"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Friday 29 January 2010


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Dom Dominic Blaney              January 27th 2010
            “There is one thing I ask of the Lord, for this I long, to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to savour the sweetness of the Lord, to behold his temple.” These wonderful words are from today’s Responsorial Psalm. They express what we all know to have been at the very heart of Fr Dominic’s faith. He could have written them himself, for they are the summary of his prayer, the fullest expression of his desire.
            It’s fashionable today no longer to speak of a Requiem Mass. It’s quite usual to be invited to “celebrate the life” of whoever it is, lying there in the coffin. We should, of course, celebrate the lives of the faithful departed, but what we remember above all is their faith in Jesus Christ, who offered the sacrifice of his life upon the Cross and who rose from the dead to break open for us the gates of heaven, inviting us to see the face of God and so return to the very source of our being. No matter how good we might be, and Fr Dominic was very good, a just man in the biblical sense, we still need the prayers of our brethren and loved ones in death as we did in life. We pray today, believing as we do in the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting, that God in his merciful love will grant him the eternal rest for which he longed.
            Today’s readings were chosen from the Lectionary because they help us to understand the depth of Fr Dominic’s faith, the integrity of his Christian life and his total commitment to the Benedictine vocation. The Book of Wisdom tells us that, “They who trust in God will understand the truth, those who are faithful will live with him in love; for grace and mercy await those he has chosen.” All who knew Fr Dominic as a schoolboy or young monk, as a house master or head master, or parish priest speak of his trust in God, that basic, fundamental, non-questioning, traditional Catholic faith, into which he was born and raised and from which he never strayed, no matter how difficult life became. Trust in God and fidelity to the Church marked Fr Dominic’s life from beginning to end.
But there was something more: an extraordinary humility. “The Lord is my light and my help; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; before whom shall I shrink,” sings the psalmist. Humility is grounded in reality. Fr Dominic had no pretensions, no complexes. He was comfortable with himself, calm and at peace, because he knew where he stood before God and that God was everything to him. We have all inherited original sin from our forefathers, but Fr Dominic was one of those rare men in whom this sin was least apparent. There was a purity of heart that was out of the ordinary and in stark contrast to those around him, to those with whom he lived and worked. We all experienced this unique gift of God as it showed itself time and time again in his kindness and gentleness, the simplicity and unclutteredness of his life, the very ordinariness and quiet efficiency with which he did everything, never boasting, never lording it over others, but reflecting the peace and generosity of God.
James Blaney, or Jim as he was known to everyone, was born in St Begh’s Parish, Whitehaven, the eldest child of John and Mary at the beginning of Advent 1929. His family lived less than a stone’s throw from the magnificent parish church. Whitehaven, not far from the medieval Priory of St. Bees, had been an English Benedictine mission since 1701and in 1929 was still an incorporated parish of Downside. In 1934 it was transferred to Belmont, so from the age of five it was Belmont monks that Jim, like his parents and sisters, came to know and love. He was a pupil at St Patrick and St Gregory’s, Quay Street, until he went to St Bede’s College, Manchester, in 1942. He was brought up in a world that has, sadly, all but disappeared: a staunchly Catholic home, parish and school. Although in later life he would become politely ecumenical and make friends with non-Catholic ministers, he was unflinching in his Catholic convictions. It was fascinating to see how, towards the end of his life, when Alzheimer’s was taking its toll, how he could remember Latin prayers and chants, the Salve Regina, for example, whereas he had lost even the Lord’s Prayer in English.
