusted and captivated by the site of all the refuse in the water–styrofoam, plastic bottles, ketchup packet wrappers and gunk. But it was blessed gunk–the priests just did it, I saw it.
I am that water, in a way. All filled with cold, dark, and nasty. But through the Cross, through Baptism, through the life of His Church, I am blessed and am being purified.
We have had much discussion lately in my family about the Orthodox definition of Salvation, and our insistence in answering: I was saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved. On this, the weekend of the Theophany, the weekend of confession and praying and Liturgy, of Holy Water and blessings, I feel more than usual the “am being saved.”
From our prayers and our hymns:
When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan the worship of the Trinity was made manifest! For the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee, calling Thee his Beloved Son. And the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the truthfulness of his Word. O Christ our God, who hast revealed Thyself and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee
Today Thou hast appeared to the universe, end Thy Light, O Lord, has shone on us, who with understanding praise Thee: Thou hast come and revealed Thyself, O Light Unapproachable!
The voice of the Lord cries over the waters, saying: Come all ye, receive the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of understanding, the Spirit of the fear of God, even Christ who is made manifest.
Today the nature of water is sanctified. Jordan is divided in two, and turns back the stream of its waters, beholding the Master being baptized. As a man Thou didst come to that river, 0 Christ our King, and dost hasten O Good One, to receive the baptism of a servant at the hands of the Forerunner (John), because of our sins, 0 Lover of Man.