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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

AS JESUS PASSED BY

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From THE URANTIA BOOK
Part IV, 171, 7
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As Jesus Passed By
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Jesus spread good cheer everywhere he went. He was full of grace and truth. His associates never ceased to wonder at the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth. You can cultivate gracefulness, but graciousness is the aroma of friendliness which emanates from a love-saturated soul.
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Goodness always compels respect, but when it is devoid of grace, it often repels affection. Goodness is universally attractive only when it is gracious. Goodness is effective only when it is attractive.
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Jesus really understood men; therefore could he manifest genuine sympathy and show sincere compassion. But he seldom indulged in pity. While his compassion was boundless, his sympathy was practical, personal, and constructive. Never did his familiarity with suffering breed indifference, and he was able to minister to distressed souls without increasing their self-pity.
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Jesus could help men so much because he loved them so sincerely. He truly loved each man, each woman, and each child. He could be such a true friend because of his remarkable insight--he knew so fully what was in the heart and in the mind of man. He was an interested and keen observer. He was an expert in the comprehension of human need, clever in detecting human longings.
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Jesus was never in a hurry. He had time to comfort his fellow men "as he passed by." And he always made his friends feel at ease. He was a charming listener. He never engaged in the meddlesome probing of the souls of his associates. As he comforted hungry minds and ministered to thirsty souls, the recipients of his mercy did not so much feel that they were confessing to him as that they were conferring with him. They had unbounded confidence in him because they saw he had so much faith in them.
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He never seemed to be curious about people, and he never manifested a desire to direct, manage, or follow them up. He inspired profound self-confidence and robust courage in all who enjoyed his association. When he smiled on a man, that mortal experienced increased capacity for solving his manifold problems.
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Jesus loved men so much and so wisely that he never hesitated to be severe with them when the occasion demanded such discipline. He frequently set out to help a person by asking for help. In this way he elicited interest, appealed to the better things in human nature.
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The Master could discern saving faith in the gross superstition of the woman who sought healing by touching the hem of his garment. He was always ready and willing to stop a sermon or detain a multitude while he ministered to the needs of a single person, even to a little child. Great things happened not only because people had faith in Jesus, but also because Jesus had so much faith in them.
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Most of the really important things which Jesus said or did seemed to happen casually, "as he passed by." There was so little of the professional, the well-planned, or the premeditated in the Master's earthly ministry. He dispensed health and scattered happiness naturally and gracefully as he journeyed through life. It was literally true, "He went about doing good."
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And it behooves the Master's followers in all ages to learn to minister as "they pass by"--to do unselfish good as they go about their daily duties.
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Devotion to other's good is a very simple thing. When our devotion to the production of happiness is not restricted to ourselves, but we labor for others' good, and love to promote the good of others not less than our own, this is an intelligible thing; and this is true benevolence--real religion.
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Rev. C.G. Finney - 1851
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Saturday, January 28, 2012