Now Whitehaven is rugby league country, but at St Bede’s Jim fell in love with soccer and became a key player in every team throughout his school career. In the sixth form the First XI were trained by Matt Busby and Johnny Carey of Manchester United. They saw in Jim, who was captain of the team, a first class player with a good future in the game. But it was Manchester City that he was to support for the rest of his life. In the years ahead Jim would turn his hand to every ball game going, both as player and coach. In fact, he didn’t consider ball-less games as real sport. However, he had been sent to St Bede’s (where, incidentally, he was taught French by George Patrick Dwyer, future Bishop of Leeds and Archbishop of Birmingham) because he felt called to the priesthood and religious life. So when he left school in 1948 he came to Belmont. As it turned out, there was another teenager on the train from Manchester to Hereford that day going to Belmont to try his vocation. It was Charles Holdsworth, who would become Fr Stephen. Everything in life is part of God’s plan for us: Stephen was the first person Dominic met when he came to Belmont and the last he saw, just two days before he died, and they were to remain close friends.
Jim was clothed on 14th September 1948 by Abbot Anselm Lightbound and given the name Dominic, not after St Dominic, founder of the Dominicans, as most people think, but in honour of the Italian Passionist priest Blessed Dominic Barberi, who received Newman into the Church. He made his first profession on 15th September 1949 and his solemn profession, also at the hands of Abbot Anselm, on St Michael’s Day 1952. In spite of the precarious financial situation at Belmont, Dominic was sent up to Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, to read History. He took his M.A. but was remembered more for his sporting achievements. Philosophy and theology were studied here at Belmont, combining those studies with teaching in the school and coaching sports. Typical of Dominic, he changed over without a murmur and with great success from round ball to oval ball though in his heart of hearts he always preferred football.
Dominic was ordained to the Sacred Priesthood by Bishop Pearson at St. Begh’s on 2nd May 1954. The assistant master of ceremonies on the great day was a young man called William McKenzie Moore, Billy for short, the future Fr Bede. It was that ordination that set him thinking seriously about a Benedictine vocation. After ordination, and in obedience to a succession of abbots, Dominic worked in our schools: Alderwasley, Belmont and Llanarth for 33 years until he became Parish Priest of Belmont and Subprior in 1986. He taught history and coached rugby, tennis, squash, cricket, golf, table tennis and badminton. He was not the most inspired or original of teachers, but he never missed a class, nor did he ever miss a trick. As a young man he had served as secretary to two head masters: Abbot Alphege Gleeson and Fr Christopher McNulty. He served at Alderwasley from 1955 to 57 and then at Junior House. He was house master of Vaughan and then of Kindersley. In fact, I succeeded him in Kindersley in January 1976, when he returned to Llanarth for a second period as head master. This move back to Llanarth was not easy for him. When he was asked to go back by Abbot Jerome, he broke down and wept bitterly but he obeyed. What marked Dominic out from the rest of us was that he always obeyed, even when it hurt. He never complained and always did his duty and his very best. He was head master of Llanarth from 1967 to 1971 and from 1976 to 1986.
The many letters I have received from staff and pupils are a testimony to the strong affection in which he is held by so many and of the gratitude for his many kindnesses. He was a warm, gentle and affectionate man and, to many, a real father. Of course, on the pitch or in the court, it was quite another story. Dominic would not and could not lose a ball game. He underwent a radical transformation once out of his habit and into his kit. Just because he was kind and gentle, it didn’t mean that he was weak or evasive, anything but. He had a very strong sense of justice and of correct behaviour. He would stand no nonsense, either from the boys or from his brethren. He had a clear tenor voice and was a cantor for many years. One morning he confronted the fearsome choirmaster, Fr Bernard Chambers, in the presence of the brethren. That day Dom Bernard also happened to be the superior in choir, so there was a constant re-pitching of the note. As often happened in those days, choir was a battle ground. Dominic turned round and said to Fr Bernard, “Why don’t you grow up and start praying instead of giving us that note none of us can reach.” The outburst reduced everyone to silence, even Dom Bernard. Dominic, in his quiet and disarming way, wasn’t afraid to stand up and oppose powerful characters in the community and he always spoke his mind, though with courtesy and a twinkle in his eye. He had a good sense of humour and was a tease. He was honest and straightforward. There was no side, no deception. As Jesus said of Nathaniel, he was a man “without guile.”
