The following are highlights from the 15th Annual Blessing of the Susquehanna River, at Nesbitt River Park, city of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (Kingston side of river), on Sunday, February 10th. Participating were priests, deacons, readers, cantors, and parishioners of the Wyoming Valley Byzantine Catholic churches¹ and visitors.
In the tradition of our Eastern European ancestry, we bless a nearby source of water in our community following the Great Feast of Theophany. As Catholics, water is not only the source of life for our earthly sustenance, but in the Sacrament of Baptism, sanctified water is the means to our spiritual cleansing and beginning of our life in Christ as his Christian disciples. In addition, as good stewards of the earth, we respect water as a gift from God and realize our dependence upon this vital natural resource.
As we bless the water of the Susquehanna, we pray for all who reside and work along its path. We pray for protection, and and for right use of our natural resources. In gratitude and humility, and acknowledging that God is Almighty and Sovereign, we bless the water that binds us together as a community.
“Great are You O Lord + and wonderful are your works,
No words can do justice to the praise of your wonders.”
– words recited by the priest in the blessing of water –
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Excerpt from Psalm 104 *
Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord, my God, you are great indeed!
You are clothed with majesty and glory, robed in light as with a cloak.
You have spread out the heavens like a tent-cloth;
you have constructed your palace upon the waters.
You make the clouds your chariot; you travel on the wings of the wind.
You make the winds your messengers; and flaming fire your ministers . . . .
. . . May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
May the Lord be glad in his works!
¹ Wyoming Valley Byzantine Catholic Churches are:
St. Mary Protection (Pokrova), Kingston – served by Rev. Mykhaylo Prodanets
St. Michael the Archangel, Pittston – served by Very Rev. Gary Mensinger
St. Nicholas of Myra, Swoyersville – served by Very Rev. Gary Mensinger
St. Mary’s, Wilkes-Barre – served by Rev. Michael Kerestes
St. John the Baptist, Wilkes-Barre Township – served by Rev. Mykhaylo Prodanets
Article submitted and published in the Eastern Catholic Life Newspaper:
Byzantine Catholic Churches of Wyoming Valley: 15th Annual River Blessing
The weather was chilling cold. There was a steady and challenging breeze for keeping candles lit and bodies warm. But without ice or snow creating safety problems, the parishioners of the five Byzantine Catholic churches of Wyoming Valley and several visitors gathered Sunday afternoon, February 10th at the Nesbitt River Park boat launch in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
It was the 15th Annual blessing of the Susquehanna. And in spite of the cold, everyone present was warm-hearted in spirit to be a part of this great community event.
What was noticeable during the blessing could be clearly seen: a swiftly flowing river, higher than normal, resulting from steady rain and a quick snow melt a few days earlier. The sudden thaw floated away the huge blocks of ice forming walls along the river banks that were present only 5 days earlier. And so the annual blessing could continue once more !
Fr. Gary Mensinger and Fr. Mykhaylo Prodanets led the prayers together with Deacon Larry Worlensky and Subdeacon Richard Terza. Fr. Michael Kerestes unfortunately was unable to be with the group this year. Cantors, parishioners and guests joined in procession and in singing responses. A new “twist” to this year’s blessing was creative problem solving at its finest. [Many other churches use a cross tied on a rope or string that must then be retrieved. However, our local tradition has been a blessed cross that becomes incorporated and united to the water being blessed.] When the mold for a traditional ice cross broke, two parishioners of St. Michael church came up with an idea. In place of the ice cross, they baked a lovely braided bread cross instead – the perfect biodegradable solution to an unexpected problem! It was a success!
Following the service, the altar and rosary society of St. Nicholas Byzantine Church, Swoyersville, hosted a social for everyone in the much warmer setting of their church hall.
Photos above: River Ice Blocks Create Walls of Ice in Area Used For Blessing.
Photos taken merely 5 days before the planned event. Rain and a sudden brief rise in temps raised the river levels from around 6 feet to 19 feet the day before the event. This helped the ice to clear and once more the blessing could take place ! Praise and Glory to our Lord !
Left – looking north from boat launch area, wide sections of ice line the the river banks. Middle – end of the boat launch blocked by several feet of ice. This is the same area where Fr. Gary (St. Michael/St.Nicholas) is seen approaching with braided cross. Right – walls of ice block access to river edge on both sides, with King’s College’s distinctive building in far distance.
Reflection: Our Susquehanna River is beautiful when it is serene or at other times a fearful, powerful force in which we are at its mercy. All of us who live and work near this river understand how it changes. And in many ways, it’s not unlike our own lives in which nothing stays the same. As Christians, we pray for strength in our faith to deal with the highs and lows that come our way. And just as we may take for granted the river we are so accustomed to seeing, we are challenged to not allow our faith to drift to commonality. Instead, we strive to have a faith full of vitality, renewed like the sanctified waters, and in experiencing the graces of God in marvel and wonder.
*(NAB, as used in the Byzantine Catholic Church liturgies)
Credits: All original photography on this page & on this website by Mary Anne Fedor in volunteer service as a parishioner of St. Michael Church.