PORT TOWNSEND — White-laced waves swirl up onto the sloping sand, each one venturing a little higher, as a dozen people gather on the beach this winter day.
Among them is a priest, his robe billowing in the wind.
Picking up a wooden cross set into the sand, he strides down the beach to the water’s edge and dips the cross into the foam — once, twice, three times.
As he lowers and raises the cross, the priest repeats the words of the blessing: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now, henceforth and forever more.”
In a year of hurricanes and droughts, fires and floods, the centuries-old ritual is a reenactment of the baptism of Christ in which the priest, by touching the water, affirms the mystery of creation and renews a connection with the natural world that spans centuries.
“Just as Christ sanctified and blessed the waters of the Jordan, this is a sanctifying and blessing of the waters of the world,” Father Nicholas says.
“It is also a renewal of our own baptism.”
The priest of St. Herman’s Orthodox Christian Church, Father Nicholas Kime performs the Great Blessing of the Waters every Jan. 6.
The day is celebrated as Epiphany in western tradition, but throughout the world, Orthodox churches bless the water, either at the seaside or inside their churches, as part of the observance of Theophany.