In 1986 he became Parish Priest of Belmont, where he also served the Community as Subprior. Then he was appointed Parish Priest of Abergavenny. In both parishes he was much loved and appreciated for those same human qualities and Christian virtues he had shown to the boys and staff in our schools. He was faithful and assiduous in his parish duties and particularly as chaplain to the various hospitals in and around Abergavenny. However, it was here that the first signs of Alzheimer’s appeared. Gradual loss of memory and other manifestations of that cruel illness made it impossible for him to continue and early in 2000 he was brought back to Belmont by Abbot Mark. To begin with he was able to join in the life of the Community, but little by little this became more and more difficult. He was cared for by Br. Bernard and Mary Jo Donnelly, who at the time were also looking after Fr Aelred in the Infirmary. It was not easy with Dominic, because you never knew what he was going to do next. On one occasion, while in Hereford Hospital for tests, he signed himself out, got into a taxi and returned to Belmont in his pyjamas. On another he was found at Lock’s garage at six o’clock in the morning, having walked the four miles along the Abergavenny road in the dark. On yet another occasion he went missing a whole day. That evening he was found in a bus shelter at Altringham, a short distance from his sister Kathleen’s house. With no money in his pocket he had gone down to Hereford station, caught a train to Manchester and then a bus. Eventually, we were advised that he needed fulltime nursing care. This resulted in him going into a nursing home not far from Weobley. It was here that we celebrated the Golden Jubilee of his priesthood. Then for the last years of his life he took up residence at Oakland’s Nursing Home where he was well cared for by Matron Pamela Newman and her excellent team until the Lord took him suddenly but peacefully and painlessly early on the afternoon of January 14th. It was a blessing that his physical sufferings were few.
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are, of course, a great mystery to us, difficult to understand and hard to accept. We are helpless and can do nothing to prevent what is taking place before our very eyes to a loved one whom we have known to be so active and intelligent. You see everything being taken away, disappearing bit by bit.  Though he was eighty when he died, Dominic looked much younger. It was impossible to know what he made of our attempts at conversation, and yet it was clear that enjoyed company and, above all, that he still liked his food, especially anything sweet. I remember one birthday Br Bernard bought a delicious carrot cake in Tesco’s on the way to Oaklands. Once we’d greeted him, Bernard cut three small slices, one each, but Dominic just took the rest of the cake and ate it in a flash. He was still too quick for us. For a long time you could pray with him and give him Holy Communion, but eventually he stopped taking an interest in our prayers and blessings. Even so, when you looked into those penetrating blue eyes, you got the distinct impression that he could see right through you and, just occasionally, there was a flash of the old Dominic
As Christians how can we begin to understand? I think the words of St Paul to the Romans can help us penetrate the veil of this particular form of suffering. “Neither life nor death, nothing at all can come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Our relationship with God is not a matter of the mind but of the heart: the soul is undiminished by the disintegration of mind and body.  St John tells us that the Father glorified the Son in his passion and death and that the Father was glorified in the Cross of Jesus. In his suffering Fr Dominic glorified God and in turn God will glorify him with the gift of eternal life once the purification of Purgatory is done. Jesus did not say to the good thief, “I will lessen your torments and take away your suffering and death.” No, Jesus died alongside both thieves. He shared their suffering and total degradation, he shared their pain and anguish, their agony and death. When asked, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” Jesus replied, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Dominic’s cross lasted not an afternoon but ten years. There can be no doubt that Jesus will keep his promise, “Today, dear Dominic, faithful and true, you will be with me in paradise.” Amen

