The rite of the Great Blessing of Water is celebrated in the Orthodox
Church after the vesperal divine liturgy on the eve of the feast of the
Epiphany, and after the eucharistic liturgy on the day itself.1 It
begins with the chanting of special hymns with the incensing of the
water, and concludes with bible readings, petitions and prayers.2
The voice of the Lord upon the waters cries out saying:
Come, receive ye all the Spirit of wisdom,
The Spirit of understanding, the Spirit of the fear of God,
The Spirit of Christ who is made manifest.
Today the nature of the waters is sanctified, The Jordan bursts forth
and turns back the
flood of its streams,
Seeing the Master wash himself.
As a man You came to that river, 0 Christ the King,
Hastening to receive the baptism of a servant,
At the hands of the Forerunner because of our sins,
0 Good One who loves Mankind.
1The usual practice in parish churches is to bless the water just once,
at the time when most people can be present. According to most Typika
the water should be blessed in a receptacle inside the church building
on the eve of the feast, and outside in a natural setting on the day
itself. This is done in churches where it can be easily accomplished.
2The scripture readings at the Great Blessing of Water are from Isaiah:
1. 35:1.10. 2. 55:1-13. 3. 2:31. The Psalm vents are taken from Psalm
114 and Psalm 28. The Epistle reading is I Corinthians 10:1.4. The Gospel
reading is the baptism of Jesus according to the Gospel of St. Mark.
To the voice of one crying in the wilderness,
Prepare ye the way of the Lord,
You came, 0 Lord, taking the form of a servant,
Asking for baptism though You have no sin.
The waters saw You and were afraid.
The Forerunner began to tremble and cried out, saying:
How shall the lampstand illumine the Light?
How shall the servant lay hands upon the Master?
Sanctify both me and the waters, 0 Savior,
Who takes away the sins of the world.3
The water placed in a large receptacle in the midst of the church, or
freely flowing in a natural source, is decorated with candles and
flowers as the symbol of the beautiful world of Gods original creation
through His Word and Spirit—the same beautiful world which shall become
the Kingdom of God at the end of the ages through its redemption by the
Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ, and the same Holy Spirit.
People sometimes think that the blessing of water, and the practice of
drinking it and sprinkling it on people and things, is a "paganism”
which has crept into the Christian Church. We know, however, that this
ritual was practiced by the People of God before the coming of Christ,
as well as at the time of His manifestation. (See John 5-7) And we know
that it has existed among Christians from very early times, being
witnessed from the beginning especially in connection with the practice
The service of the Great Blessing of Water itself reveals the actions
meaning for the Christian people. The readings from the Bible,
particularly the messianic words from the prophecy of Isaiah, together
with the prayers, petitions and hymns all serve to manifest the meaning
of the great festival of the Manifestation of the Messiah.
Thus says the Lord, The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad
for them; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. It shall
blossom abundantly and rejoice even with joy and singing. they
3Opening hymns from the rite of the Great Blessing of Water.
shall see the glory of the Lord and the excellency of our God...He will
come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the
ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a
hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall
waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground
shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water..... (Is 35:1-10)
God has sent His only begotten Son “not to condemn the world, but that
the world might be saved through him.” (Jn 3:17) He has sent the Lord
Jesus Christ not only to save people’s souls, but to save their bodies,
and not only to save human beings, but to save the entire creation.
You are great, 0 Lord, and Your works are wondrous, and there are no
words capable of hymning your wonders....For of Your own will You
brought all things into being from nothing, by Your power You uphold the
whole of creation, and by Your providence You order the world....The sun
sings to You, the moon glorifies You, the stars meet together before
Your face, the light obeys You, the deeps shudder before You, the water
springs serve You . . .We confess Your grace, we proclaim Your mercy, we
conceal not Your gracious acts You have set free our mortal nature. By
Your birth You have sanctified the virgin’s womb. All creation sings
praises to You Who have revealed Yourself. For You, our God, have
appeared upon earth and have dwelled among men. You have sanctified the
Jordan streams. . . . Therefore 0 Master, be present here now by the
descent of the Holy Spirit, and sanctify this water. Give it the
blessing of Jordan. Make it a fountain of incorruption, a gift of
sanctification, a remission of sins, a protection against disease, a
destruction of demons . . and may it be for those who will partake of
it, to the cleansing of their souls and bodies, to the healing of their
passions, to the sanctification of their homes, to every expedient
Since the Son of God has taken human flesh and has appeared in the
world, manifesting Himself in His baptism in the Jordan, all flesh and
all matter is sanctified. Everything is made pure and holy in Him.
Everything which is corrupted and polluted by the sinful works of men is
cleansed and purified by the gracious works of God. All death-dealing
powers of the devil which poison the good world of God’s creation are
destroyed. All things are again made new. Through the “prime element’ of
water on the feast of the Epiphany the entire creation is shown to be
sanctified by Gods Word through the same Spirit of God who ‘in the
beginning as moving over the face of the waters.’ (Gen 1:2)
Come, 0 ye faithful,
Let us praise the greatness of God’s dispensation toward us,
For He who became Man because of our transgressions
And who alone is clean and undefiled,
Was for our cleansing Himself cleansed in the Jordan
That He might sanctify both me and the waters...
Let us then draw water in gladness, 0 Brothers,
For upon those that draw in faith
The grace of the Spirit is invisibly bestowed by Christ
The God and Savior of our souls.5
4The Main prayer from the rite of the Great Blessing of Water.
5Concluding Hymn from the rite of the Great Blessing of Water
[Taken from, "The Winter Pascha" by Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, SVS
Press, 1984, available at: 800-204-book]