By the time you read this, indigenous congregations across North America will have taken part in the Great Blessing of the Waters. This blessing ceremony was held among Anglican indigenous Christians, as an expression of solidarity with Orthodox Christians in Alaska and Siberia-a majority of them indigenous-who celebrate the Feast of the Theophany, the celebration of the baptism of Jesus on January 19. The ceremony used in Anglican congregations was an adaptation of the Orthodox liturgy: a blessing of water, most often in openings created in the ice of lakes or rivers, which recalls the way the baptism of Jesus blessed all water, restoring creation and revealing the holiness of God in all things.
The Orthodox understanding of God’s relationship to creation has many connecting points with indigenous people-which may be part of the reason the Orthodox church has been so popular among the native peoples of Siberia and Alaska. As Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann put it, Jesus does not add something supernatural to a spiritless creation: he restores its holiness and he fulfills its vocation as a means for communion with God. (See his book, Of Water and the Spirit.) This important biblical theme-creation as a means of communion with the Creator-is a key message of Orthodox faith and also of the faith of indigenous peoples everywhere.
It is also a message for all people. Our relationship to God’s creation is a moral and spiritual matter of the first priority. In his baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus reclaims creation, restores its value and meaning, and calls us all to honour the Creator in creation. This does not circumvent the complexity of the issues we face or the obligation we have to be fair, just and careful in how we treat them. What it does make clear is what is at stake in our relationship to creation. Humanity’s relationship to creation cannot be summed up in economic terms. It is a moral and spiritual relationship. Creation is not just humanity’s ATM. Our relationship with our environment means more than wealth, comfort or even health-it is also a matter of the soul.
Mark MacDonald is national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.