January 6, 2016

The Great Sanctification and Small Sanctification of the Waters According to St. Athanasios of Paros

By Archimandrite Sotirios N. Kosmopoulos

On the occasion of the great Despotic feast of Theophany and the celebration of the Great Sanctification Service, I would like to compare the relationship between the so-called Great Sanctification with the so-called Small Sanctification, which is performed on every other occasion, such as on the first of every month, for dedications, for houses, for workshops, etc., in order to avoid any misunderstandings, but also avoid erroneous views and customary provisions related to the comparison of the Sanctifications and their use. As a guide in this endeavor we will have one of the principal representatives of Philokalic renaissance of the 18th century from the Kollyvades Movement, namely St. Athanasios of Paros, who had addressed the issue extensively.

In the Ekthesi of St. Athanasios he emphasizes that the Great Sanctification has a) the power to wash unto regeneration, and b) is performed once a year, on the feast of Theophany, as a symbolic commemoration of the gift of divine regeneration by Christ. (It should be noted here, that on the eve of Theophany it has prevailed from early on to celebrate the Great Sanctification for mainly practical reasons, but this is part of the feast of Theophany and therefore not considered a second celebration and independent of the feast.)

On the other hand, the so-called Small Sanctification a) is performed on the first of every month, and whenever it is deemed necessary, without particularly strict regulation, b) it provides a wealth of healing power for every illness, both physical and spiritual, and c) it seems to have begun to spread, as a service of sanctification, from the miracle that took place in the Church of the Theotokos known as the Life-Giving Spring in Constantinople, according to St. Athanasios of Paros.

Therefore, as is understood, the distinction we observe is purely symbolic in character and does not imply, nor under any circumstance constitute, a fundamental distinction or differentiation. If we attempt a hermeneutical study of the services of the Great and Small Sanctifications, we will see that what we have mentioned above, is completely confirmed. We should note first that there is an apparent similarity in both services of sanctifying the waters.

In the Great Sanctification we observe, both in the hymns that accompany it ("The voice of the Lord upon the waters...") as well as the readings of the Prophecies of Isaiah, that a symbolic character is attached to them to remember the Baptism of Christ and thereby shows intensely the character of the Despotic feast. In contrast the Small Sanctification differs on this point, since the accompanying hymnography contains hymns to the Mother of God.

In the large comprehensive petitions of both services is given the spiritual sense of this bath of regeneration ("For this water to be sanctified by the power and operation and visitation of the Holy Spirit...;" "For there to come down upon these waters the cleansing operation of the Trinity beyond all being...;" "For there to be given them the grace of redemption, the blessing of Jordan...;" "For this water to become a gift of sanctification, a deliverance from sins, for healing of soul and body and for every suitable purpose...;" "For this water to become water springing up to eternal life..., to be shown to be an averting of every assault of visible and invisible enemies..., for the sanctification of their homes..., for cleansing of souls and bodies for all those who draw from it with faith and who partake of it..., to be filled with sanctification through communion of these waters by the invisible manifestation of the Holy Spirit."), but from the history of our worship it is known that the Great Sanctification of Theophany was affected morphologically, and in the service of the Small Sanctification we believe these similarities are authentic elements of the service of the Great Sanctification, which was later composed as need arose for a Sanctification service outside the feast of Theophany.

We are led to the same conclusion in the content of the prayers for the sanctification of the waters that follow.

In the Great Sanctification we have a conceptual continuity with the petition prayers that we mentioned, since the Priest prays for the sanctification of the water, in order that it may become a "source of incorruption, a gift of sanctification, a deliverance from sins, an averting of diseases, unapproachable by hostile powers, filled with angelic strength. That all who draw from it and partake of it may have it for cleansing of souls and bodies, for healing of passions, for sanctification of homes, for every suitable purpose." And after the second prayer, that the sanctified water may provide "sanctification, blessing, cleansing, health."

In the sanctification prayers of the Small Sanctification, Divine Grace through the partaking and sprinkling of the sanctified water gives blessing to those polluted by their passions and heals the diseases of soul and body, granting them blessing and the grace of healing, to be worthy of accepting the redemption from spiritual and physical pain.

Consequently, we realize that while in the Small Sanctification there is the emphasis on the healing of spiritual and physical diseases, in the Great Sanctification, although it is similar with the other, it is completely dominated with the blessing of the nature of the waters with the Baptism of Christ, with all the weight and consequences of this commemorative liturgical presence that the genuine and salvific event has for the life of the whole Body of the Church and each individual believer. It is the recreation of matter and this world in Christ. This is why it is called a bath of regeneration. Because this sanctified water of Theophany is nothing other than the sanctified water of Baptism, in which the Honorable Cross is baptized to represent the Baptism of Christ, which historically the faithful drank from before catechumens were baptized as a blessing, and this introduced the service of the Great Sanctification. Indeed, the Great Sanctification is still performed within the Divine Liturgy, as was Baptism and the other Mysteries in the early Church, while the Small Sanctification is performed at any time and under any circumstance, without particular limitations.

This brief examination of the two Services, shows only a symbolic supremacy of the Great Sanctification over the Small Sanctification, since it emphasizes the symbolic remembrance of the sanctification of material creation by the Lord and is considered the starting point for the sanctification of everything to such an extent, that it justifies the traditional characterization between Great and Small. Moreover, as we noted, the service of the Small Sanctification is obviously influenced by the service of the Great Sanctification and was subsequent to it, without implying in any way that the sanctifying grace is different in both Sanctifications or in its partaking by the faithful.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.