I love Miami Beach, but I yearn for New York. Let’s keep in mind that my people invented nostalgia. (The word comes from the ancient Greek nostos (homecoming) and algia (pain, think neuralgia or fibromyalgia). Given the etymology, nostalgia is a pain for coming home, or a longing for home. But I think it’s less about the home and more about the longing, the yearning or wistfulness for something that you once had and now don’t.)
Anyway, it’s a gorgeous day here in Miami, so there’s no good reason for me to be longing so for Nueva York, except for the fact that I subscribe to the enewsletters of several Greek Orthodox churches…don’t you?….and today I got one from the Church of the Annunciation on West 91st street–a church I don’t even attend, given that the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity is a few blocks from my apartment in Manhattan. The bulletin included this gem: “On Sunday, January 15th, our parish will hold its first annual blessing of the Hudson River in commemoration of Holy Epiphany. After church services, we will process down to the Hudson River and submerge the Holy Cross and bless the waters.”
See, Epiphany is the celebration of the Son of God becoming human in Jesus Christ (the word epiphany means “manifestation” or “appearance”), so it commemorates many events that highlight His physical presence. In Catholic countries, the focus is often on the visit of the Magi to the Baby Jesus/Papachu/Christoulis, but in Orthodox churches, huge emphasis is placed on Jesus’s baptism in the River Jordan. Hence, the blessing of the waters.
I love blessings, I love processions, and I love annual events (especially first-ever annual events) but I love a ritual involving water most of all. Not sure why. Maybe it’s because when I attended Miss Jenny’s Cottage Kindegarten in Athens, Greece, my favorite recess activity was “water play” which involved splashing one’s hands around in a plastic tub full of the stuff. Maybe it’s the sound or the movement of water. But like some people brake for yard sales (or claim to–the bumper sticker on my dear departed Pappou’s car used to say, “I brake for candlepin bowling,” even though I can’t imagine that he did, given his leg problems), I brake for water rituals. I want to throw bread on the lake in Elm Park in Worcester when Jews assemble to do so on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, thus casting off their sins into the sea of forgetfulness (awesome!). I sympathize with the Hindus who make offerings to their gods by setting coconuts sailing in Jamaica bay, to the dismay of park rangers. And now I’m missing my chance to watch a priest throw a cross into the Hudson.
The truth is, if I had gotten my act together last Friday, I could have driven several hours to Tarpon Springs, FLA, where a large Greek community observes Epiphany (or, as it’s also called, Theophany) with a water blessing. There, as in other areas where swimming is possible, young men dive in to retreive the cross the priest tosses in the water, securing good luck for themselves. If I had made the drive, I would have seen a historic event, as this year–the 106th annual Blessing of the Waters–no one bobbed up wielding the original cross, so a back-up cross was thrown in, the first time since 1976 that a round two had to take place.
Normally, this would make me a little nervous, an annual event not coming off as it usually does. The only two times locals in Markopoulo, Cephallonia can remember holy snakes not appearing at the convent there on the Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6th, were the year the Nazis invaded and the year of the earthquake that leveled most of the island’s towns. See what I mean?
But this unusual Epiphany has a happy ending; both crosses were eventually retrieved, by cousins actually, so I think we’re all going to be OK. (See the video of some very cute 17-year-olds being carried into the church here. For some odd reason–the sweet earnestness of these hulking boys?–this gets me all choked up, but I cry at everything since becoming a mom, from The Little Drummer Boy over the muzak system in a store to Amalía laughing.)
Anyway, we did go to church this Sunday, so we Epiphanied it up a bit. And afterward, we had coffee at some friends’ house while their daughters set stone crab traps into Biscayne Bay. But I still miss my water, both for Epiphany and for the new year; I’ve spent several new year’s in Benares, India, on the shores of the holy river Ganges, where, one New Year’s Day, a clay statuette of Laksmi, the goddess of abundance, washed up at my feet. A similar statuette plays a significant role in my upcoming novel, Other Waters, with the Ganges symbolizing new beginnings.
One of the things I learned in India is that Hindus believe all rivers are the Ganges, all waters are holy. So I’m going to put that philosophy to work and, instead of yearning for the frigid waters of the Hudson this Sunday, pop Amalía in her jogging stroller and take her to our own first-annual two-person Blessing of the Waters on South Beach. Maybe she’ll even dangle a little toe in the water as a precursor to all the other beaches, lakes, and rivers that await her.