Thursday, January 9, 2020

Why Orthodox Churches Sanctify Water at the Beginning of Each Month

It is a tradition mostly in Greek Orthodox churches to begin the month with the Lesser Sanctification of the Waters ceremony on the first of the month. This Holy Water is then taken by the priest and the people to be consumed and to bless the homes of the faithful. It is believed the origin of this practice can be traced to Canon 65 of the Synod in Trullo which took place in 692 in Constantinople. Canon 65 reads:

The fires which are lighted on the new moons by some before their shops and houses, upon which (according to a certain ancient custom) they are wont foolishly and crazily to leap, we order henceforth to cease. Therefore, whosoever shall do such a thing, if he be a cleric, let him be deposed; but if he be a layman, let him be excommunicated. For it is written in the Fourth Book of Kings "And Manasses built an altar to the whole host of heaven, in the two courts of the Lord, and made his sons to pass through the fire, he used lots and augurs and divinations by birds and made ventriloquists [or pythons] and multiplied diviners, that he might do evil before the Lord and provoke him to anger."

What is described here is a remnant of the pagan Roman ritual of the New Moon, where people would kindle a fire on the first of every month in front of their houses to drive away evil spirits from them. Men and women jumped through these flaring flames to cleanse themselves from the influence of evil spirits. This continued through the entire night on the first day of the month and various sorts of games, charades and other social disorders were attributed to this practice. In the morning, pagans performed songs and dancing by rivers and, having gathered water, returned to their houses, which with various sorts of charms they even sprinkled with this water. Such superstitious customs in the way of life of simple people were long kept even into the seventh century.

To turn Christians from such superstitions and to eliminate the connection to the damage of their ancient customs, the Greek Church, according to Balsamon, established to do Sanctification of the Water ceremonies in all the parishes and to sprinkle homes with holy water on the first day of the month. With the Church supplanting the old custom, it caused it to pass into oblivion and created a way to bring a greater blessing into the homes of the faithful.