A FEW GOOD RELIGIOUS POEMS

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John Berryman
1914-1972
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This is from a much longer poem titled
 "Eleven Addresses to the Lord"
....this is "Address" Number 1.
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Master of beauty, craftsman of the snowflake,
inimitable contriver,
endower of Earth so gorgeous & different from the boring Moon,
thank you for such as it is my gift.
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I have made up a morning prayer to you
containing with precision everything that
 most matters.
'According to Thy will' the thing begins.
It took me off & on two days.  It does not
aim at eloquence.
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You have come to my rescue again & again
in my impassable, sometimes despairing years.
You have allowed my brilliant friends to destroy themselves
and I am still here, severely damaged,
but functioning.
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Unknowable, as I am unknown to my
 guinea pigs: how can I 'love' you?
I only as far as gratitude & awe
confidently & absolutely go.
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I have no idea whether we live again.
It doesn't seem likely
from either the scientific or the philosophical
point of view
but certainly all things are possible to you.
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and I believe as fixedly in the Resurrection
appearances to Peter
and to Paul
as I believe I sit in this blue chair.
Only that may have been a special case
to establish their initiatory faith.
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Whatever your end may be, accept my amazement.
May I stand until death forever at attention
for any your least instruction or enlightenment.
I even feel sure you will assist me again,
Master of insight & beauty.
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Denise Levertov
1923-1997
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Flickering Mind
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Lord, not you
it is I who am absent
At first
belief was a joy I kept in secret,
stealing alone
into sacred places:
a quick glance, and away - and back,
circling.
I have long since uttered your name
but now
I elude your presence.
I stop
to think about you, and my mind
at once
like a minnow darts away,
darts
into the shadows, into gleams that fret
unceasing over
the river's purling and passing.
Not for one second
will my self hold still, but wanders
anywhere,
everywhere it can turn.  Not you,
it is I am absent.
You are the stream, the fish, the light,
the pulsing shadow,
you the unchanging presence, in whom all
moves and changes.
How can I focus my flickering, perceive
at the fountain's heart
the sapphire I know is there.
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Allen Ginsburg
1926-1997
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Psalm III
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To God: to illuminate all men.
Beginning with Skid Road.
Let Occidental and Washington be transformed into a
 higher place,
 the plaza of eternity.
Illuminate the welders in shipyards with
the brilliance of their torches.
Let the crane operator lift up his arm for joy.
Let elevators creak and speak,
ascending and descending in awe.
Let the mercy of the flower's direction
beckon in the eye.
Let the straight flower bespeak its purpose
in straightness - to seek the light.
Let the crooked flower bespeak its purpose
in crookedness - to seek the light.
Let the crookedness and the straightness
bespeak the light.
Let Puget Sound be a blast of light.
I feed on your Name like a cockroach on
a crumb - this cockroach is holy.
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                                     Seattle, June, 1956
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Joseph Awad
1929-2009
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For Jude's Lebanon
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It is said he was a relative of Jesus,
That his apostolate
Was to the land we know as Lebanon,
That he gave his blood for Christ.
What wonders did he perform
To win the Barnum & Bailey blurb,
"Patron saint of the impossible."
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I'm beginning a novena to St. Jude.
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His lone epistle opens lovingly:
"Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ
And brother of James, to be called
Who have been loved in God the Father
And preserved for Christ Jesus,
Mercy and peace and love
Be yours in abundance."
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I'm beginning a novena to St. Jude.
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He had a poet's way with words.
Evil, sensual men he called
"Wild wave of the sea,
Foaming up their shame,
Wandering stars for whom
The storm of darkness
Has been reserved forever."
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I'm beginning a novena to St. Jude.
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In Lebanon there is loud lamentation.
Beirut, once beautiful Beirut,
Bloodied by Christian, Jew and Druze,
Weeps like a wound just under the
world's heart.
Pontius Pilates in world capitals
Wash their hands, pronouncing solemnly,
"The situation is impossible."
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I'm beginning a novena to St. Jude.
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Monday, January 23, 2012

