Blessing of the waters

I once visited the house where my mother was born. It was a small, rickety place on the edge of a swamp. The swamp was big and I was small, and my skin was soft and fresh and the sun was oh-so-hot and relentless and I was not at home. My grandfather rowed me out into the swamp on his john-boat and I saw alligators slip into the water and I told him what I had seen and he said, “Boy, I’ve been rowing on this water for 50 years, and there isn’t an alligator in here I can’t name, and I wouldn’t be scared of one anyhow.” And I thought about that with wide eyes. And then, when rowing back in, it started to storm and the thunder was loud and the rain came hard, and when we beached the boat at the landing my grandfather told me that my mother had been born in the middle of a storm like this one, and then his face took on an expression I couldn’t read. And we got up to the house and my grandmother met us with towels, and I told her about what my grandfather had said about my mother being born in a storm like this, and she cried. She smiled and cried. And that’s about the time I began to suspect that water is holy.


A few months later a Greek priest came and blessed the water in that swamp, and threw a cross in and the boys of the town jumped in after it and they weren’t afraid of alligators, either.

Later in life my heart was broken because I lost someone and I joined the Navy and many people thought I was crazy and sometimes I didn’t know why I had done it myself. Until one day when I was standing on the fantail all alone and looking out into the sea and I thought to myself that maybe I had joined the Navy so the sea could cry the tears that I couldn’t cry. But then a friend sent me a book of Isak Denison poetry and I read some things and I cried on the fantail after all. I cried and the sea cried. We both cried.

My son was born in water and he came up out of a birthing tub into our living room and it was the greatest miracle my wife and I had maybe ever seen. And a few weeks later we said some prayers that God would make the water holy and then we plunged our boy into it and the water made him holy, our Tradition teaches. And my wife cried then, and I cried and our boy cried and then I knew beyond a doubt that water is holy. Tears and the sea and the baptismal waters. God makes them holy and they makes us holy and we make them holy ourselves if we can.

At 1 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 8, a few souls will celebrate the ancient Christian Feast of Theophany by blessing the waters of the Douglas channel, just like Orthodox Christians have done every year throughout the world since the first century, and just like 400 million other Orthodox Christians will be doing this year around the world. We will be out at Sandy Point, which is the place the Orthodox in Juneau have practiced the Tradition since about 1892, when Yeesgaanalx, head of the Big Dipper House of the L’eeneidi Clan and Aanyaalahaash, head of the Salmon Hole House of the Gaanax.adi Clan, along with some other Auk kwáan and Taku kwáan leaders, invited Father Donskoi from St. Michael’s Cathedral to come and baptize some of the people, to bless the land and water, and to build a Church.

But they knew then the truth of it then: that in the blessing of the waters, it is we who are blessed by the waters.

• Fr. David Alexander is the interim pastor of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church and serves as the chaplain for the U.S. Coast Guard in Juneau and the Southeast. He holds a PhD from the Centre for Trauma, Asylum & Refugees at the University of Essex in the UK, and is a proud adopted grandson of the Kiks.adi Clan, who have always known the truth about water.


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