A House Blessing

Friday, January 6th, was Theophany (according to the Eastern Orthodox Church) and Epiphany for the rest. I’m not sure why, but it is on this day that house blessings occur in the Orthodox tradition, my preferred flavor of Christianity. A priest comes around to the home and blesses the structure and its inhabitants.

I’ve just moved into a new home. I usually do a house blessing when I move anywhere new. My past practice has been to use various incenses to cleanse the space, then sprinkle salt in the doorways, and sprinkle water I’ve blessed across all thresholds – within and without, while invoking peace and love and admonishing all that would harm us to keep out. I was pleased, but not all that surprised, to find that this is very similar to what the Orthodox do in their blessings.

On January 6th I was in my new house, me and the kids, waiting for my husband and father-in-law to arrive with the Truck of Stuff. Earlier that day I had gone out and purchased what I needed for the blessing…. only to realize after I’d set up my altar nook with my icons that I had forgotten to buy matches to light the candles. Oh well.

I then decided to wait until the full moon, which was only a few days away. But that night I was exhausted from the unpacking and the organizing and the corralling of children, so I passed on ritual. I’ve been exhausted a lot lately. This moving thing is hard. Maybe if my baby was sleeping through night I’d be more rested. I started to beat up on myself for not doing the blessing when I was supposed to (whatever that means) and then I just decided that was a waste of my energies.

About a week later I was cooking dinner. The stew needed to simmer for about 45 minutes. I was feeling good. The big stuff had all been unpacked. The night was crisp, clear and star-filled. Perfect timing for a house blessing!

Temporary altar, with icons, in what was an old phone nook in the wall

The altar was set up with the icons from earlier. It’s not the finished altar, as I don’t have a space for my other sacred objects yet. I lit a candle in front of my icons of the Theotokos (aka, the Blessed Virgin Mary). I put some salts from the Dead Sea in a cup of water and blessed it. I consider myself the priest of this house, so I didn’t feel any qualms about assuming the role of priest in this ‘ceremony.’ I said a little prayer for the house and I walked around to all the rooms flinging salted water with my fingertips at all the windows and over the thresholds.

The next part of the ritual called for holy oil. Thankfully, I have some of that! About ten years ago an Orthodox priest friend of mine gave me a small bottle of holy oil ‘from the vigil lamp at the reliquary of the Holy Hierarch St. John, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco.’ This part of the ritual involves lighting candles at the four external corners of the house and blessing the structure with the holy oil. I didn’t want to leave lit candles outside, so I took my candle from the altar and the bottle of oil and circumnavigated my house, blessing each corner in the name of the Trinity, and marking the corners in a cross with the oil.

Coming inside I set up my censer and walked through the house three times, letting the frankincense and myrrh fill the house. The scent competed with the aroma of my delicious dinner simmering away on the stove.  Once the house was blessed it was time to bless the inhabitants. My son objected to my actions. I’m not sure why, but he really did not like what I was doing. I blessed my husband, my children and myself with some of the water and oil, using a mark of the cross on the forehead. Son smeared it off as soon as I put it on.

And then we sat down to a delicious, hearty meal.


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