Saturday, October 27, 2012

Book Review: The Blessing of Waters

Every year I fondly remember our parish priest coming to bless our house. It was usually a Saturday mid morning or early afternoon and mom would serve brunch. She spent Friday evening and Saturday morning cleaning the house, preparing the food, and setting the dining room table with her fine lace tablecloth and special dinnerware. She always set out a small icon, candle, and bowl of water for him to use as he would walk around singing the Epiphany troparion, "When Thou O Lord was baptized in the Jordan...." After the home blessing we all gathered in the dining room to eat. He always dressed in his black suit and collar and looked very important. After all, as a ten year old, most adults look pretty important.

I'll never forget those Epiphany blessings, not so much because of the food that mom served but that Fr. Paul took time out of his schedule to come visit and bless our house with holy water that he blessed in Church. The sacramental act of blessing homes is highly symbolic, reminding us that our home, the place where we eat, sleep, and live is a little Church.

Those of us in the Eastern Church should be particularly thankful to Dr. Nicholas Denysenko, assistant professor of theology at Loyola Marymount University in LA and an ordained deacon in the OCA for sharing his well documented and researched book with us. The book, The Blessing of Waters and Epiphany: The Eastern Liturgical Tradition (UK: Ashgate, 2012) is a thorough analysis of the various rites, rituals, and development of the water blessing at Epiphany. This short review cannot do this book service since Denysenko dives deep into the historical manuscripts comparing the various liturgical rites from around the Eastern Christian world. Suffice it to say his last chapter titled, "Pastoral Considerations" was for me, worth reading this book.

Denysenko is both a deacon as well as a liturgical scholar and in the end of this study he provides pastors and lay leaders with some well thought out considerations for Epiphany, drawing on the Catholic, Orthodox, and some Anglican traditions. I found this chapter to be insightful as we consider the numerous scriptural passages, rich hymnography, and other traditional customs associated with this feast.

The only drawback of this book is that most clergy and lay leaders may get bogged down with all the historical details and charts as Denysenko compares the various rites and rituals for Epiphany. It is not a drawback for the scholar but most readers I assume might not be interested in this material. The other drawback is the high price of the book which at last check was around $100.00. Of course one cannot blame the author for these issues, I just mention them as a warning.

However, for those of us who are regularly involved in preaching, teaching, and catechetical ministry this book is well worth reading, or at least a quick read, taking special note of the last chapter.

For more information about The Blessing of Waters and Epiphany click here 

For a recent interview with Dr. Denysenko click here