Why is water used for baptism, for the blessing of water, and for the washing of the feet? And why is water sprinkled for blessing? What is the significance of the water and the blood that came out of the side of Christ on the cross?. Is the water of the tears likewise symbolic? Does water in some miracles, like the healing of the sick man at Bethesda, have any symbolic significance? What is the meaning of the words in (Gen 1:6): “Let it divide the waters from the waters”? All this we shall expound in the following:
The story of the water in the Scripture starts from the first chapter, in the story of Creation, where the divine inspiration says, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Gen 1:2) Hence water became connected with life .
Water and Life :
Water is connected with life, whether earthly life or spiritual life .
Earthly life and water :
Water is connected with the earthly life of man , animals and plants, as the Scripture says, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures.” (Gen 1:20,21).
Spiritual life is likewise connected with water.
From the very beginning, man is born of water and the Spirit (Jn 3:5). And the Lord Christ invites us to His water, saying,” If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” He invited the Samaritan woman to this water, saying,” Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”(Jn 4:10,14)
Many times the scripture mentions the living water or the water of life.
In (Rev 22:1) : “ And he showed me a pure river of water of life,” “I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.” (Rev 21:6); as well as in (Zeck 14 : 8 ; Rev 22 : 17; 7 : 17).
Water and the Holy Spirit.
Water is a clear symbol of the Spirit as evident from the words of the Lord , “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water,” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive.” (Jn 7:38,39) And in the Old Testament God compared Himself to living water, saying, “They have forsaken Me , the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns-broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
(Jer 2:13) Therefore a spiritual person who is filled with the Holy Spirit is compared to a tree planted by the rivers of water (Ps 1:3), living with water and growing with it. Without this water a person will die.
Persons filled with the Spirit are compared to rivers.
Were the four rivers that watered He garden of Eden (Gen 2:10) a symbol of the four Evangelists? Were the rivers that give fresh water and life a symbol of the holy apostles? For the Psalmist says about their prayers in the times of persecution “The floods have lifted up,
O Lord, … their voice …” (Ps 93 : 3,4) Of these holy rivers the Scripture says, “whose streams shall make glad the city of God.” (Ps 46 : 4) They made it glad because of the means of grace they bring it and the good tidings of salvation.
David describes this living water as “still waters”.
In (Ps 23:2) he says, “He leads me beside the still waters.” And what is the result? “He restores my soul; he leads me in the paths of righteousness.” This is the work of the Holy Spirit in him symbolized by the water.
The pillar of cloud that went before the people in the wilderness was a cloud of water (ex 13:21,22).
Was it a symbol of the Holy Spirit from above and the sea which they crossed down? So, Paul the Apostle said, “all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed though the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” (1 Cor 10:1,2).
The relation between water and washing and cleansing.
When the Lord washed the feet of the apostles, Re said to them, “you are clean” (Jn 13:10). He washed their feet before giving them the Holy Eucharist Sacrament as an evidence of the necessity of being clean before partaking of the Holy Sacrament. That is why the father priest washes his hands thrice before the divine service, while saying, “I will wash my hands in innocence, so I will go about Your altar,
O Lord.” (Ps 26) Also the white vestments of the service are a symbol of purity. In the same way Aaron and his sons had to wash before going into the tabernacle of meeting, lest they die.(Ex 30:17-21).
The relation between water and purity or cleanness is also clear in the story of the healing of Naaman the Syrian.
He was a leper, and leprosy was considered uncleanness and sin, so Elisha the Prophet commanded him to wash in the Jordan that he might be healed (2 kgs 5 : 10). This reminds us of the baptism of John, because the Jews were baptized by him in the Jordan to get forgiveness of their sins, that is spiritual purity.
Can it also be that the clean water is sometimes a symbol of baptism? Or of healing from sin.?
This is clear in the words of the Lord in the prophecy of Ezekiel the Prophet : “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean … from all your filthiness.” (Ezek 36:25).
The water sprinkle clean water after the Mass Service for a blessing after being cleansed by the holy sacraments. See also the beautiful words of David the Prophet about cleansing from sin : “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Ps 51) Also in the story of cleansing the sick man at Bethesda healing was connected with water, for an angel went down into the pool and stirred up the water, then whoever stepped in first was made well (Jn 5:4).
