In January Orthodox Christians celebrate the Feast of Christ’s baptism in the River Jordan (Theophany) and it is common to include an open air blessing of water as part of this. You might think that such practices were as unknown to Americans back in the 18th century as now, but you might just be wrong! Here are a couple of quotes from American newspapers a few years after the end of the Revolutionary war with contemporary descriptions of Theophany in Russia.
The Connecticut Journal published in New Haven on Feb 8, 1786:
“The dignitaries of the high Greek church assemble on the ice, when a large hole is dug up, and the water coming out at the apertures is blessed by the clergy, the principal man amongst them plunging therein a cross.”
The Massachusetts Gazette, published in Boston on Nov 9, 1787:
“After the rite is performed with customary prayers and hymns, all who are present have the happiness to be sprinkled with the water thus consecrated and rendered holy.”
Both these quotations are taken from much longer articles describing in detail the ritual performed.
Photo courtesy Amherst College Archives and Special Collections.