Byzantine Catholics marched through the streets of Anchorage on Jan. 6 to Chester Creek near Valley of the Moon Park to celebrate the baptism of Jesus.
Led by Father James Barrand, several dozen parishioners of St. Nicholas of Myra Byzantine Catholic Church bundled in winter coats and walked a quarter mile along Arctic Avenue singing hymns and carrying liturgical banners and sacred icons. The procession ended at the creek for the Great Blessing of Water. The yearly observance is considered to be one of the most solemn blessings of the church year.
In the Byzantine Catholic tradition, the Feast of the Theophany is part of the cycle of winter feasts that highlight the coming of the Messiah into the world and the beginning of his work of redemption.
This Great Blessing of the Water is performed on the eve of the feast, where water is first blessed in the church. The next morning, after Divine Liturgy, the priest and people walk to a body of living water — a river, stream, or lake to bless the water.
After the blessing the faithful may take some water home for use in blessings throughout the year.
The water blessing is viewed as a culmination of the Feast of the Nativity in which the church celebrates the birth of Christ. This revelation is seen as more private — to those who were near Christ’s birth. In fact, the first 30 years of Christ’s life were mostly private. His public ministry, however, began with his baptism in the Jordan River, which the Byzantine Catholic Church commemorates on the feast of Theophany (Jan. 6).
According to Scripture, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist. Immediately on coming up out of the water, he saw the sky rent in two and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. Then a voice came from the heavens: “You are my beloved son. On you my favor rests.” (Mark 1: 9-11)
The hymns sung on the Feast of the Theophany speak of the Lord’s baptism as a victory over sin and the effects of sin in creation. It is not only mankind that is enlightened, but the natural world as well. The Lord’s baptism in the Jordan is seen as leading to the cleansing and blessing of the very waters of the Jordan, and outward to the entire created world.