Wednesday 20 January 2010


On 18 January 2010, the Eve of the Epiphany, Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for external church relations, celebrated the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great at the Church of the “Joy to All the Afflicted” Icon of the Mother of God in Bolshaya Ordynka Street. The Great Blessing of the Waters was performed after the liturgy.
In his sermon the archpastors reminded the worshippers that there had been one feast in the Early Church commemorated at which were the Saviour’s Coming to the world and the Baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ from John in the Jordan River. Two different feasts were established towards the 4th century, namely the Nativity of Christ and the Epiphany to commemorate the Baptism of our Lord and Saviour in waters of the Jordan. ‘However, a close link has remained between the feasts,” Archbishop Hilarion underscored. “It is not fortuitous that the day between the Nativity of Christ and the Epiphany are called holy days and the themes in the divine services of both feasts have much in common, and even the structure of the celebration of the Nativity of Christ and the Epiphany is the same.”
Archbishop Hilarion said, “On the feast of the Epiphany we recall the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to the Jordan to be immersed in its waters together with people. While people were immersed to be cleansed of their sins, the Lord Jesus Christ had no need in cleansing, as He was sinless. He immersed in the Jordan to sanctify the waters and to fill them with His Divine grace.
“The Church has established a custom to bless the water on the eve and on the feast day of the Epiphany. Water is blessed in commemoration of the event that happened in the Jordan; we heard about it in the Gospel reading today. It happens also to give us a great sacred thing – the blessed Epiphany water. We shall sprinkle our homes with it, we shall drink it, and it will be a source of our healing, and “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (Jn 4:14).
“The Lord has established different ways of receiving His Divine grace, and the blessed water is one of them. It is blessed on the feast of the Epiphany and on the eve of the feast. This water is really a source of healing. It is known that it does not go bad during the entire year, it can be added to our food and drink, we may drink it on an empty stomach, we can sprinkle our homes with it so that this holy water drives off all demons and all evil, so that God defends and helps us, so that God heals our souls and bodies and enlighten our mind by this holy water.
“On the feast of the Epiphany we glorify the Lord Jesus Christ Who sanctified the waters by His immersion in the Jordan.
“Today we celebrated Vespers and the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. Thirteen paroemias from the Old Testament were read during Vespers, and each of them told us about the effect of the water. The first of the readings narrated how God had created the heavens and the earth and how the Spirit of God had moved upon the face of the waters. Another reading recounted how God had led the people of Israel through the Red Sea, how the divided waters had stood on people’s right and on their left. But when the Pharaoh’s army had entered this “corridor” of the two walls of water, the waters had come down on the army and sunk it. We have heard many other stories from the Bible today; they all are perceived as a prototype of the event that we are celebrating today – the immersion of the Lord Jesus Christ in the waters of the Jordan. The Lord has descended in these waters to sink our sinful darkness in them and to grant us a source of healing. We only need to repent in our sins and put our trust in God.
The Lord wills to heal all people of physical and spiritual sickness. Let us pray to the Lord Who descended in the waters of the Jordan to sanctify our human nature, to deliver us from any sinful filth, and to grant us spiritual and physical health. Let us use the holy water that we shall receive today in church during the entire year to for sprinkling our homes and drinking. May this water be a source of our healing, a source gushing up to eternal life.”

Monday 18 January 2010


We are now well into Ordinary Time, but we still cannot leave the Epiphany alone; because the Marriage Feast of Cana is still an Epiphany theme, along with the adoration of the Magi and the Baptism of Christ.   It may be puzzling to some why a miracle of changing water into wine should be considered a theophany, and hence an epiphany theme.   For one thing, so few people knew about it.   The majordomo of the feast didn't know.   I don't suppose the guests either knew or cared, once the wine was on the table.   Yet St John makes it out to be a theophany, on a par with God speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai.

This is the significance of "On the third day there was a wedding.".   It is not immediately clear what happened on the two days before this event.   In fact, it is a reference to Exodus 19, 18, which begins:
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightening, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people that were in the camp trembled.   Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God."
Only a little before, Jesus had told Nathanael, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened, and angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."   Now we have an example.   St John called it a "sign", a manifestation of God's presence on earth.   However, it is not the main revelation of God's presence, the one that will reveal to us his very nature as self-giving love.   This supreme revelation is what Jesus calls his "hour" when he says to his mother, "My hour has not yet come/"   Jesus and his Father will be truly "glorified" on the cross.   If the marriage feast of Cana is a revelation on a par with God's revelation on Mount Sinai, Christ on the cross is far, far superior, the ultimate revelation.   Those who know Christ crucified can really claim to know God.   No Old Testament theophany, however dramatic, can hope to reveal God to the extent that Christ on the Cross does.

