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The Meaning of Water in Christianity

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posted on Jan, 12 2004 @ 10:04 PM
QUOTE////For thousands of years water has been among the main religious symbols.
This is indeed the case for the Orthodox Christian tradition where it is involved in liturgical mysteries from baptism and the Eucharist to the rites of the Blessing of the waters.
Why is water so central to Christian religious life?
Let us attempt to answer this question by turning to Biblical history and Christian tradition with particular reference to the office of Epiphany.

Water as a symbol of life as well as a means of cleansing, or purification, is of particular importance in Old Testament.
It was created on the first day (Genesis 1:2, 6-8).
The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2).
The earth was founded upon the waters (Genesis 1:6-7, 9-10).
God commanded the water to bring out an abundance of living souls (Genesis 1:20-21).
In some sense the element is close to God (Psalms 17; 28:3; 76:17, 20; 103:3; 148:4).
God is compared with the rain (Hosea 6:3).
Water brings life (cf. Exodus 15:23-35; 17:2-7; Psalms 1:3; 22:2; 41:2; 64:10; 77:20; Isaiah 35:6-7; 58:11) and joy (Psalm 45:5).
It is a powerful purifying element and can destroy evil and enemies as in the stories of the Flood and the flight of Israel from Egypt (Genesis 3:1-15; Exodus 14:1-15:21).
According to Old Testament Law,
it cleanses defilement (Leviticus 11:32; 13:58; 14:8, 9; 15-17; 22:6; cf. Isaiah 1:16) and is used in sacrifices (Leviticus 1:9, 13; 6:28; 1 Kings 18:30-39), in which context the Bible mentions the living water (Leviticus 14; Numbers 5; 19).

Water heals, as can be seen from the stories of Naaman the Syrian cured from his leprosy in the waters of Jordan (2 Kings 5:1-14) and the annual miracles at Bethesda in Jerusalem (John 5:1-4).
John the Baptist used the waters of the Jordan to cleanse peoples sins which reminded typical Jewish custom (Matthew 3:1-6; Mark 1:4-5; Luke 3:2-16; John 1:26-33) - even Christ came to be baptised (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10).
On the other hand,
water is also the habitat of serpents whose heads God crushed (Psalm 73:13-14) and of the dragon (Job 41:25; Psalm 103:26).

We can see from this the belief common in the Old Testament that water is a mystically powerful element which, being connected with God in some way, can cleanse sins, inner and outer defilement, and regenerate the human body. It is even possible to assert that water has taken on the religious symbol of life.

In New Testament the role of water seems to be more significant yet more symbolic. Christ turns water into wine at Cana (John 2:1-11), saying it is a means to a new spiritual birth into the kingdom of heaven (John 3:5).
Christ gives living water which is the source of eternal life (John 4:10-14; 7:38) as foretold by the Prophet Jeremiah (2:13). He came in water, blood and the Spirit, witnessing to one God (1 John 5:6-8).
He commands watery baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19; Acts 8:38).
When speaking about baptism, St Paul states that in water we are buried with our sins in the likeness of Christs death:

We were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ,
buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead (Colossians 2:12).

Moreover, the watery mystery is connected with the Holy Spirit, the Divine Person that accomplishes rebirth (John 3:5-6; Acts 8:39; cf. Acts 1-2).

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