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The congregation of a new Orthodox Christian church blessed the waters of Beaufort on Sunday at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park as part of an ancient ceremony.
St. James Orthodox Church, which held its first service in Beaufort in June, celebrated the Holy Theophany, or Epiphany, beneath an overcast sky. The service is held every year on Jan. 6 to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan River.
Father James Bozeman led about 15 parishioners to the waterfront in a procession to pray, sing and read Scripture describing the baptism as part of the "Great Blessing of the Waters."
Bozeman tossed a cross tied to a rope into the Beaufort River three times, sanctifying it before blessing the people in attendance by sprinkling them with drops of water.
Bozeman said the ceremony has "been done through the ages to ask Christ to bless all water." Church leaders believe Sunday was the first time it has been performed in Beaufort.
Rather than an empty ritual or a magic incantation that turns the water into something different, the service instead asks God to "make the water into what it truly was meant to be: life-giving, healing and something by which we may encounter the grace of God," Bozeman said.
The Holy Theophany, meaning the manifestation of God, celebrates the beginning of Jesus Christ's ministry on earth, which Christian tradition believes began with his baptism.
Bozeman arrived in Beaufort with his family to lead the new church this year after attending seminary at St. Vladimir's Theological Seminary in New York.
He said Orthodox Christians perform the service at whatever bodies of water they can. At St. Vladimir's, it was a goldfish pond.
The waters around Beaufort, however, "give us an even better excuse to do it," he said.
The church, the only Orthodox congregation in Beaufort, meets at 1014 Charlest St. Great Vespers services are held at 6 p.m. Saturdays, divine liturgy is at 9:30 a.m. Sundays and catechism and study group are held on Wednesdays, as well as liturgies on feast days, according to a news release.
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/IPBG_Allison. Staff writer Erin Moody contributed to this report.