At the same time, both the Marriage Feast of Cana and Christ on the Cross are only theophanies for those who participate in them through faith; and,in so far as faith is knowledge that springs out of religious love, firstly, God's love for us, and then our loving response.   Thus the "disciple who Jesus loved" was always the first to recognize him, was consulted by Peter  during the Last Supper on the meaning of Jesus' statement  that someone would betray him; he stood with Jesus' mother by the cross; and he was the first to see the significance of the empty tomb, even before Jesus had appeared.   New Testament theophanies are explained in terms of Old Testament ones; but they are unlike them in that New Testament theophanies take place in a way that goes unnoticed by the world, however great and revealing they may be.   "Is he not a carpenter's son?"   Perhaps then it is fitting that this gospel should be read in Ordinary Time when we remind ourselves that God manifests his will in the ordinary and the humdrum, the infinite in the finite, the  extraordinary in the ordinary, the greatness that created the universe is manifested in humility and weakness.   We belong to a religion in which a small, insignificant lamb, slain but standing, is hailed by heaven as the Lion of Judah.

Another set of ideas are helpful in our understanding of the Marriage Feast of Cana: it can be seen from the perspective of the Feast of Tabernacles.    In this feast which celebrated the Jews forty years in the desert when they lived as nomads. They built huts out of branches and lived in them for the duration of the feast.   It was a number of days of music, processions with branches, singing psalms (117 or 118 according to your way of counting) and waiting for the coming of the Messiah.  On the final seventh day of the week of celebration, they would process round the altar seven times and cry out "Hosanna to the son of David.   Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord.   Hosanna to the son of David."   The covenant between God and Israel they saw as a kind of marriage in which the marriage hut where bride and Bridegroom meet was the Temple, the marriage act was the  sacrifices in the Temple; the marriage contract was the Law of Moses.   The awaited Messiah would renew this marriage between God and his People; and the new relationship would be much greater and satisfying that the previous one  In the words of Isaiah from this Sunday's first reading:
You are to be to be a crown of splendour in the hand of the Lord, a princely diadem in the hand of your God; no longer are you to be called "forsaken" nor your land "Abandoned", but you shall be called "My Delight" and your land "The Wedded"; for the Lord takes delight in you, and your land will have its wedding.   Like a young man marrying a virgin, so will the one who built you wed you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so will your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62, 1-5)
 The renewal of this covenant according to the prophet's promise is being symbolized in the Marriage Feast of Cana.   We can now start our commentary.

When Mary points out to her Son that the fiesta has run out of wine, he answers, "What is it to you and to me.  My hour has not yet come."   I think it is important to point out that John's Gospel can only be properly understood with any profundity within the context of religious love, first God's love for us, and secondly, our love for God and for others.   Hence, the interpretation of the word "Woman" may well be different according to whether you are citing it for polemic purposes, to catch out Catholics in their errors, or whether you are reading it within Catholic Tradition, which  is its proper context.   In this context, Mary is the "woman" of the Apocalypse who is at once the personification of faithful Israel, themother of Christ, and the personification of the Church in its relationship to Christ.  In all three roles she asks Our Lord to do something about the wine.   He protests that his hour has not yet come, thus reminding the reader that, great as this manifestation of Christ's glory it is, it is linked to, and is only a pale shadow of the theophany on the Cross.

