The prayer service relates to the baptism of Jesus and the spiritual promised land.
YOUNGSTOWN — Water references such as “the clouds refresh humanity,” “washing away man’s sin” and “baptism of salvation” flowed in a Blessing of the Water service Tuesday afternoon on the icy shore of Lake Glacier at Mill Creek MetroParks.
The prayer service relates to the feast of Holy Theophany, the baptism of Jesus, where water plays a prominent role, and revelation of the Holy Trinity.
A few members of the Eastern Orthodox Clergy Association of the Mahoning Valley gathered under cloudy skies as an icy mixture pelted the group of about 20 people. They braved the elements to pray for and ask blessings for people of the Mahoning Valley. The clergy and laity prayed for “the people of Youngstown, the leaders, travelers and those who are sick.”
The lake site was chosen, said the Rev. Thomas Constantine, pastor of St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Church in Boardman, because the water flows into the Mahoning River, and that in turn, touches residents in various ways. “Lake Glacier was chosen because it is beautiful and scenic,” he said.
“Holy Theophany, the baptism of our Lord, was of great importance because at the baptism it was revealed that Jesus was the son of God and also God himself,” said Father Constantine. “The Holy Spirit rested on his head in the form of a dove.”
Father Constantine said verses from Matthew and Luke mention the baptism of Jesus. From Luke 3:22, “And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.”
Tuesday also marked the Epiphany, which Father Constantine called the Feast of Lights because Jesus is the light of the world. Holy Theophany also marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Epiphany in the Western church marks the day when the Magi (Three Wise Men) visited baby Jesus and is the 12th day of Christmas.
Father Constantine said he and other pastors have Blessing of Water services at their individual churches but wanted to have a community service. This was the second annual event.
The service also included the use of basil, which Father Constantine called “the flower of the church.” He explained that the popular herb, often used in cooking, was growing at Golgotha, the site of Christ’s crucifixion. “St. Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great, went on a pilgrimage to find the true cross of Christ. She found three crosses.”
He noted that the cross with the basil growing by it turned out to be the “true cross” because St. Helen took it to hospitals and it was a “healing cross.”
Father Constantine dipped the basil in holy water and then blessed those in attendance. An icon of the baptism of Jesus also was used in the service.
The Rev. Daniel Rohan, pastor of St. Mark Antiochian Orthodox Church in Liberty Township, tossed a small wooden cross into Lake Glacier as a symbolic gesture. The Rev. Steve Denas, of Archangel Michael Greek Orthodox Church in Campbell, explained that the cross “symbolizes Christ being baptized in the River Jordan.”
Father Denas said the Jordan was important in the Old Testament because it was seen as a boundary of the promised land. “Jesus being baptized in the Jordan opens up the spiritual promised land,” he said.
Also participating in the prayer service were the Rev. Cosmin Antonescu of Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church in Youngstown and Elestherios Constantine, a seminarian at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston.
Last year, Theresa Ritter of Youngstown, who attends Holy Name of Jesus Church in Youngstown, attended with her dog, Peaches. She was there again this year, though she kept Peaches in the car to stay dry. “I like the idea of the blessing of all of us,” she said of the service.
Alexis Tsikouris, a member of Archangel Michael church, said she wanted to attend the service because of “the beauty of this special day when Christ revealed himself as the son of God.”