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The Deacon's Bench

Our Byzantine brothers and sisters gathered recently in snowy Pennsylvania to continue a winter tradition:

On a frigid, snowy Sunday afternoon, congregants and clergy from five local Byzantine churches celebrated their faith atop Veterans Memorial Bridge, singing a prayer as a priest cast a cross of ice onto the frozen Susquehanna River below.

Police closed a west-bound lane of the bridge so the approximately 60-or-so faithful could process safely through the snow and slush from Water Street to a point near the center of the bridge for the sixth annual Blessing of the Susquehanna River.

“Every year, we commemorate the Gospel story of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan. … When we bless the water, as a symbol of purity and purification, we recall our own baptism as well,” said the Rev. Glenn Davidowich, of St. Mary’s Protection, Kingston, and St. John the Baptist, Wilkes-Barre Township.

Also participating were the Rev. Scott Boghossian, of St. Michael the Archangel, Pittston, and St. Nicholas, Swoyersville; the Rev. James Hayer, of St. Mary’s Assumption, Wilkes-Barre; Deacons Basil Soroka and Edward Frey, of St. Mary’s Assumption; and Deacon Lawrence Worlinsky of St. Nicholas.

Davidowich said the late Rev. Theodore Krepp initiated the tradition locally in 2004 “as a way of bringing the area Byzantine Catholic churches together.”

Blessing the community water supply on the feast of Theophany – the Baptism of Christ – is an old tradition in Eastern Europe. A wooden cross is typically used.

This year, St. Michael the Archangel parishioner Darren Fetch sculpted a cross from ice that Davidowich joked was fish-friendly.

“It’s also very ‘cycle-of-life’ – water to ice, ice to water. Every time we pass over the bridges, people could say, wow, there’s a reminiscence that water makes us holy, water purifies us. It’s kind of cool,” Davidowich said.

Joseph Putprush, a cantor at St. Mary’s Protection, said “it’s nice for the parishes to get together for a blessing of the river so there’s no other floods” – a common annual supplication.

D.J. Partash, 26 and a member of St. Mary’s Assumption, said she attended with her daughters, Amberlyn, 7, and Kasilyn, 5, “because God sent Jesus for us. He’s there for us, we’re here for him.”

The link explains that there were warm refreshments after. Thank God.

Photo: The Rev. Glenn Davidowich, pastor of St. Mary’s Protection in Kingston and St. John the Baptist in Wilkes-Barre Township, casts a cross made of ice over the railing of Veterans Memorial Bridge in Wilkes-Barre. Photo by PETE G. WILCOX/THE TIMES LEADER

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