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January 8, 2021

Holy Water and the Averting of Natural Disasters and Epidemics

By John B. Kostakis

Man's bitter enemy, the most-wicked Satan, in order to harm the supreme creation of God, as much as possible, turns with destructive rage against the material and soulless things that have been given in the service of his needs. Thus he infects fruit trees, vineyards, gardens, fields, various crops, homes and facilities in order to bring pain and misery into people's daily lives. In the life of Saint Anthony we see the attacks that the Saint received in his humble hut, from the demons, in the form of reptiles and wild beasts, which made terrifying noises to bend the fighting spirit of the great ascetic. The cunning enemy is capable of causing diseases, accidents, and bodily harm to humans and animals.

In these cases the act of sanctification is a valuable and effective deterrent weapon. The sanctified water, according to the relevant prayer, becomes for the "healing of souls and bodies and a deterrent of any opposition". After the immersion of the honorable cross in the water, "all opposing forces are crushed. The aerial and invisible idols always retreat", and in the water "electrified" by divine grace "a dark demon and a wicked spirit can no longer be hidden, which lead to the darkening of thoughts and agitation of the intellect".

Various natural evils come to us. The elements of nature often strike man and his works. Earthquakes level and destroy, in no time, decades of labor and struggle. Many different diseases affect and afflict myriads of people. Epidemics and infectious diseases are threatening. Climate change with extreme weather events, accompanied by intense cold, heavy rainfall and sweeping storms are destroying cultivated areas. Locusts destroy crop production, while animal diseases destroy livestock or individual breeders.

In these difficult circumstances man feels alone, weak and defenseless. Coordinated human societies and the most organized state mechanisms are unable to intervene and effectively alleviate those who are severely tested. It is the old and blessed custom of ordinary people of the countryside in such difficult situations to resort to the act of sanctification, as a gift of God for overcoming difficulties and preventing calamities. The faithful farmers, when clouds of destructive locusts appeared in vineyards or other vegetable crops, went to the place as a family, together with the priest, performed a sanctification of the waters service, and sprinkled the affected areas. After the sprinkling, locust clouds rose and fell into the sea, the lake or the river that existed in the area.

From many such incidents that have been preserved in the collective memory of various regions, very characteristic is the catastrophic locust invasion that devastated the vineyards of Attica in 1600. Then the inhabitants of the region, unable to face the situation and in their despair, called for the abbot of the Holy Monastery of Domvu in Thebes, Saint Seraphim. Crowds of people flooded the Church of Saint Spyridon in Piraeus, where in an atmosphere of prayer the Service of the Sanctification of the Waters was performed. Immediately after the act of sanctification, locust clouds rose from all over Attica and drowned in the sea in the port of Piraeus. A close relative told me a similar incident that happened in the 1960s on the small island of Symi in the Dodecanese. Here, too, the few vineyards were devastated by locusts. They called the abbot of the Monastery of Archangel Michael, sanctified water, sprinkled the few crops and immediately thousands of drowned locusts blackened the sea in the port.

Another incident that is recorded during the years of Ottoman rule in Maroussi, Attica, is also memorable. The Turkish aga of the area saw the Christians who, in such difficult situations, called the priest and with the act of sanctification the locusts disappeared. On a similar occasion, he called on the hodja of the Muslims to do his own thing, in order to get rid of the calamity. Naturally, the hodja, despite his efforts, did not bring about  what he wanted, as a result of which he was severely beaten.

There are many cases when an epidemic disease takes on dangerous and sometimes uncontrollable dimensions. Influenza, cholera, typhus, plague, smallpox, etc. have greatly threatened the inhabitants of various areas. Conditions favored their rapid spread. The existing means are insufficient. Medical care and possibilities are limited to non-existent. Health authorities in real puzzlement, have a complete inability to offer substantial help. People then raise their hands and hearts, expecting help from above. The sanctifying intervention of the Church through its humble, once little educated liturgists, with the performance of the act of sanctification and the request for Divine mercy, proves to be the only effective medicine.

