The Feasts of the Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus were celebrated about a week ago. Usually around this time, one of the local New York papers carries the story of the Greek Archbishop of New York going down to the Hudson River and throwing a cross into its waters, which is then retrieved by some hardy Greek divers. I didn’t see anything in the news this year, but I’m pretty sure they did it again.
The waters of the Hudson this time of year are, like the world itself now, grim and cold, but that dramatic gesture, the cross in the water, the cross that represents Jesus Christ, says the Hudson River is blessed. Whatever it looks like, however uninviting it seems, Christ’s presence and Christ’s blessing are there.
When Jesus entered the River Jordan, he entered the Hudson, the waters of Long Island Sound, the rivers and waters of the world. The waters are holy the world over, this gesture says. The Spirit still broods over the waters. The grace of God is given to the Magi and all the peoples of the world they represent.
Here’s the way one of the saints of the Greek church, St. Proclus of Constantinople explains it:
“Our feast of the Epiphany and the Baptism manifests even more wonders than the feast of Christmas… At Christmas our King puts on the royal robe of his body; at Epiphany he, as it were, clothes the river.
On the feast of the Savior’s birth, the earth rejoiced because it bore the Lord in a manger; but on today’s feast the sea is glad because it receives the blessing of holiness in the river Jordan.”
The United States Geological Survey has a wonderful site on water. Water is everywhere, not only in the seas and rivers, but in the air, the foods we eat, even our bodies. 71% of the earth’s surface is water. 60% of our bodies is water. Water’s a precious gift. It’s a pervasive presence in our world.
That’s why water is the sign we receive in the Sacrament of Baptism. God tells us that, not only does he support us in life, but God promises support for this world of ours. God will be more present than water, through his Son, Jesus Christ.
That’s why we bless ourselves with water when we enter and leave our church. Many people bless themselves with holy water when they enter and leave home. We don’t want to lose a sense of God’s power and presence with us, which can easily happen today.
Pope Francis said recently that many of our rivers are “rivers of blood” because of war. He was speaking of the Dneiper and other rivers of the Ukraine. God gives us life. Let’s keep our world life-giving.