Dear brothers and sisters,
Greetings to you all in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one true God. Amen
From the beginning of humanity, water has had its unique place in all religions. It was, and is, an important element of life. As the major constituent of our bodies, water is central to human existence. It covers over seventy percent of the surface of the earth and there is no known material life form that can survive without it. In fact, 55 to 60 % of our bodies are made up of water. Christianity ascribes more theological significance to water than perhaps any other natural element.
As we can see from the Old Testament, the exodus and salvation from slavery and entering the Promised Land for Israelites took place by and through the water: passing the Red Sea and the River Jordan. Exactly the same experience happens with us during the baptism because Christian baptism is the real exodus, the essential aspect of the process by which the catechumen experiences the New Covenant that exceeds the old. From the beginning of creation until now, water has been a necessary part of the life of humanity because it has been a life-giving and cleansing element. Water was and is the primary source of life in both physical and spiritual realms.
Also, in the New Testament, water becomes the way of spiritual salvation and, at the same time, one of the “tools” of the healing process. In the Gospel according to St. John, we find two episodes of the healing process, similar to the story of the Syrian commander Naaman. The first episode took place at the pool of Bethesda, into which the afflicted would immerse themselves for their physical healing: So, the people suffering from various illnesses, but strengthened with faith and hope, were waiting around the pool to be healed through the water. God requires faith and cooperation from the one who needs to be healed. (John 5:3-5).
The second incident took place immediately after the healing of the blind man. Jesus sent him to the Pool of Siloam to wash in the healing water: “…Go, wash in the pool of Siloam. So, he went and washed and came back seeing” (John 9:7). There was something healing about the fresh water in the Pool of Siloam.
God blesses all unconditionally, both the righteous and the unrighteous, with the sun and the rain- (Matthew 5:45), so it all depends on how we receive, acknowledge and bring these blessings to fruition. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles today also reveals to us clearly that salvation and baptism are accessible to all who seek and are willing to receive, without discrimination, regardless of their identity, be it racial, gender, or sexual.
In the Gospel, according to St. Matthew, Jesus walks upon the waters and identifies Himself as the Creator of all, and He restores the creation from chaos. When Peter walks on water, it shows the way to the new life made possible by Jesus Christ. This moment in Peter’s life is one of the greatest prototypes of the Christian initiation in the New Testament in which each new Christian enters liturgical time to make the same descent and ascent in the water, to die the same death and be born again.
The first mention of water in the Holy Bible is found in Genesis 1:2, “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” and the last mention is found in Revelation 22:17 “And whosoever will let him take the water of life freely.” So, the Bible begins with God and water and ends with God and water, and between the beginning and the end, the Bible is full of testimony that links God and water in His creating, blessing and saving work. We can see from all these Biblical stories that water is a mystically powerful element that, by the power of God, can cleanse sins, inner and outer defilements, and regenerate the human person, physically and spiritually.
Fr.Alexander Schmemann, observed that the original meaning of a symbol is to “tie together". He stresses that symbols of the Church are not meant simply to illustrate but rather to manifest and communicate the reality which they symbolize. That is, they are not simply didactic but mystically communicative. Orthodox Christianity holds that God can and does communicate grace and salvation by means of material objects؛ first and foremost because God himself has taken flesh, become a man, and dwelt among his own material creatures.!. Like Noah, who descended into the waters of the Flood and emerged as the father of a new humanity, Christ likewise descends into the waters of the Jordan in order to vanquish the water-beast which dwells there and holds captives the souls of the dead.
Drinking, sprinkling, and anointing with blessed water is likewise a perennial practice throughout Orthodox Christianity, dating from antiquity up to the present day. The underlying assumption of such pious practices is that grace may be received through material contact with blessed water. Essentially this reflects the theological understanding that all things, including the material, may be consecrated and saturated by the indwelling presence of God through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.
In light of the redemptive work of the Saviour, water, therefore, constitutes the material element which manifests the activity and domain of the life-giving Holy Spirit of God: acting as a channel of vivifying divine grace and the sanctification of humanity and the rest of the created world.
Let me conclude with the quotes of Church father Jacob of Serugh.
“The entire nature of the waters perceived that You had visited them: the seas, deep rivers, springs and pools all thronged together to receive the blessings from your footsteps”.