Holy Water and Its Spiritual Significance


My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


Saint Seraphim, after (hearing) confessions of pilgrims, always gave them to drink from a cup of Holy Water. Venerable Ambrose sent a bottle with Holy Water to a terminally ill person, and the incurable illness, to the amazement of doctors, was gone. The elder Heiroschemamonk Seraphim Vyritsky always gave advice to sprinkle food products with Holy Water from the Jordan River, which, in his words, "by itself sanctified everything." When someone was very ill, elder (geronda) Seraphim blessed him to take a tablespoon of Holy Water every hour.  The elder used to say that there was no stronger medicine than Holy Water and Holy Oil.

Like everything else in the Church, the vessel in which the blessing of water takes place carries a great symbolic meaning.

Externally, this vessel resembles a chalice for Holy Communion. The vessel for the blessing of water is a large bowl on a low stand with a round base for placement on a table. On the eastern side of the bowl, there are places where three candles are put at the start of the blessing of water, in the image of the Holy Trinity, which sanctifies and enlightens people by God's grace. As a vessel and container of God's grace, the bowl for the blessing of water approaches in its symbolic meaning the Eucharistic cup--the Chalice (translated from Greek--a vessel for drinking)--and, like the chalice, signifies the Holy Theotokos (Mother of God) and Ever-Virgin Mary, in Whose womb formed the human nature of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The round of the cup for the blessing of the water symbolizes the circle of the earthly (the Church Militant) Church, the round up itself, into which water is poured, symbolizes the heavenly (the Church Triumphant)  Church, and both together they are symbolic of the Mother of God, as the Most Pure Vessel of God's grace.

The Baptismal Bath possesses the same basic symbolic meaning. This vessel is also made to look like a cup, but of significantly greater size than the vessel for the blessing of water, and on a high stand.

The order of the blessing of water which takes place during the feast day of Divine Theophany is called great because of an especially festive ceremony, imbued with the remembrance of the Lord's Baptism, in which the Church sees not only the prototype of the mystical washing of sins, but also, the actual blessing of the nature of water itself, through the immersion into it of God in the flesh.

The Great Blessing of water sometimes takes place either at the end of Orthros (Matins) or at the end of the Divine Liturgy, after the prayer behind the amvon, and sometimes at the end of Great Vespers after the litany: "Let us complete our evening prayer..." It takes place during the Divine Liturgy of the day of Divine Theophany (Epiphany), and also on the Eve of Theophany when the eve falls on any day of the week besides Saturday or Sunday...

"...The Great Blessing of Water is begun with the singing of troparia (hymns): "The voice of the Lord crieth out over the waters, saying: 'Come, receive ye all the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of understanding, the spirit of the fear of God, even Christ Who is made manifest", "To-day is the nature of water sanctified" and others. Three readings from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (35:1-10; 55:1-13; 12:3-6) are read next. The great Prophets of the Old Testament thrice foretold the Lord's Baptism in the Jordan River, which took place at the junction of the two Testaments. He expressed joy and hope of the Church in the drawing of water from the source of salvation: "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters...Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near: Let the wicked (evil) forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God for He will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:1, 6-7).

After this the Holy Epistle Lesson of the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 10:1-4) is read about the Mystical Prototype Baptism of the Judeans unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and of their spiritual food in the desert and the spiritual drink from the Rock, which is an image of the coming Christ. Finally, the Holy Gospel Lesson of Saint Mark 1:9-12) is read in which the Apostle tells about the actual Baptism of the Lord.

Saint John Chrysostom has said that the Water of Theophany remains unspoiled for many years, being fresh, pure and pleasing as if it has been drawn from a living spring at this moment. This is the miracle of God's grace, which even now everyone can see!

According to Church belief, agiasma is not merely water of spiritual significance, but a new being, a spiritual-corporeal being, an intertwining of heaven and earth, of grace and matter, and a close one at that. This is why the Great Agiasma according to Church holy Canons is viewed as a kind of lower degree of Holy Communion: in those cases, when a penance and prohibition against approaching (to receive) the Holy Body and Precious Blood is imposed on a member of the Church due to committed sins, there is a provision, usual to Canons: "He may drink Agiasma only."

Many mistakenly think that the water, blessed on the eve of Theophany and water, blessed on the day of Divine Theophany are different, but in actuality, the same order of the Great Blessing of Water is used both on the eve and on the day of Theophany. The Water of Theophany is a holy relic that should be found in the home of every Orthodox Christian. It is carefully kept in the holy corner next to holy icons and a lit vigil light.

(To be continued)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George