The stirring of water by the angel gave it effectiveness and power. This reminds us of the father priest stirring up the water in the baptismal font or the mandatum tank with his cross while reciting some prayers to give the water power and effectiveness by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Cleanness and innocence symbolically by water was known event the Gentiles.
We read that Pontius Pilate, to relieve his conscience from reproach washed his hands with water and said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person.” (Mt 27:24) Of course he did not become innocent, but it was his belief.
Let us meditate on the great flood:
It was certainly a punishment from God, but this is not all, for the water also washed and cleansed the earth from sin and sinner, and from filthiness. God washed it and renewed it to be pure again.
This cleaning reminds us of tears.
Tears are painful, but they cleanse the soul and heal the spirit if they are tears of repentance when the sinful woman knew that the Lord was in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears and anoint them with the fragrant oil (Lk 7:38).
Believe me, I do not know which was more effective the fragrant oil or the tears of that penitent woman. No doubt the tears were more effective. They were very expensive oil. So the Lord blessed that new kind of fragrance that washed His feet. Water then, even of the eyes, is connected with cleanness when an angel sent by the grace stirs it up.
Water and baptism.
Baptism is washing and cleansing from both bodily sin and venial sins previous to baptism. It is not washing of the body but of the spirit, as St. Ananias of Damascus said to Saul of Tarsus about baptism, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins.” (Acts 22:16) Although Saul had met with the Lord Christ and had believed and had been chosen as an apostle for the gentiles, he needed the baptism to be washed from his sins. Of such washing St. Paul said to his disciple Titus,
”… He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” (Tit. 3:5).
Here is washing, renewing, regeneration, and salvation not only by water, but also by the Holy Spirit. That is why the Lord said to Nicodemus, “Unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:5) this is the work of the Holy Spirit through water.
however, It is not normal water, but water sanctified by the Holy Spirit and has power and effectiveness.
It is true that we are washed from our sins by His Blood (Rev 1:5; 7:14), but this is obtained through baptism where our old man dies and we rise with the Lord in the newness of life (Rom 6:6,4).
In baptism we are washed from our sins in His blood, and the some in repentance.
Baptism and repentance are the means which the Lord appointed for us to deserve His blood. The apostle therefore says about the relationship between Christ and the church .
That He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word.” (Eph 5:26)
Sanctification and cleansing are not bodily but spiritual as St. Peter the Apostle says about salvation through baptism, “not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God.” (1 Pct 3:21). If baptism was mere washing of the body, the Lord would not make it a pre-condition for salvation : “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mk 16:16) Also Ananias would not have required it from Saul of Tarsus (Acts 22:16).
About the washing from sins the Lord says in the Prophecy of Ezekiel to the sinful Jerusalem: “I entered into a covenant with you … I washed you in water … I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil.” (Ezek 16: 8,9) Of course mere washing of the body cannot bring us into a covenant with the Lord, so it is here a symbol of baptism, and oil a symbol of the Holy ointment (1 Jn 2:20).
Water and Blood.
When the Lord was pierced in His side with a spear, blood and water
Came out (Jn 19:34). And St. John the Beloved testified to this miracle, saying : “There are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood…” (1 Jn 5:8) A wonderful verse indeed, but how can we understand it ?.
The salvation offered by Christ on the cross by the blood, this we receive though water and the Spirit in baptism.
The tree witness for our salvation, because without the shedding of blood there will be no forgiveness (Heb 9:22). The deserts of this blood can only be obtained in baptism where we are born of water.
Water and blood also appear in the Eucharist.
We receive the blood mixed with water, and with them salvation, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.
Dividing waters from waters.
Since the beginning of creation God separated the fresh waters of rivers and clouds that give life, and the many waters that quench love (Song 8:7) or salty water that destroy and are horrible. But the Lord is Mighty; He rules the raging of the sea and stills its waves when they rise (Ps 89;8,9). The sea with its waves are a symbol of pride, therefore it is good that the Lord rebuked it .