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Why do Orthodox Christians Bless Material Things?


Why Do Orthodox Christian Bless Material Things?

Last week thousands of faithful men and women and many visitors gathered in our Cathedral and along the shores of Spring Bayou for the annual Cross Dive and Blessing of the Waters in honor of the Feast of Epiphany. During the special blessing service, the Holy Spirit was called down to bless the waters and those who partake of them or are sprinkled by them. This ancient custom of blessing water is celebrated throughout the world as part of Orthodox Christian celebration of Epiphany, the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus Christ Who blessed all of creation when He entered the Jordan River.

 

So why do Orthodox Christians bless water, and other material things? How can water “be” holy? How can the grace of God be contained in some material object? The word “holy” has a double meaning in the ancient Christian Church, which means “not earthly” or “set aside for a special purpose.” God commanded His people to “Be holy as I am holy,” (Leviticus 11.44-5) and Saint Peter affirmed the call to holiness in the New Testament. If God commanded people to be holy, it would mean that material things can become holy. There are dozens of references in the Old Testament to material objects being holy. If we understand the word as “set aside for a special purpose,” then it becomes clear.

 

When Orthodox Christians bless material things, such as the water at last week’s celebration, we are asking God to use those material things for a special purpose. Especially in the case of water which is the single most important physical requirement for life, blessing water means blessing life itself. For Orthodox Christians, the created world has been given to us by God for a special purpose – to find God. Throughout history, the physical world has assisted humanity to understand God. Both the Old and New Testament are filled with references of the Earth being a sign for God’s love and power. Earthquakes, stars, floods, clouds, refreshing rain, harsh droughts, and even solar eclipses have been used by God to reveal Himself to humanity. To prove His point Jesus said, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.” (Luke 19.40)

 

If the material world should not be used for God to bless humanity, then He would have remained a distant God and called down from His Throne, “Ok, I forgive you. You may now go about your business as usual.” But God did in fact use creation as a way for us to find Him. It is humanity that abuses creation and uses it for selfish purposes. It is humanity that assigns monetary value to life, not God. If by asking God to bless material things, we (thing by thing) set aside the material world to the original purpose God had intended, we are partners with God, not enemies. Just try to reach out to God without using any material thing – no building, no mountain top, no peaceful valley, not even the voice that flows from our lips – it just cannot be done. That’s why Orthodox Christians bless material things.

 

So this year, we invite each family of our blessed Cathedral to contact Fr Theofanis or myself  and schedule a house or business blessing.  Just as the Church has been set aside for a special purpose, our homes and businesses should be set aside for a special purpose. That purpose is for our family to live united to God, dedicated to His message of hope for a new life in Christ free from the burden of sin and temptation. When we invite the Priest into our homes and businesses for this annual blessing, we are indeed inviting Christ Himself and His Holy Spirit into our daily lives so that we can live committed Orthodox Christian lives for His glory. This is not merely an old Greek custom but a holy act of faith in the power to God in our lives.

Posted by Fr Athanasios Haros at 10:10 AM
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