The Role of Water in the Greek Orthodox Church
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Water is used on at least four different occasions in the Greek Orthodox Church.
The first is during baptism. The person being baptized is dunked 3 times in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The original rules (or canBon) on baptism said that preferably, the baptism should be done in “living water” aka naturally running water. I think for practical reasons we now find the baptismal fount in the Churches for infants and also occasionally adult baptisteries. We do continue, when possible, to do full submersion of the new initiate. Other groups of Christians have changed this to a mere sprinkling. Being fully submersed we are going into “death” 3 times, like the three day burial of Christ, and then we are born again into Christianity.
Another location of water in the Church is at Communion. The Zeon, which is warm to hot water, is added to the chalice after the wine and one piece of the center portion of the seal are in the chalice. The priest says, “Blessed is the fervor of Your Saints, now and always and forever and ever,” when he takes the Zeon, and when he puts it in, he or the deacon says, “The fervor of faith, full of the Holy Spirit.” Water is not foreign to the ultimate sacrifice, when Jesus was pierced on the Cross after He had given up His spirit, water and blood poured forth.
Holy Water is another instance. At the Feast of Epiphany (the Baptism of Christ), the Church blesses water to be touched, anointed or partaken of for sanctification, blessing, cleansing, and health. Here is a quote from the blessing of the waters service: “Today the waters of the Jordan are turned into a healing presence of the Lord. Mystical waters water today all creation. Today men’s, sins are washed away in the waters of the Jordan… Today the water that the people under Moses found bitter is turned into sweetness at the Lord’s presence.” This quote reminds us that the water is associated with the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan and call for a healing, sweet, forgiving and mystical presence through the water.
Lastly is the use the Rose Water. Most familiarly we see the usage of Rose Water on Holy Friday Evening, while we are singing hymns in the Church around the Kouvouklion (the representation of the tomb of Christ that is used during Holy Week), which is holding the Epitaphios (an embroidered fabric cloth with the icon of Christ after taken off the cross). During the 3rd set of Lamentations at the line that says, “The myrrh-bearing Women came very early in the morning and sprinkled the tomb with myrrh,” the priest will begin to sprinkle the rose water on the Epitaphios and then the congregation. That one line is repeated until the entirety of the congregation has been sprinkled. After thinking about this, the Church makes up the Body of Christ, so by sprinkling us with the rose water, it is exactly like sprinkling the Epitaphios.
About Andrew Athanasiou
Andrew is a student of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, located in Brookline, Massachusetts. Andrew is a Masters of Divinity Student who is also a Seminarian. Andrew is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his knowledge comes from five major sources: Greek Orthodox Seminary; Greek Orthodox Summer Camp; both being taught and teaching in Greek Orthodox Sunday School; and finally further readings and interests in other theological areas.
Categorized in: Religion
This post was written by Andrew Athanasiou