Monday, April 30, 2007

Blessing of Fleet a return to Paradise

By Fr. John Parker
Originally published in the Post and Courier on Sunday, April 29, 2007 and online at
http://www.charleston.net/assets/webPages/departmental/news/default_pf.aspx?NEWSID=141291

I had heard of supersized but never supercharged. The young man meant well, though he was making a serious request by means of some sort of slang. He had bought a beautiful sterling silver baptismal cross and wanted to have it blessed. So he came into my study that day and asked, "Father, would you supercharge my cross for me?" I knew what he wanted, but the request came out so strangely. Not wanting to shame him by a direct correction, I said, "I'll be glad to bless your cross, Matthew." (Name changed.)

The Orthodox Christian tradition has a blessing for nearly everything good. Among the contents of a wonderful book titled "The Abridged Book of Needs," one finds, for example, prayers for blessing all of the following: water, bees, boats, fire engines, homes, wells, airplanes, meat and cheese, fragrant herbs and fishnets. And the list goes on. Each blessing is typically a prayer, completed with the trinitarian sprinkling of holy water on the object being blessed.
But what is blessing? Why would we, to make the connection present and local, bless the shrimp boats and their captains and crews? Does blessing supercharge?

First, let me give the short answers to these important questions. Blessing is a liturgical and prayerful act by which we, as we say in the Orthodox Churches, "commend ourselves, each other, and all our life unto Christ our God." And rather than supercharging shrimp trawlers, we are actually asking God to return them, by our synergy (working together with him), to their actual use and purpose.

Allow me to explain. When God created the world and all that is in it, and crowned his creation with man and woman, calling this "very good," everything was in order and communion with God. But when we, by our disobedience and self-interest, took matters into our own hands (read sinned), the whole world fell. That is, every part of existence was tainted, touched, affected by the sins of Adam and Eve - and today, by ours. Eating, for example, which was created to be our form of nourishment and communion with God, becomes gluttony: eating for the sake of eating. Drinking, offered to us for hydration and sober merriment, becomes drunkenness, and drunkenness for its own purpose. A home in the fallen world, originally intended for shelter, comfort, hospitality and the making of family, becomes a place where secret sins are hidden: illicit sexual relationships, abuse, rage, etc.

Realizing that we are now a part of the fallen world, and not the world as it was created to be, we have the holy task of offering the fallen world back to God, asking him to make it right and/or to help us to make it so. As one of the greatest and most famous Orthodox priests of the 20th century described it, we have the task of transforming "the smallest, seemingly most insignificant detail of the routine drudgery of everyday existence in this fallen world into paradise." This we do routinely at meals, saying grace or asking the blessing. We certainly take part in this critical vocation each time we celebrate the marriage of a woman to a man. In the Orthodox Churches, this we also do annually (during the season of the feast of the Theophany, our Lord's baptism, Jan. 6) by the blessing of the homes of our parishioners. For house blessings, we say, in short, "Lord, make this house a holy home." For marriages, "Lord, make this couple king and queen of their Christian household, married forever." At meals, "Nourish us with the gifts of thy bounty on this table, O Lord."

And this is what we take part in at the Blessing of the Fleet in Mount Pleasant. We gather to ask God to grant safety and success to each shrimper, and to assist each one to accomplish his or her vocation as a good steward of God's creation. Ultimately, every boat, every net, every engine, every deck and flag, along with every breath we breathe, belong to God and are on loan to us, given to us as gifts as a trust is given into the hands of trustees.

Certainly, a part of such a blessing is our intention to cooperate with God in its fulfillment. I'd damn myself by blessing a bottle of wine (intended for sober fellowship and enjoyment) and then drinking it all by myself in one sitting. And it would be to our condemnation and judgment to ask God's blessing on a fleet of shrimping vessels whose captains intend only to wreak havoc on the local seas and the inhabitants thereof, and to scam the local community. We must remember that our aim is a return to paradise.

Today, we ask God's blessing on the fleet, on those who operate the boats and on all of us who shall partake of their bounteous catch, remembering that our Lord Jesus Christ called his first disciples from among fishermen, and asking the heavenly protection of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, the patron of seafarers, in this new season.

This article was printed via the web on 4/30/2007 7:14:29 PM . This articleappeared in The Post and Courier and updated online at Charleston.net on Sunday, April 29, 2007.

1 comment:

Fr. said...

My first stop here. Execellent exposition...what also attracted me to the post at first was a shared connection of blessing the fleet...which is done here in AK for the largest Coast Guard base in the world.

Fr. Panteleimon