by Phyllis Meshel Onest, M.Div.
Begin Everything with Prayer
Since we are reminded in Scripture to begin whatever we do with prayer, it has been the practice of Orthodox Christians for centuries to have new dwellings blessed either before or just after settling in. This has been extended to one's business or office, and even college dorm rooms. "The service performed by the priest to bless the new dwelling is somewhat similar to the consecration of a church [in the Russian practice] in that holy water, holy oil, and incense are used and a lesson from the holy Gospel is read. All the rooms of the house are sprinkled with holy water and each of the four outer walls are anointed with the sign of the Cross with holy oil, a candle placed before them, and after the censing of the house, the lesson from the Holy Gospel is read [in Greek practice the service of the Small Blessing of Waters is generally done]. At the conclusion of the blessing, the inhabitants are blessed with holy water: the husband first, followed by the wife and then the children - the oldest first. Relatives and friends present are then blessed." (Marriage and the Christian Home, by Rev. Michael B. Henning, p.24.)
by Archpriest A. Narushevich
from The Word, January 1961
On the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord a Christian is transported by his thoughts and feelings to a time long since passed. He directs his attention to that which was accomplished at the Jordan, and his heart is filled with reverent trembling.
A Christian contemplates Heaven opening over the Jordan and the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus Christ in the form of a dove. He hears the very voice of the Heavenly Father: “This is my Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3: 17). These unusual manifestations leave a profound impression in the heart of a believing Christian, evoking in it wonder and piety. From the depths of his enraptured heart the Christian involuntarily cries out: “Great art Thou, O Lord, and marvelous are Thy works, and there is no word which sufficeth to hymn Thy wonders.”
On January 6th, Orthodox Christians gather together for the Feast of Theophany. This feast is the third most important feast day in the Orthodox Church (after Pascha and Pentecost). Yes, it’s even more important than Christmas! On this day, we commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. One question that always arises during this festal season is, “Why was Jesus, the sinless Word of God made flesh, baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist?” There are several theologically correct answers. The hymnography and prayers of the feast state that Jesus’ baptism sanctifed the nature of the waters, enlightened all creation, allowed celestials to celebrate and commune with the terrestrials, and made manifest the worship of the Trinity. However, there is another important aspect to this feast. If we look at Scripture and His baptism, we can see the promised fulfi llment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning His sacrificial death on the Cross. Thus, like the apostles, we can preach “Christ crucified” (I Corinthians 1:23) – the very heart of the Gospel – on the feast of Theophany.
First, let’s take a look at John’s baptism. It was not the same as our baptism today. In the sacrament of baptism, we were cleansed of ancestral sin, illumined, justified, given the seal of the Holy Spirit, and made complete and full members of Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. This is baptism’s function in the post-Resurrection and post-Pentecost Church. But John’s baptism was before all this. So, what was it? In Mark 1:4–5 we read,
John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and all were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.