Blessed By Water: An Epiphany Reflection

By Susan Barnett and Haik Kocharian

January 6 celebrates THE EPIPHANY, the ancient Christian feast day commemorating the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. Until the 19th century, Epiphany was as big a celebration as Christmas Day. Like so many religious celebrations, water plays a central role.

In Greek Orthodox tradition, a priest will bless the waters by throwing a cross into it and in Bulgaria, Eastern Orthodox priests throw a cross in the sea as men dive in, competing to get to it first. In Prague, there is a traditional Three Kings swim in the Vltava River and Venice, where a traditional regatta started for fun in the late 1970s, is now part of the day’s celebrations. In Mexico, crowds gather to taste the Rosca de Reyes — Kings’ bread — and we all know one cannot bake bread without water!

Water is the source of all life. Access to safe water/sanitation/hygiene (WASH) sets in motion a stream of life-saving priorities: better maternal and child health, food security, girls’ education, greater productivity, and new economic opportunities that benefit us all in a world where health security, human security and economic security are intertwined.

With the importance of water in mind, we invite you to enjoy Blessed by Water, rare images that capture Epiphany’s tranquil and joyful mass baptism attended by tens of thousands of Christian Orthodox in the capital city of Addis Ababa to celebrate the baptism of Jesus. Ethiopia is considered to be one of the cradles of Christianity.

The intimate photographs show worshipers in states of trance and spiritual connection as they are dampened by water sprayed from towering pipes. The water imparts a sense of community. Kocharian says, “I was standing within the ceremony itself, not on the outskirts looking in. In order for me to access such a very emotional situation, I do not talk to anyone because I never interfere with people at the moment I photograph them. I have to have a nonexistent energy. Other than offering a smile, which goes a long way.”

For the next six Sundays, known as the time of manifestation (the word Epiphany comes from Greek, meaning manifestation), no matter your tradition, we hope you take time to savor the beauty of ritual and water.

And we invite you to be a better global water citizen by:  Saving water (and money) at home; raising awareness in our communities; engaging youth groups and congregations (and having fun while doing it.) Check out free ideas, curriculum and much more.

This piece was first published on OnFaith

Susan Barnett, a former award-winning network news producer, is a strategic media, communications and advocacy consultant to nonprofits including Faiths for Safe Water.  She works at the nexus of media, faith and social justice. 

Haik Kocharian is an award-winning filmmaker and fine art photographer, exhibiting widely. Kocharian is also actively involved in charity work as a photographer. 

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