Something like this happened in 1850 in Athens, when cholera appeared life-threatening for thousands of people. Hundreds died every day. Fear and terror seized everyone. The then chief medical officer was weak, and unable to offer help, became frightened and hid himself. They could not find him anywhere. The only hope and possibility of consolation and support, was the institution always despised and persecuted by the rulers of the time, the Orthodox Church, the true spiritual mother and protector of the people of God.

And while those in power and by authority hide or fight or criticize and give instructions out of safety, the Ecclesiastical shepherds are at the forefront of the struggle to support, strengthen and provide whatever help they can to the gullible and always betrayed people. At that critical time when the people were anxious and the people in charge were numb and withdrew from the forefront, then the Archbishop of Athens stood up and invited the frightened residents of the city to the Metropolitan Church. In an atmosphere of emotion and agony he supported their withered souls. It inspired faith. He cultivated hope by performing the Service of the Sanctification of the Waters. The souls were encouraged and thousands of people, led by the Archbishop and the holy clergy, followed by the then king on horseback, processed the sacred icons. Endless lines of devout Christians crossed the main streets of the city. In Syntagma and Omonia squares, thousands of people on their knees, with pain in their souls and tears in their eyes, shouted "Lord have mercy ..."

The foreigners, mainly Protestants who ruled the place, spoke of mass madness and delirium born of fear and anxiety. They believed that the people, in their despair, decided to commit mass suicide. Because, as they said, instead of hiding and isolating themselves to protect themselves, the seduced people gathered in the church and in the procession with the immediate danger that the epidemic would break out and take on uncontrollable proportions. But their fears, purely human thoughts and speculations, were refuted. The epidemic stopped instantly. No new cases and no new victims in the coming days. Holy Water in the hands of the faithful was the most effective medicine, the most powerful antibiotic. Germs cannot resist it. It is the strongest medicine, but also a vaccine that can be used prophylactically.

But let's get closer to our times. October 1918. Agrinio then had no more than 15,000 inhabitants. An incurable disease-epidemic, the so-called Spanish Flu, had swept through the city and literally devastated the inhabitants of the wider area. There was no family that did not mourn a victim of the disease. Science seemed unable to stop the deadly evolution of the epidemic. The death rate, only in Agrinio, reached the number of 40-50 per day. No one accompanies the dead anymore, who are transported in two-wheeled carts by porters to the cemetery, where after a short prayer of the priest, and often without it, they are buried. Residents not only do not take care of their dead but also avoid them for fear of transmitting the disease.

In the face of this panic of the people, the memory goes back 64 years when in 1854 another incurable disease, cholera, had decimated the area. As then so now, God effectively redeemed them through the icon of her who is Full of Grace, the Panagia Prousiotissa. The epidemic goes beyond the borders of Agrinio. It also touches Messolonghi. The nobles of the city with concerted efforts manage to bring the icon of the Panagia of Prusa to the area again. On October 27, 1918, the miraculous icon arrives at the crowded Church of the Holy Trinity in Agrinio. This is where a prayer battle begins. Prayers, vigils, sanctifications of waters are all mobilized and offered with pain and tears at the feet of the merciful Mother. The people process the miraculous icon through the streets of the city to the old Church of Saint Christopher, which was located on its outskirts. This is followed by a 24-hour pilgrimage and transfer to the other churches of the Life-Giving Spring and Saint Demetrios. The people are in a religious upsurge. The answer to faith comes immediately. Many of the sick are treated. The spread of the epidemic stops. The people are redeemed and grateful to their merciful Mother.

All these and many other incidents that could be mentioned show that the use of Holy Water not only prevents calamities and demonic intrigues, but also causes great mental benefit. It contributes to the cure of mental illness, to its liberation from the poison of sin that kills the spiritual condition of man. In other words, the Holy Water operates for "the healing of souls (first) and bodies (later)". To these people comes the blessing of the Jordan, and thus "through this water by partaking and sprinkling," we become heirs of the Kingdom of God. To the believers comes blessing, illumination, purification, and the "deliverance from the filth of the passions".

Source: Translation by John Sanidopoulos.