The rite of the Great Blessing of Water is celebrated in the Orthodox Church after
the vesperal Divine Liturgy on the eve of the feast of Epiphany, and after the eucharistic
liturgy on the day itself. It begins with the chanting of special hymns with the
incensing of the water, and concludes with bible readings, petitions and prayers.
The water placed in a large receptacle in the midst of the church, or freely flowing
in a natural source, is decorated with candles and flowers as the symbol of the beautiful
world of God's original creation through His Word and Spirit - the same beautiful
world which shall become the Kingdom of God at the end of the ages through its redemption
by the Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ, and the same Holy Spirit.
People sometimes think that the blessing of water, and the practice of drinking it
and sprinkling it on the people and things, is a "paganism" which has crept into
the Christian Church. We know, however, that this ritual was practiced by the People
of God before the coming of Christ, as well as at the time of His manifestation.
(See John 5-7) And we know that it has existed among Christians from very early in
conjunction with the practice of baptism.
The service of the Great Blessing of Water itself reveals the action's meaning for
the Christian people. The readings from the Bible, particularly the messianic words
from the prophecy of Isaiah, together with the prayers, petitions and hymns all serve
to manifest the meaning of the great festival of the Manifestation of the Messiah....
God has sent His only-begotten Son "not to condemn the world, but that the world
might be saved through Him." (John 3:17) He has sent the Lord Jesus Christ not only
to save people's souls, but to save their bodies, and not only to save human beings,
but to save the entire creation....
Since the Son of God has taken human flesh and has appeared in the world, manifesting
Himself in His baptism in the Jordan, all flesh and all matter is sanctified. Everything
is made pure and holy in Him. Everything which is corrupted and polluted by the sinful
works of men is cleansed and purified by the gracious works of God. All death-dealing
powers of the devil, which poison the good world of God's creation are destroyed.
All things are made new. Through the "prime element" of water on the feast of Epiphany
the entire creation is shown to be sanctified by God's word through the same Spirit
of God who "in the beginning....was moving over the face of the waters." (Gen 1:2)