The Tradition of House Blessing
The practice of Home Blessing is a beautiful tradition which has been preserved for centuries by the Armenians. Usually this ceremony is performed at Christmas and Easter, as well as before moving in a newly built or bought house.
But what is the meaning of this practice would ask any inquisitive parishioner?
Visiting his parishioners at their homes is one of the sacred duties of a parish priest. The priest represents the church. And he caries with him the whole church with her blessings and Sanctity to his parishioner?s home which is expected to be modeled on the same church.
Jesus had visited his followers at their homes many times. He had broken bread with them, performed miracles and had engaged in spiritual discussions. Upon sending his apostles to their mission, he had said to them ; “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And finally declare that, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (Luke 10:3,9)
The blessing of a newly built or acquired home and blessing at Christmas and Easter differ from each other in content and prospect.
1) At the case of the new home the basic intent is to turn the house to a nucleus of the Kingdom. As the greater home, the church is ruled by divine commandments and presence, the smaller house as well should be governed by the same. It should become a church and breath with the breath of God. Inherent to the meaning of the word “to bless” is to invite God and to seek his approval. According the Bible, when God created the world, He saw that everything was “good”, and to his satisfaction. We who are ordained to be His co-creators in our age and time, should make sure that whatever we build or make is in conformity of His will and approval.
Therefore with this spirit, the officiating priest reminds right away the home owner that, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” (Pslm. 127:1). And immediately afterwards sings a hymn dedicated to the Holy Spirit. He invokes the Spirit to come and renew the residents of that house as he renewed the Apostles in the Upper room at the Pentecost.
The story of Zacchaeus is introduced at this encounter. As you know Zacchaeus the tax collector, who was a short man, had climbed on a sycamore tree to have a better view of Jesus when the later was going to Jerusalem at the Palm Sunday. And Jesus recognizing his faith, had called him down and offered to eat dinner with him at his home. And during the dinner Zacchaeus overwhelmed by the forgiving and loving spirit of Jesus had repented and pledged to give away half of his wealth to the poor. At the end Jesus had proclaimed; “Today salvation had come to this house.” (Luke 19:9)
This hopeful story is read by the priest reminding the home owner of the imperative of inviting Jesus into this new dwelling. Because a house without Jesus would be a stormy house. As a captain of a ship maps out his course before any journey, the home owners as well should map out the course of their home on the teachings of the Gospels or better yet, employ the super captain , Jesus to pilot their ship.
The priest thus invokes God and pleads to him, saying; “Bless this house Oh Lord, and guard its residents against all evil and temptations. Strengthen them in your love and worship,… And because the dwellers of this house have trusted in you, crown their hopes, Lord, by your divine blessing…”
After this prayer the priest blesses a glass of water and sprinkles it on the four corners of the house, cleansing the house from its impurities and endowing the house with spiritual gifts and making the hopeful voice of Jesus be heard in the house; “Today salvation has come to this house.”
2) The prospect of the blessing of Home at Christmas and Easter is different from the first one. If the purpose of the blessing of a new home was to invoke God’s presence and turn it to a church, at the case of Christmas or Easter is to celebrate the glory of these two events in the house. That house becomes a new Bethlehem or the “empty tomb” the source of Easter joy. In one word the residents of the house participate to the mysteries of those feasts, hoping that participation effects positive change in their life.
Before starting the actual blessing the priest burns incense, thus inviting the residents to a prayerful life, and then after singing the hymns of the feasts and reading the gospel, he blesses the basic elements of survival of life, namely bread, water and salt. Next to these elements he puts a Wafer (Nushkhar). By blessing these elements the priest blesses the life being lived in that house and in the same time he reminds the residents of the imperative of transcending the food and transforming their life to a spiritual life. As you know, the wafer which is made of flour and water, during Badarak becomes the body of Christ and sustains spiritual life. The same Nushkhar on the table of that house is an invitation to the residents to strive to break the confinement of the matter or the physical food and become better human being, always reflecting the image of God through their behavior. They are reminded to use their bread and water such, that they find the capability of turning their life to a Nushkhar.
In conclusion, the homes where we reside should be a little church, governed by righteousness and love, and in conformity of divine commandments. This verse of Book of Proverbs should be a constant warning for us; “The house of the wicked will be destroyed, but the tent of the upright will flourish.” (Prov. 14:11). Once God is invited in a house, the resident of that house not only co-exist peacefully but try to transcend their physical life, enhancing the quality of their family life and social life.
Jesus had said to his disciples; “In My Father’s house are many rooms,…. I go and prepare a place for you.” (John 14: 2-3) Is there a place for Him in your house?
Rev. Fr. Nerses Manoogian
St. Gregory Church