AMAZING GRACE

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From Wikipedia
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"Amazing Grace" is a Christian hymn with lyrics written
 by the English poet and clergyman John Newton (1725–1807), published in 1779. With a message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of the sins people commit and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, "Amazing Grace" is one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world.
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Newton wrote the words from personal experience. He grew up without any particular religious conviction but his life's path was formed by a variety of twists and coincidences that were often put into motion by his recalcitrant insubordination. He was pressed into the Royal Navy and became a sailor, eventually participating in the slave trade. One night a terrible storm battered his vessel so severely that he became frightened enough to call out to God for mercy, a moment that marked the beginning of his spiritual conversion. His career in slave trading lasted a few years more until he quit going to sea altogether and began studying theology.
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Ordained in the Church of England in 1764, Newton became curate of Olney, Buckinghamshire, where he began to write hymns with poet William Cowper. "Amazing Grace" was written to illustrate a sermon on New Year's Day of 1773. It is unknown if there was any music accompanying the verses, and it may have been chanted by the congregation without music. It debuted in print in 1779 in Newton and Cowper's Olney Hymns, but settled into relative obscurity in England. In the United States however, "Amazing Grace" was used extensively during the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century. It has been associated with more than 20 melodies, but in 1835 it was joined to a tune named "New Britain" to which it is most frequently sung today.
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Author Gilbert Chase writes that "Amazing Grace" is "without a doubt the most famous of all the folk hymns", and Jonathan Aitken, a Newton biographer, estimates that it is performed about 10 million times annually.  It has had particular influence in folk music, and become an emblematic African American spiritual. Its universal message has been a significant factor in its crossover into secular music. "Amazing Grace" saw a resurgence in popularity in the U.S. during the 1960s and has been recorded thousands of times during and since the 20th century, sometimes appearing on popular music charts.
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"Amazing Grace", with the words written by Newton and joined with "New Britain", the melody most currently associated with it, appeared for the first time in Walker's shape note tunebook Southern Harmony in 1847.   It was, according to author Steve Turner, a "marriage made in heaven...The music behind 'amazing' had a sense of awe to it. The music behind 'grace' sounded graceful. There was a rise at the point of confession, as though the author was stepping out into the open and making a bold declaration, but a corresponding fall when admitting his blindness."   Walker's collection was enormously popular, selling about 600,000 copies all over the U.S. when the total population was just over 20 million.
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"Amazing Grace" came to be an emblem of a religious movement and a symbol of the U.S. itself as the country was involved in a great political experiment, attempting to employ democracy as a means of government. Shape note singing communities, with all the members sitting around an open center, each song employing a different director, illustrated this in practice. Simultaneously, the U.S. began to expand westward into previously unexplored territory that was often wilderness. The "dangers, toils, and snares" of Newton's lyrics had both literal and figurative meanings for Americans.  This became poignantly true during the most serious test of American cohesion in the U.S. Civil War  (1861–1865). "Amazing Grace" set to "New Britain" was included in two hymnals distributed to soldiers and with death so real and imminent, religious services in the military became commonplace.   The hymn was translated into other languages as well: while on the Trail of Tears, the Cherokee sang Christian hymns as a way of coping with the ongoing tragedy.
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The communal understanding of redemption and human self-worth has changed since Newton's time. Since the 1970s, self-help books, psychology, and some modern expressions of Christianity have viewed this disparity in terms of grace being an innate quality within all people who must be inspired or strong enough to find it: something to achieve. In contrast to Newton's vision of wretchedness as his willful sin and distance from God, wretchedness has instead come to mean an obstacle of physical, social, or spiritual nature to overcome in order to achieve a state of grace, happiness, or contentment. Since its immense popularity and iconic nature, "grace" and the meaning behind the words of "Amazing Grace" have become as individual as the singer or listener.  Bruce Hindmarsh suggests that the secular popularity of "Amazing Grace" is due to the absence of any mention about God in the lyrics until the fourth verse (by Excell's version, the fourth verse begins "When we've been there ten thousand years"), and that the song represents the ability of humanity to transform itself instead of a transformation taking place at the hands of God. "Grace", however, to John Newton had a clearer meaning, as he used the word to represent God or the power of God.
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The transformative power of the song was investigated by journalist Bill Moyers in a documentary released in 1990. Moyers was inspired to focus on the song's power after watching a performance at Lincoln Center, where the audience consisted of Christians and non-Christians, and he noticed that it had an equal impact on everybody in attendance, unifying them.
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 James Basker also acknowledged this force when he explained why he chose "Amazing Grace" to represent a collection of anti-slavery poetry: "there is a transformative power that is applicable...: the transformation of sin and sorrow into grace, of suffering into beauty, of alienation into empathy and connection, of the unspeakable into imaginative literature."
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The Dictionary of American Hymnology claims it is included in over a thousand published hymnals, and recommends its use for "occasions of worship when we need to confess with joy that we are saved by God's grace alone; as a hymn of response to forgiveness of sin or as an assurance of pardon; as a confession of faith or after the sermon."
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Thursday, January 19, 2012

JESUS AS A TEENAGER

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From THE URANTIA BOOK
Part IV, 127
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 AS JESUS entered upon his adolescent years, he found himself the head and sole support of a large family. Within a few years after his father’s death all their property was gone. As time passed, he became increasingly conscious of his pre-existence; at the same time he began more fully to realize that he was present on earth and in the flesh for the express purpose of revealing his Paradise Father to the children of men.