"What is this to you and to me."    She would accompany him and be with him until he drew his last breath.   All this prepared her to love universally and thus be capable of being, as was Eve, the mother of all the living.   She tells the servants to do what her Son tells them to do - something that is part of her normal role as our mother.   Her role requires of her a perfect harmony between her motherly activity and her Son's activity as Saviour, something brought about by the Holy Spirit.   Without Chrst, she cannot fulfil this role: without the Spirit she cannot be united with Christ.   All she contributes is her complete availability, "I am the slave of the Lord.   May it be done to me according to your word."   Because she it utterly available and at the disposition of God, she learns through suffering, to love as her Son Christ loves; and this love reaches out to us.  This is illustrated in the icon beloew.   Called "the Bridegroom" or "the marriage of the lamb", it shows Mary in Byzantine bridal dress, embracing the body of Christ "dead but standing".   The body of Jesus is illuminated from within because he died to save all members of his body.    Hence, as she embraces Jesus, so she embraces us as well.   We too are called to be so united to Christ that we learn to love universally as Christ does, and so become his instrument of love for the whole of humankind.   This is the role of every saint.
 This is the sign by which we recognize those who have arrived at perfection: even if they were to throw themselves into the fire ten times a day for the sake of humanity, they would not be satisfied.   That is what Moses says to God, "Now,if thou wilt, forgive their sins - and if not blot me, I pray, out of thy book which thou hast written (Exodus 32, 32)   That is also what the blessed apostle Paul says, "I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren." (Rom. 9,3)   And above all, God himself, in his love for creation, delivered his own Son to the death of the cross, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son for the world's sake." (cf John 3, 26)   So too... the saints, like God, pour out the superabundance of their love upon all."  (Isaac of Nineveh)

This perfect union in love between Christ and his mother who is also the personification of the Church in its relationship with Christ, a union that is replicated, little by little, in the saints as they (we?) attain perfection in love by the power of the Holy Spirit, a union in which Christ is all in all, is called the "marriage of the Lamb" in the Apocalypse:
 "Hallelujah!   For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.   Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and the bride has made herself ready, to her has been granted to be clothed in fine linen, bright and pure", for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.   And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb."

We, the Church, participate in this "marriage supper of the Lamb" together with the angels and saints of heaven in the Holy Eucharist which, as Pope Benedict XVIth has written, is the very constitution of the the Church, what makes it what it is.


Monday 4 January 2010

THE EPIPHANY (thanks to Mary Lanser of "Irenikon")


The Feast of the Epiphany was established as a solemn feast in the Eastern Church in the middle of the IV century as proclaimed in the Apostolic Constitutions: "Let the Epiphany, in which the Lord manifested to us His own divinity, be to you the most honored festival and let it be celebrated on the sixth day of January." (cf. Apostolic Constitutions V, 13)

The Greek word "epiphany" means manifestation and applied by the Christians to the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, it specifically meant the manifestation of His divinity. St. John Chrysostom (died 407) elucidates: "Why do we call this day Epiphany? Because Jesus Christ manifested Himself to all people, not when He was born, but, rather, when He was baptized. Until that time He was unknown to the people, as testified by St. John the Baptist, saying,: ‘There stands among you One, Whom you don’t know!’ (Jn. 1:26)." (cf. Homily on the Epiphany, 2)

In the Old Slavonic, the feast is called "Bohojavlenije," equivalent to the Greek "Theophany," which means the manifestation of the Godhead. This word, however, more clearly reflects the manifestation of the Blessed Trinity at Christ’s baptism as poetically described in the troparion of the Feast: "At Your baptism in the Jordan…"

The solemn baptism of the catechumens was also administered in the Eastern Church on the eve of the Epiphany since the IV century. The early Fathers of the Church referred to this as the Mystery of Illumination or Enlightenment. Thus the Epiphany was also called The Feast of Lights or The Day of Illumination (cf. St. Gregory of Nazianz, Oration XL, 1-6). Following this, our liturgical books still call the Sunday before and after Epiphany the Sunday before the Illumination and the Sunday after the Illumination. St. Proclus, the Patriarch of Constantinople (d. 447), gives us the following explanation: "Christ manifested Himself to the world; He filled it with light and joy; He sanctified the waters and diffused His light in the souls of men." (cf. Migne, P.G. 65, 757-761)

Since the solemn blessing of the water takes place on Epiphany, the feast is also known as the Feast of the Blessing of Water, popularly called "Vodokschi," an abbreviated form of the Old Slavonic term "Vodokresch," meaning the blessing of water.

