The God of the Waters


I stood in the rain this afternoon, with twenty or thirty of the faithful as we blessed the waters of the Clinch River at Melton Hill Marina. It’s the same place that is pictured in the snow with the blessing of the waters on a few blogs down.

Today the water was everywhere. In the lake, coming down from the sky, gradually soaking into us.

There was a certain glory in chanting (more like shouting) “Great, O Lord, are Thy works, and there is no word to proclaim your wonders!”

I am always struck during the service of the Blessing of the Waters – particularly when we’re outdoors – that the redemption of the world extends to the created order as well as to ourselves. It’s not just about us. Nor is it about what many would call “the environment.” Though a Christian should care for the environment – the one we live in is as subject to death and decay as we are – and was made so on account of us – according to the 8th chapter of Romans.

The “dragons” of the Waters to be crushed bear a likeness to the demons of hell defeated at Pascha. They are the demons of decay and death that work around us always seeking to enthrone mortality as the Lord of all.

Ours is not a “culture of death,” but a culture that fears death. It is held at bay by almost any means – we paint the faces of the living – just as we paint the faces of the dead – in both cases trying to paint a soul where one does not seem to be.

I believe it was St. Gregory of Nyssa (and I have no idea of the citation) who once said that the body is in the soul rather than the soul in the body. I’ve meditated on this many times and realized that there is a “life” through which we see one another (“soul” and “life” frequently have the same meaning in the New Testament). A soul that is truly united with Christ is radiant and the face we see “through” it bears this same radiance, and a beauty that cannot be marred.

That this radiance departs at death should not be surprising, nor should our culture’s vain efforts to paint it back. But we also attempt to place a beauty on the soul that we have not yet made our own. At best it can only resemble. Love, mercy, and kindness, are the acts that make our souls to shine with the radiance of God. And a person who seeks to paint love, mercy and kindness where they do not naturally belong is, in fact, deceptive. And so we deceive ourselves.

Nature itself, we are told, groans for the proper radiance of God.

To stand by a lake and shout the word of God, to call His name over the waters, is like standing in the midst of Hades and shouting, “Ally, ally, in come free!” (I know there are hundreds of innovations of that child’s call that ends the game of hide and seek – this was our Southern variant). But there is a word of hope being called out to creation that shares in our bondage. This lake, these trees, these sluggish winter fish, all will be partakers of the glorious liberty of the sons of God. This is God’s promise and it is a joy to stand outside and shout it.

The skies returned the favor by continuing to pour down their liquid blessing. It was as if God Himself had taken up the aspergillium and was sprinkling the earth with the dew of His blessing.

We returned home very wet, blessed, and renewed in the grace of God.

Dragons crushed, water blessed, good Theophany!

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





12 responses to “The God of the Waters”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    The photo is of a priest blessing the waters in Salisbury, Ct, (Theophany, 2004). The parish is All Saints of North America, OCA. Greetings on the feast!

  2. Jack Avatar

    Excellent post! Goes to the heart of contemporary life and reminds me of a couple of thoughts I am struggling with.

    (1) The Roman Catholic cultural essayist Peter Augustine Lawler claims that the more closer we appear to be technologically conquering death the more anxious and sterile our lives become. Every little microbe becomes a possible threat to our immortality. There is certainly a reflection of this anxiety in our contemporary concerns about the “environment.” As a friend of mine puts it, we modern Dr. Frankensteins have been manipulating the levers of scientistic reason for too long. We’ve created a frightening monster.

    (2) There was a rock band a few years back by the name of “Sky crys Mary.” I think the name may have come from a Jimi Hendrix song, but I hope it came from someone like Hopkins. Regardless, it is a beautiful name that reminds me of your glorious Theophany experience. Mary’s tears from heaven.

    (3) The contention that the body is “in” the soul is an ancient philosopical saw of the Platonists. Because it is the soul that governs and informs the body, making a body to be an ordered thing that can rightly be called a body rather than simply a collection or a lump, the soul metaphysically “contains” the body. Ergo, the body is in the soul. When modern man claims he has no soul he is essentially claiming that he has no intrinsic order. In an important sense, he is right. What is not ordered to Christ is without true order. But, this would also mean that he doesn’t really have a body either. Body is matter ordered or organ-ized.

    Similarly, because the infinite One governs and informs the finite cosmos, and qua infinite is necessarily “everywhere present and filling all things,” Christians believe that the Father contains or bears the cosmos by his Spirit and through his Word “through whom all things.” Withdraw your breath and we depart. Of course, this only extends to the cosmos qua cosmos, one nature under God so to speak. God is not in disorder and death.

    Anyway, building upon Schmemann’s observations in Sacraments and Orthodoxy, I think there is a significant sense in which the very telos of the entire Cosmos is to be the Body of Christ in the Spirit. God will be “all in all.” In Christ bread is restored to what it was meant to be, gracious life giving communion with God. Thus, strictly speaking, the sacramental divine liturgy isn’t a supernatural “miracle” but rather nature restored to right order. The miracle lies in the gracious paschal gift of restoration that is the Church. I’m not sure if this is right, but it sounds like something Dionysius or Maximus or Symeon the New Theologian might affirm.

