On a cold January day, while sledders hooted and geese pecked for food in the ice, 35 Orthodox Christians re-enacted an ancient service along Parleys Creek in Sugar House Park.
The group — 10 of them children — gathered Thursday on the Feast of Theophany (known as Epiphany by Western Christians) for the blessing of the waters.
Theophany is the 12th day of Christmas and commemorates Jesus Christ’s revelation as God. While some Christians emphasize the three wise men reaching the Christ child, Orthodox Christians remember his baptism in the Jordan River and God’s revelation that Jesus was his son.
“What we do has meaning,” said the Rev. Justin Havens, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church in Salt Lake City, as he stood at the edge of the stream before a white-lace-covered table holding a large silver bowl of holy water rimmed with beeswax candles. “Everything we do in the church is theology lived out.”
Members of Salt Lake Valley’s Greek Orthodox community also joined the blessing of the waters.
Havens and Greek Orthodox Rev. Elias Koucos chanted prayers and read from the Gospel of Mark before blessing a small wooden cross with holy water. When they tossed the cross into the stream, five children wearing boots waded into the frigid water to retrieve the cross.
This brings back memories of a blogger’s childhood in Salt Lake City, tobogganing at the nearby sledding hill, and riding or walking around the artificial lake and wading in the creek above it.
It’s wonderful that this tradition continues in Utah, and brings so many people together. There must have been many such blessings of the water in the Chicago area, which was very cold on the Feast of the Theophany!
At St Nicholas, the feast fell into the middle of the week, so our celebration was “transferred” to last Sunday. Following the Anglican/Episcopalian tradition, the “wise men” completed their journey to meet the Christ Child, and warn His parents of Herod’s wrath. Their figures were carried into the sanctuary by three children of the parish to join the animals, shepherds, and the Holy Family at the Nativity scene, or creche, that had been set up.
What will happen at tonight’s or tomorrow’s services? Come and see!