The Solemn Blessing of Water, in commemoration of Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan, is the main feature of the Feast of Epiphany. St. Gregory the Wonderworker, in the homily quoted above, commented: "The Lord, Who has come upon the Jordan River, through its streams transmitted sanctification to all streams (of water)." And precisely, in our liturgical books, the blessing of water is referred to as The Blessing of Jordan, since it is considered as the re-enactment of Christ’s baptism. By His baptism in the Jordan, Our Savior imparted upon water a mystical power of sanctification, a "sign of heavenly streams" of divine grace. (cf. St. Gregory the Wonderworker, Ibid.)

St. Basil the Great (died 379) affirms that the blessing of water came to us as a "mystical tradition" (of. On the Holy Spirit, XXVII, 66) and that the water, through the prayer and blessing of the priest, receives a "quickening power of the Holy Spirit." (Ibid, XV, 35) St. Ambrose (died 397) also taught that it was the Holy Spirit Who "consecrated the waters through the prayer of the minister." (cf. On the Holy Spirit, L. I. c. VII, 88) Consequently, in the prayer for the blessing of the water we always find the epiklesis—the invocation of the Holy Spirit.

The oldest prayer for the blessing of the water was preserved for us in The Euchologion of Serapion (died. after 362), the Bishop of Thmuis in Lower Egypt. It is almost certain that the prayer itself dates back well before his time and is also witness to the early practice of the Church. The Apostolic Constitutions, VIII, 39, attribute the authorship of the first prayer for the blessing of water to St. Matthias the Apostle.

According to Armenian sources, the original author of our ritual of the Solemn Blessing of Water was St. Basil the Great who composed it during his visit in Jerusalem in 377 A.D. This ritual was probably used in Antioch in 387 when St. John Chrysostom delivered his homily on the Baptism of Christ, saying: "This is the day on which Christ was baptized and through His baptism sanctified the element of water. Wherefore, at midnight on this feast, all (faithful) draw of the (holy) water and store it in their homes, because on this day the water is consecrated."

It seems that St. Basil’s ritual was later revised by St. Proclus of Constantinople (434-447) and, finally, by St. Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem (634-638) who composed the introductory sticheras and rearranged the entire ritual according to the customs of the Alexandrian Church. For this reason, our present ritual of The Solemn Blessing of Water is ascribed to St. Sophronius of Jerusalem.

Our Trebnik contains another ritual for blessing water called The Simple Blessing of Water. This ceremony can be taken at any time of the year but it is used especially on the first day of August (in commemoration of the Holy Cross) and also on the occasion of a pilgrimage. An example of this is the custom of blessing the water at the Lourdes Grotto at Mount St. Macrina in Uniontown, Pa. during the annual Assumption Pilgrimage.

Among the various petitions mentioned in the ceremony during the blessing of the water is the sanctification of homes. With this the Church imposes a duty and obligation upon the priests to bless the homes of the faithful entrusted to their pastoral care at the beginning of the New Year. Theologically speaking, the blessing of homes constitutes an invocative blessing, meaning that by his prayer and by the sprinkling of the Holy Water the priest invokes God’s protection upon the home and those living in it. The prayer, reprinted on the back cover, best explains its meaning.

As our souls, so also our homes become tainted by the sins of those living in them and, consequently, lose God’s protective power. Every year, then, at the Feast of the Epiphany, they should be blessed again to secure for them God’s blessings and protection. Just as the faithful cleanse their soul of sin at least ONCE A YEAR, and the church is blessed with the newly blessed water every year, so should the homes of the faithful be yearly blessed to invoke God’s blessings and protection on it and its inhabitants.

As we renew the insurance on our home every year, so we should renew our insurance of God’s protection and his blessing which is of greater importance and more effective. As we welcome our priest during the holy season of Epiphany to bless our home, let us be mindful that he is bringing to us the "blessing of Jordan," and that unless God protect and bless our home, we "labor in vain." (Ps. 127:1)

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