 No adolescent youth who has lived or ever will live on this world or any other world has had or ever will have more weighty problems to resolve or more intricate difficulties to untangle. No youth of Urantia will ever be called upon to pass through more testing conflicts or more trying situations than Jesus himself endured during those strenuous years from fifteen to twenty.
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 Having thus tasted the actual experience of living these adolescent years on a world beset by evil and distraught by sin, the Son of Man became possessed of full knowledge about the life experience of the youth of all the realms of Nebadon, and thus forever he became the understanding refuge for the distressed and perplexed adolescents of all ages and on all worlds throughout the local universe.
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 Slowly, but certainly and by actual experience, this divine Son is earning the right to become sovereign of his universe, the unquestioned and supreme ruler of all created intelligences on all local universe worlds, the understanding refuge of the beings of all ages and of all degrees of personal endowment and experience.
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1. The Sixteenth Year (A.D. 10)
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 The incarnated Son passed through infancy and experienced an uneventful childhood. Then he emerged from that testing and trying transition stage between childhood and young manhood — he became the adolescent Jesus.
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 This year he attained his full physical growth. He was a virile and comely youth. He became increasingly sober and serious, but he was kind and sympathetic. His eye was kind but searching; his smile was always engaging and reassuring. His voice was musical but authoritative; his greeting cordial but unaffected. Always, even in the most commonplace of contacts, there seemed to be in evidence the touch of a twofold nature, the human and the divine. Ever he displayed this combination of the sympathizing friend and the authoritative teacher. And these personality traits began early to become manifest, even in these adolescent years.
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 This physically strong and robust youth also acquired the full growth of his human intellect, not the full experience of human thinking but the fullness of capacity for such intellectual development. He possessed a healthy and well-proportioned body, a keen and analytical mind, a kind and sympathetic disposition, a somewhat fluctuating but aggressive temperament, all of which were becoming organized into a strong, striking, and attractive personality.
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 As time went on, it became more difficult for his mother and his brothers and sisters to understand him; they stumbled over his sayings and misinterpreted his doings. They were all unfitted to comprehend their eldest brother’s life because their mother had given them to understand that he was destined to become the deliverer of the Jewish people. After they had received from Mary such intimations as family secrets, imagine their confusion when Jesus would make frank denials of all such ideas and intentions.
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 This year Simon started to school, and they were compelled to sell another house. James now took charge of the teaching of his three sisters, two of whom were old enough to begin serious study. As soon as Ruth grew up, she was taken in hand by Miriam and Martha. Ordinarily the girls of Jewish families received little education, but Jesus maintained (and his mother agreed) that girls should go to school the same as boys, and since the synagogue school would not receive them, there was nothing to do but conduct a home school especially for them.

 Throughout this year Jesus was closely confined to the workbench. Fortunately he had plenty of work; his was of such a superior grade that he was never idle no matter how slack work might be in that region. At times he had so much to do that James would help him.
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 By the end of this year he had just about made up his mind that he would, after rearing his family and seeing them married, enter publicly upon his work as a teacher of truth and as a revealer of the heavenly Father to the world. He knew he was not to become the expected Jewish Messiah, and he concluded that it was next to useless to discuss these matters with his mother; he decided to allow her to entertain whatever ideas she might choose since all he had said in the past had made little or no impression upon her and he recalled that his father had never been able to say anything that would change her mind. From this year on he talked less and less with his mother, or anyone else, about these problems. His was such a peculiar mission that no one living on earth could give him advice concerning its prosecution.
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 He was a real though youthful father to the family; he spent every possible hour with the youngsters, and they truly loved him. His mother grieved to see him work so hard; she sorrowed that he was day by day toiling at the carpenter’s bench earning a living for the family instead of being, as they had so fondly planned, at Jerusalem studying with the rabbis. While there was much about her son that Mary could not understand, she did love him, and she most thoroughly appreciated the willing manner in which he shouldered the responsibility of the home.

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To see the entire paper, which covers Christ's life
from ages sixteen to twenty, go here:
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Friday, January 6, 2012

COLD CUSTOMS FOR THE EPIPHANY

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The Epiphany, January 6, or January 19 in the Eastern Orthodox rite, is the traditional day that Christians celebrate the arrival of the magi.  A number of other religious, semi-religious, and even pagan practices have been associated with marking the date, which also got intermingled sometime in the past with the celebration of the baptism of Christ in the Jordan River.
  No matter - the icy plunge near the beginning of the year symbolizes a new beginning, a holy immersion that washes away sins.  This is good, and actually sort of convenientsince your heart may very well freeze up and quit from the incredible shock to your system (it happens to a few every year).
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On this day, while honoring an old Russian tradition, believers dive into ice holes, usually made in the form of a cross, in lakes, rivers and other water bodies.

Some 30,000 believers dipped themselves in ice holes in 37 fonts in Moscow where waters were blessed by Orthodox priests during the night, with 260 rescuers monitoring the safety of swimming as air temperature was below minus 20 degrees Celsius.
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A Moscow district official and some other 50 people bathed in an Epiphany font in the center of the Russian capital.

