Jesus' Baptism, Blessing of the Waters *

 

Right Hand of St. Thaddeus the Apostle, with relic, XVII

Source: Treasures of Echmiadzin

"Throughout all centuries, past religion has played a great moral and social role in influencing the history of peoples . . . At least some, if not all, of the feasts of the church comprise the structure of Armenian community life.  Thus, such celebrations serve not only for the preservation of our religious and moral precepts, but also for the general aim of reinforcing our national character." *

Introduction

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During the earliest centuries, the Sacrament of the Baptism, which was celebrated with the Nativity, was regarded to be of the highest level of importance.  The profound significance and importance of the Baptism remains even today, receiving great emphasis in Christianity.

In the Armenian Church, Baptism is one of the seven sacraments.  It became established and consecrated by St. John, who as the forerunner to the Savior's sacred mission had preached Jesus' Revelation.  For that reason, he was called John the Baptist.

For a true understanding of the meaning of baptism, it is absolutely necessary to read the Gospels.  It is there that this sacred practice is eloquently described and explained.  It follows that through baptism, the individual accepts the faith and becomes entitled to practice it.

There is a beautiful and wise practice formulated by our early church fathers, a practice that has become canonical.  According to that practice, all Armenian infants of our church must unconditionally be baptized in the waters of the same baptismal font, to symbolize spiritual brotherhood.

The ceremony of baptism becomes more meaningful when we reflect on the following.  During the baptism ceremony, the one being baptized is asked (through the adult godfather) what is wanted from the baptism.  The answer given is Faith, Hope, Love, and Baptism.  Thus, the rite of baptism is a sacrament to endow virtues that are fundamentally essential to a good life.

In being baptized, Jesus became a living example to mankind.  It is in memory of that act that we conduct a special ceremony on January 6, immediately after the Divine Liturgy.

In historical times, that ceremony was conducted on the banks of rivers and streams, following the example of Jesus' being baptized in the River Jordan.  In the course of time, because of practical difficulties, it became a necessary practice to memorialize Jesus' baptism within the church sanctuary, in the rite of the Blessing of Waters (Jurorhnek).

It is currently a common practice to designate a godfather for the ceremony of Blessing of Waters.  The chosen person, so honored, in return makes a substantial gift to the church, or to some worthy cause.

 

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Noteworthy Occasions of "Blessing of Water" Throughout History

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St. Gregory the Enlightener's Most Busy Day 6 January 303

When St. Gregory the Enlightener was removed form Khor Virap ("Deep Pit"), he started out, with the help of King Tiridates (Trdat), on the far-reaching task of establishing Christianity throughout Armenia.

During the years 301-303, the Enlightener founded many hundreds of Churches.  He carried on an intensive battle against the pagans, and had the existing temples and idols destroyed.  When he returned from Edessa where he had been ordained with the highest rank of the church, St. Gregory baptized King Tiridates, members of the court, and thousands of people, in the Aradzani (Murat, or southern branch of the Euphrates) River.  There, still standing today, is an outcropping of rock called Trdat's Artzan (Statue of Tiridates); it shows a likeness of Tiridates.

According to historians, the number of those baptized on that day was four thousand "biur" (which would mean four thousand thousand, or four million).

 

Blessing of Waters by Catholicos Petros Getadartz -- 6 January 1023

The following is a memorable description of the historic Blessing of Waters from the Cilician era, as written by a foreign churchman, Canonicus Willebrandt.

He, along with Roman princes, had been a guest of the King of Cilicia.  On the way to a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, he had remained in Cilicia for four months enjoying Armenian hospitality.  Canonicus Willebrandt wrote, "We arrived at Sis on the day of Theophany (Revelation), on the invitation of King Leon, who was to show us their ceremony.  Sis is one of their important cities.  It has countless people of wealth.  This is how they celebrated the Feast of the Revelation.  First, they did penance for twelve days and observed abstinence, even shunning fish, wine, and oils.  On the day preceding, they fasted.  In the evening they celebrated the Divine Liturgy and worshipped piously the whole night through.

"In the morning they went to the river bank near the city.  King Leon was astride a tall and stately horse.  The king's courtiers, also grandly attired, proceeded before him, carrying banners.  Thousands of people accompanied their king.  The king's second in authority, Rouben, along with the noblemen of the province, were following him.  Then came the soldiers, en masse, all in attractive uniforms.  The soldiers were shouting, "Hail to the King".  When the military trumpets had sounded and the band played, the king dismounted and went to the tent that had been pitched for him on the river bank.  Then came the Greek patriarch with his retinue, and the Armenian clergy with their Catholicos in a glorious procession.

"They began to bless the waters of the river.  The Gospel was read in both Greek and Armenian.  The Cross was put into the water, and off to a side, a dove was released.  Someone went into the river, and when he was in the center he cried out in a powerful voice, 'Long live our King.'  Then he cried out again, 'May Christianity rise and grow strong throughout the world.'  The crowd of people shouted 'Amen.'  Then the king and many others sprinkled themselves with that blessed water.  Assyrians who were with them bathed themselves unclad in the waters.

"After the ceremony of Blessing of Waters the churchmen departed, while the king and his retinue went for sports and games (horse racing), at a sports field near the city of Sis.  I confess that I cannot say how pleasing or delightful those games were.  The young noblemen engaged in games of archery and lancing.

"When the days of Theophany were over, the fine king treated us with great honor, and we traveled to other cities within King Leon's realm.  We later went to Adamod, the fortified hamlet which Leon, together with the adjacent fiefdoms, had ceded to the Alaman people of the province of Shirak, whom he loved very much.

 

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The Evangelists and Jesus' Baptism

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Gospel According to Mathew (Matt 3:13-17)

"Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying 'I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?'  But Jesus answered him, 'Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.'  Then he consented.  And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'"

 

Gospel According to Luke (Luke 3:21-22)

"Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, 'Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am please.'"

 

Gospel According to John (John 1:29-34)

"The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.'  I myself did not know him; but for this I cam baptizing with water, that he might be reveal to Israel.'  And John bore witness, 'I saw the Spirit descend like a dove from heaven, and it remained on him.  I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, "He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit."  And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God. '"

 

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*The text for this topic is taken from: Feast of the Armenian Church and National Traditions. Garo Bedrossian, Translated by Arra S. Avakian; Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, Los Angeles, Dedicated to the 1700th anniversary of the proclamation of Christianity in Armenia; Publication of the printed volume was made possible by Mr. and Mrs. Manuel and Josephine Sassounian, In Memory of their Father, Dikran Sassounian.  Printed by Yerevan Printing and Publishing, Gledale, California.  Original publication in Armenian by Nor Gyank Publishing House, Series No. 9.

 

 

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