    If this be true, I wonder if you could offer some thoughts on Christianity and “environmentalism.” The example of the Saints and the type of ontology suggested above seem to indicate that there is deeply Christian understanding of stewardship that would have at least some sympathy with conservationists. How do we moderns assist in bringing everything captive to Christ?

    P.S. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, would it be possible for me to contact you?

  3. […] thought-provoking, moving – his posts are a welcome part of the day. Today’s post “The God of the Waters” is a good example: ….To stand by a lake and shout the word of God, to call His name […]

  4. Fatherstephen Avatar


    Nice thought on Hendrix – but it’s “The Wind Cries Mary” – but I’m probably older than you and owned the album when it first came out. Indeed, I was listening to Hendrix before he was to be heard on radio to any extent, because of the older sister of my best friend. She was very into parts of rock that only later became mainstream. I won’t say what else she was into. It was the 60’s …

    The Wind Cries Mary

    After all the jacks are in their boxes
    And the clowns have all gone to bed
    You can hear happiness staggering on down the street
    Footsteps dressed in red
    And the wind whispers mary
    A broom is drearily sweeping
    Up the broken pieces of yesterdays life
    Somewhere a queen is weeping
    Somewhere a king has no wife
    And the wind, it cries mary
    The traffic lights, they turn, uh, blue tomorrow
    And shine their emptiness down on my bed
    The tiny island sags down stream
    cause the life that lived is,
    Is dead
    And the wind screams mary
    Uh-will the wind ever remember
    The names it has blow in the past?
    And with this crutch, its old age, and its wisdom
    It whispers no, this will be the last
    And the wind cries mary

  5. Jack Avatar

    Wow. That is extraordinarly good. Who would have thought? Perhaps I shouldn’t have sold my Hendrix records after all.

  6. fatherstephen Avatar

    Many years ago, in an act of extreme Jesus Freak purging, I gave virtually all of my record albums to my older brother. I could not bring myself to burn them. He now has a wonderful collection.

    I have occasionally introduced my teenagers to a 60’s rock or folk album (on CD) because (a) I thought they’d like it (b) it’s better than some of the derivative stuff they listen to and (c) I can listen to it myself should the need arise. We do not currently have any Hendrix around the house, but I would not kick him out if he appeared here 🙂

  7. Jack Avatar

    Unfortunately, under the influence of a nihilstic Franciscan friend of mine, I purged myself of an absolutely fantastic collection of jazz, new wave, funk, and sixties rock on vinyl.

    Did Hendrix unintentionally write a song about Christian nostalgia?

  8. Fatherstephen Avatar

    I’m not sure how to interpret his lyrics. They certainly fit the mood of a smack freak. But sometimes the mood fits the strange land of the post-Christian West. There’s a little book, Youth of the Apocalypse and the Last True Rebellion, that is an approach to youth who have been on the dark side of things and showing them the truth of Orthodoxy that I’ve found interesting. I have not used it in my parish bookstore or library for various reasons, but is an interesting look, anyway. There are probably things that do a better job.

    But the whole post-Christian, or postmodern question, when in dialog with Orthodoxy, interests me greatly. Part of that is that I spent time at Duke doing a graduate degree when the postmodern stuff was reigning supreme there (don’t know what they’re doing now), and part is the sense that business as usual is not sufficient in this culture when bearing witness to the faith, much less, the faith in its fullness.

    I enjoy the fact that I have younger theologians in my family – in my oldest daughters and their husbands – and I learn much from them.

    I think that Fr. John Behr at St. Vlad’s is doing exciting work that addresses on an academic level some of the questions raised.

    But then, there is the voice of a poet, and wherever he may be standing, when he yields an authentic voice of the culture, it’s worth listening to. Poets are not valued in America like they are in Russia, and they’re probably not as good.

    But the twists of irony that I find in Dylan, for instance, always have worked for me. But that’s another bit of grist for a post.

  9. Jack Avatar

    It is hard to believe all of those Christian resonances were not intentional. Sounds like he read some Yeats.

    I agree that postmodernity is interesting. The enlightenment failed to live up to its promise to create flourishing secular cultures, economies, and governments. Instead we got the 20th century.

    The unfortunate thing is that what contemporary people are often reacting against when they think they are reacting against Christianity is actually the European enlightenment and all the anti-Christian myths it propogated (and some failed Christian responses). They need Chesterton. This is why neopagan “traditions” like Kwanza and Fascism crop up. People are rightly searching for the roots that the enlightenment worked so hard, and so effectively, to destroy.

    I agree about Behr. He is good at deconstructing some of the metaphysical pyramids created by modern theologians, including some Orthodox. What it means to be a infinite divine person in communion is not intelligible to a finite mind. Christians don’t have that vantage point anymore than anyone else does. Rather, we are members of the Body of the Word empowered by the Spirit to worship the living God.

  10. Fatherstephen Avatar


    I am always a little wary when I wake up and feel like an infinite divine person in communion. It’s usually a warning sign of something… 🙂

  11. Steve Avatar

    Jack: “What it means to be a infinite divine person in communion is not intelligible to a finite mind.”

    Or a finite mouth. Say that 3 times fast.

  12. Jack Avatar


    Great come back. My purple prose could use some deconstructing as well.

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