Recently my parish priest, Msgr Charles Pope, wrote about the exorcism prayers in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite and their possible restoration in the ordinary form rite of baptism. On Monday I concelebrated at the Byzantine liturgy for the feast of the theophany, at which water was blessed using this prayer, attributed to Saint Sophronios, patriarch of Jerusalem in the seventh century. It is a prayer full of rich baptismal theology, and a good meditation as we approach the Latin rite feast of the baptism of the Lord this Sunday:
O Trinity, transcendent in essence, in goodness, and in divinity, almighty, invisible, and incomprehensible, who watch over all; O Creator of intelligent beings, of natures endowed with speech; O Goodness of utter and unapproachable brilliance, who enlighten everyone who comes into the world: enlighten me also, your unworthy servant! Illumine the eyes of my mind, that I may venture to praise your immeasurable goodness and your might; let my supplication on behalf of these people be wholly acceptable, so that my sins may not prevent the descent of the Holy Spirit upon this place; that without condemnation, I may be permitted to cry out to you and say: “We glorify you, O Master and Lover of us all, almighty and eternal King! We glorify you, O only-begotten Son, born of a mother without a father and of a father without a mother; for in the preceding feast we have seen you as a babe, and in this present feast as perfect man appearing as our perfect God.
Today is the time of feasting, and the ranks of saints and angels have joined us in celebration; today the grace of the all-holy Spirit in the likeness of a dove comes down upon the waters; today shines the Sun that never sets, and the world sparkles with the light of the Lord! Today the moon is bright, together with the earth in the glowing radiance of its beams; today the brilliant stars adorn the universe with the splendor of their twinkling; today the clouds from heaven shed upon the human race a shower of justice; today the Uncreated One willingly permits the hands of his creatures to be laid upon him; today the Prophet and Forerunner approaches the Lord and, standing before him in awe, witnesses the condescension of God towards us; today through the presence of the Lord, the waters of the river Jordan are changed into remedies; today the whole universe is refreshed with mystical streams; today the sins of the human race are blotted out by the waters of the river Jordan; today paradise as been opened to all, and the Sun of Righteousness has shone upon us; today, at the hands of Moses, the bitter water is changed into sweetness by the presence of the Lord!
Today we are delivered from the ancient mourning, and like a new Israel, we are saved; today we are delivered from darkness, and, through the light of the knowledge of God, we are illumined; today the darkness of the world vanishes with the appearing of our God; today the whole creation is brightened from on high; today errors are destroyed and a way of salvation is prepared for us by the coming of the Lord; today the inhabitants of heaven rejoice with those of the earth; and the inhabitants of earth with those of heaven; today the noble and eloquent assembly of the faithful rejoices; today the Lord comes to be baptized, so that the human race may be lifted up; today the One who never has to bow, inclines himself before his servant, so that he may release our chains; today we have acquired the kingdom of heaven; indeed, the kingdom of heaven that has no end.
Today land and sea share in the joy of the world, and the world is filled with rejoicing. The waters beheld you, O Lord; the waters beheld you and they trembled. The river Jordan turns back on its course as it beholds the fire of the Godhead coming down upon it and entering it in the flesh. The river Jordan turns back in its course as it beholds the Holy Spirit descending in the likeness of a dove, and hovering over you. The river Jordan turns back in its course as it beholds the Invisible made visible, the Creator existing in the flesh, and the Master in the likeness of a servant. The river Jordan turns back in its course, and the mountains leap for joy as they behold God in the flesh. And the clouds give voice and are filled with awe by the One who is coming, Light of Light, true God of true God; the One who, in the river Jordan, has drowned to death sin, the thorn of error, and the bonds of hell, and granted the baptism of salvation to the world. So also I, your unworthy and sinful servant overcome with fear, proclaim your great wonders: and I cry reverently to you and say:
With the triple candle, the priest makes three times the sign of the cross in the water, saying each time the following: Great are you, O Lord, and wonderful are your works; no word suffices to give praise to your wonders.
Then the priest says: By your will you brought forth all things from nothingness into being; by your might you control creation, and by your providence you govern the world. You created all things from four elements, and crowned the cycle of the year with four seasons. The spiritual powers tremble before you. The sun praises you, the moon glorifies you, the stars serve you. Light obeys you, the depths tremble before you, and the springs adore you. You spread out the heavens like a tent. You established the earth upon the waters. You fringed the seas with beaches of sand. You poured forth air for breathing. The angelic powers serve you; the ranks of archangels worship you; the many-eyed cherubim and the six-winged seraphim stand before you or hover over you, yet they dare not gaze at your unapproachable glory. Although you are God, boundless, indescribable, and without beginning, you came upon earth, and taking the likeness of a servant, became like one of us. Because of the depth of your compassion, O Master, you could not bear to see mankind under the tyranny of the Devil, and so you came to save us. We profess your goodness; we proclaim your mercy, and we do not conceal your graciousness. You freed all human offspring by sanctifying the virginal womb through your birth. All creation praises your appearance, for you, our God, came upon earth by sending down your Holy Spirit from heaven, and you crushed the head of every dragon nesting in it.
Three times the priest breathes over the water in the form of a cross, each time saying: O Loving King, come now and through the descent of the Holy Spirit sanctify this water.
Then the priest prays: Grant it the grace of redemption and the blessing of the Jordan. Make it a fount of incorruptibility, a gift of sanctification, a redemption of sins, a healing potion for illness, and a destroyer of demons. Make it immune to hostile powers, and fill it with angelic power so that all who drink and receive of it may be purified in soul and body, cured of ills, sanctified in their homes, and given every befitting grace.
For you are our God, who through water and the Spirit rejuvenated our nature grown old by sin. You are our God, who drowned sin in the waters at the time of Noah. You are our God, who, on the sea and at the hands of Moses, delivered the Hebrews from the bondage of Pharaoh. You are our God, who split the rock in the wilderness, so that the waters gushed out, and the valleys overflowed, and the people were satisfied. You are our God, who, with fire and water, and at the hands of Elijah, delivered Israel from the errors of Baal.
The priest makes the sign of the cross in the water three times with his hand, each time saying: Wherefore, O Master, sanctify this water by your Holy Spirit.
Then the priest prays: Grant sanctification, blessing, cleansing, and health to all who touch it, are blessed with it, or who partake of it. O Lord, save your servants, our civil authorities. Keep them in peace within your protective shadow, granting them all salutary requests and eternal life. May your all-holy name be glorified by the elements, by men, by angels, by all that is visible or invisible, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever. Amen.