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Comparative Theology, book by H. H. Pope Shenouda III
16- The importance of water and its symbols in the Holy Bible
In order to understand why water was chosen for washing and renewal in the Sacrament of Baptism, we should remember that ever since the beginning, in the story of creation, there has been a association between water and life.
The Holy Bible says: "And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters" (Gen.1: 2). And God said: "Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens" (Gen.1: 20). Thus life sprang out of water and we can see the connection between water, life and the Spirit of God.
We also read in the Old Testament that God likens Himself to water when He reproached the people saying: "They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns - broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer.2: 13). This correlation is also mentioned in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ: " 'He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' By this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive" (John.7: 38,39).
These words are similar to the Lord's words about Himself in His discourse with the Samaritan woman about living water, when He said that He is the Giver of living water. He said: "But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life" (John.4: 10-14).
Therefore, water is a symbol of life and sometimes of the Holy Spirit Himself. How beautiful are the Divine Inspiration's words in the First Psalm about the virtuous man: "He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season" (Ps.1: 3). The fruit is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
The connections between water, life and the Holy Spirit in the Holy Bible commence from Genesis (Gen.1: 2) and continue until the end of the Book of Revelation: "I will give the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts" (Rev.21:6), "And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Rev.22: 1) and "...let him who thirsts come. And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev.22: 17).
In the crossing of the Red Sea, the water symbolised life and death together; death of the servile man and life of the free man who came up out of the water.
On Maundy Thursday, the water symbolised purification. That is why, after washing the feet of His Apostles, the Lord said: "...and you are clean" (John.13: 10). The Psalmist says:
"I will wash my hands in innocence" (Ps.26: 6). This cleansing is the washing of the new birth with the word; the cleansing which we receive in the bath of the new birth and the cleansing obtained in baptism referred to by the Apostle's words: "...and our bodies washed with pure water" (Heb.10: 22).
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