"I feel as if I was reborn. This is the first Epiphany bathing in my life and I am sure it won't be the last," Leonid Sidorov, deputy head of Moscow's Central Administrative District, told journalists.
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The feast's peculiar feature is the rite of the Great Blessing of Water, performed in Russian churches.

Holy water is then given to believers, who store it for long periods and use it to cure illnesses and bless themselves or things and premises around them. Some people think any water - even from the taps on the kitchen sink - poured or bottled -
 on Epiphany becomes holy.

Close to 100,000 people came to Moscow's 268 Orthodox churches to bottle holy water on the occasion.

In southern Russia's city of Sochi, where the air and water temperature is some 12 degrees Celsius, about 3,000 people jumped into the Black Sea and started swimming at midnight  to celebrate the feast.

Some 20,000 people dipped into cold water during the night in the city of Nizhny Novgorod in the Volga Federal District.

From the RIANAVOSTO website
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Blessing of Waters

 The Orthodox Churches perform the Great Blessing of Waters on Theophany (Jan 6 or Jan 19, depending on whether the region, or church, follows the Julian or the Gregorian calendar).  The blessing is normally done twice: once on the Eve of the Feast—usually at a Baptismal font inside the church—and then again on the day of the feast, outdoors at a body of water. Following the Divine Liturgy, the clergy and people go in a Crucession (procession with the cross) to the nearest body of water, be it a beach, harbor, quay, river, lake, swimming pool, water depot, etc. (ideally, it should be a body of "living water"). At the end of the ceremony the priest will bless the waters. In the Greek practice, he does this by casting a cross into the water. If swimming is feasible on the spot, any number of volunteers may try to recover the cross. The person who gets the cross first swims back and returns it to the priest, who then delivers a special blessing to the swimmer and their household.
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 Certain such ceremonies have achieved particular prominence, such as the one held annually at Tarpon Springs, Florida. In Russia, where the winters are severe, a hole will be cut into the ice so that the waters may be blessed. In such conditions, the cross is not cast into the water, but is held securely by the priest and dipped three times into the water.

The water that is blessed on this day is known as "Theophany Water" and is taken home by the faithful, and used with prayer as a blessing. People will not only bless themselves and their homes by sprinkling with Theophany Water, but will also drink it. The Orthodox Church teaches that Theophany Water differs from regular holy water in that with Theophany Water, the very nature of the water is changed and becomes incorrupt, a miracle attested to as early as St. John Chrysostom.
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Theophany is a traditional day for performing Baptisms, and this is reflected in the Divine Liturgy by singing the baptismal hymn, "As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Alleluia."
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We had a post during our ADVENT SERIES this past
December concerning the wise men, the magi.  Here it is:
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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

PSALM 40 - DELIVER ME, O LORD

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he stooped to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me up out of the desolate pit,
out of the mire and clay;
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He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God;
many shall see and stand in awe,
and put their trust in the LORD.
Happy are they who trust in the LORD!
they do not resort to evil spirits
or turn to false gods.
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Great things are they that you have done,
O LORD, my God!
how great your wonders and your plans for us!
there is none who can be compared with you.
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Oh, that I could make them know
and tell them!
but there are more than I can count.
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In sacrifice and offering you take no pleasure
(you have given me ears to hear you);
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Burnt-offering and sin-offering you
have not required,
and so I said, "Behold, I come.
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In the roll of the book it is written
concerning me:
'I love to do your will, O my God;
your law is deep in my heart.'"
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Your righteousness have I not hidden
in my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and
your deliverance;
I have not concealed your love and
faithfulness from the great congregation.
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You are the LORD;
do not withhold your compassion from me;
let your love and your faithfulness
keep me safe for ever,
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For innumerable troubles have crowded
upon me; 
 my sins have overtaken me and I cannot see;
they are more in number than the
hairs of my head,
and my heart fails me.
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Let them be ashamed and altogether dismayed
who seek after my life to detsroy it;
let them draw back and be disgraced
who take pleasure in my misfortune.
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Let those who say "Aha!" and gloat over me
be confounded,
because they are ashamed.
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Though I am poor and afflicted,
the Lord will have regard for me.
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You are my helper and my deliverer;
do not tarry, O my God.
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