The Foreground is a blog series providing a glimpse into what one family is attempting to make prominent: a life in the church. We are a family of seven with some in the nest and some out. We have kids in college, in high school and in middle school. One of us is a sub deacon and one of us runs the parish book store. Orthodox for 14 years, one of us attends a Greek church and the rest attend our local OCA parishes. What’s in our foreground? Come join us this week and find out.
June 24 – The Blessing
“Is there anybody traveling this week? Anyone celebrating a birthday or an anniversary this week?” our priest asks calls out during announcements.
It’s that special time after the Liturgy when the priest offers a special and targeted blessing to those celebrating, traveling, recovering from sickness, or embarking upon a new endeavor. The blessing is not as much about being recognized as it is about the church as a community praying for each other. Blessings are offered for many occasions, the most common being travel, sickness, anniversaries, birthdays, name’s day, leaving for camp, beginning a new school year, and graduating.
At this point, if you are one of those to receive the blessing, you come forward and the priest, holding a cross says a special prayer over you. The congregation will join in prayer with the priest. Often, several will come up for various needs. Sometimes, you are by yourself. Either way, you are surrounded by the faithful and the prayers are said over you followed by a sprinkling of holy water (or anointing with oil if you have been sick). After the blessing and the sprinkling, you kiss the cross and the priest’s hand.
Recently, there have been three important blessings given to our people: one for our graduating son, one for our friend Rebekah, who was to give birth the next week, and one for my goddaughter who turned 7.
Now, it can be easy to take these special blessings for granted. They do happen most weeks. Considering that the blessings are given right after the service, the kids are getting squirmy, my feet are hurting and my brain is in a sore need for coffee! Yet, I want these blessings to be fresh and meaningful each time and that depends on me. Am I paying attention? Am I engaged with the service at the level I need to be?
When my son came up for a graduation blessing in May, I realized something: This matters! We need to linger here a minute and take this in. I have a son graduating and perhaps this will be the only time he will come forward for such a blessing. As dear Rebekah came forward, pregnant and bursting with child, I thought: This is a landmark moment! You will give birth in two days.
So, in considering the blessing, I’ve learned this: if at the blessing, we pay attention, we learn of each other’s lives and we get a glimpse into our collective humanity: we are all aging, traveling, and dealing with the seasons of life. If we are engaged, we are praying for each other, the culmination of which is a closer relationship with our Lord and with the people around us in the faith.
In many Orthodox churches, the simple and lovely blessings come from The Book of Needs.
Here is a sample of the prayer read for those about to journey by water or by air:
O Master, Lord Jesus Christ, our God,
Who walked upon the waters as upon dry land,
and willingly accepted Your hold on the disciples and apostles as Your fellow voyagers in the ship;
and Who rebuked the stormy wind, and commanded the waves of the sea to be still:
Be pleased now also, we humbly pray, O Savior, to travel with this Your servant,
allaying every unfavorable wind and tempest.
Here is the beginning of the prayer read for a woman who is about to give birth:
It is called “For a Woman in Difficult Labor.”
O Lord God Almighty,
Creator of all things, and the Giver of Knowledge to mankind,
You fashioned the body of man from the earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,
and granted to him Your blessings,
that he might increase and multiply through the birth of children.
We ask You now, O lover of mankind, to bless this Your handmaid,
Rebekah, who is with child, granting her help and comfort at this trying time;
ease her labor, and bring her to safe delivery.
Yes, O Lord, open the treasury of Your mercies
and your compassions to her and let her give birth to a fruitful vine
that will be a cause of joy to her all the days of her life.
This is a beautiful prayer.
And, the result: a beautiful baby boy, born just 40 hours later!
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