Sunday, January 12, 2003

Our see-saw weather left snow on the ground the morning of the Feast of Theophany. By Wednesday, it had melted, leaving marshy places and running water. We have been living under drought conditions the last few years here in Virginia, and this is most welcome. There is a small spring south of the house on the other side of the little run that cuts through the farm that has been dry for some time. To tell the truth, I had forgotten it was there until I found myself stepping over inches of water on my morning walk with the dog. It is flowing again, out from under a large rock as if struck by Moses himself.

On a farm, it is impossible to ignore the fact of water. We pump our household water from a well drilled when the house was built. Some of house water gets shared with the sheep in the barn. Out in the pasture, they drink from the run that bisects the property, flowing down into Gooney Run, which itself flows into the Shenandoah River. We know where our water comes from, how it is used and where it goes. I find that, in this area at least, knowledge only increases mystery. No amount of learning about the hydrological cycle can erase the basic wonder, that rains grow grass, and grass, through a kind of biochemical alchemy, turns into the lambs that play outside over the fence. During the worst of our drought, the grass stopped growing. The grass feeds our sheep, and rainfall brings the grass. No rain, and not just our lawn, but our life dries up and blows away. It makes it harder to take for granted this most basic of blessings. When we pray in the Liturgy "For favorable weather, an abundance of the fruits of the earth, and temperate seasons," I may perhaps pray a little harder than some of my fellow parishioners, and have a little different idea of what constitutes "favorable weather."

A key moment in the celebration of the Feast of the Theophany, the commemoration of the baptism of Jesus, is the blessing of the waters. As he blesses, the priest plunges the cross into the water, making water, which gives natural life, an icon of the living water which gives eternal life. As Dumitru Staniloae put it, "all things found in the middle between God and the human person call out for the cross." The presence of the cross in the midst of the waters reminds us of both of the fragility of our natural life, and the hope that our "natural" life will be taken up and transformed into something greater. It is customary for Orthodox homes to be blessed by the same water consecrated at Theophany. I reprint here one of the prayers said at that blessing, with the hope that each of you find salvation in your own house, and that you may have an abundance of the water of life:

0 God our Savior, the True Light, Who was baptized in the Jordan by the Prophet John, and Who did deign to enter under the roof‑tree of Zacchaeus, bringing salvation unto him and unto his house: do You, the same Lord, keep safe also from harm those who dwell herein; grant to them Your blessing, purification and bodily health, and all their petitions that are unto salvation and Life everlasting; for blessed are You, as also Your Father Who is from everlasting, and Your All‑Holy, Good and Life‑creating Spirit, both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.