Sacred Spaces

On Thursday morning, Father Elijah Mueller arrived at the UofC’s New Graduate Residence Hall with a wooden bowl full of holy water, an incense stick, and a small bottle of oil. He was wearing a long black cassock and ornate shawl.

Mueller, a priest from the UofC’s Orthodox Christian Fellowship, came to bless rooms in honor of the recent feast day of Theophany. The holiday celebrates the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, and according to Orthodox tradition, the practice of blessing the home represents the ongoing sanctification of the material world.

Mueller has performed the annual blessings at UofC dorms for four years. As of Friday morning, he had blessed seven rooms and expected to carry out nearly 20 more by the end of winter.

In one room, Mueller began to sing in front of a makeshift altar he placed on a desk. The tenants participated in the ceremony, contributing names of deceased loved ones and listening to the prayer. Mueller placed the incense stick into the bowl of holy water and showered the room, droplets splattering across dressers and walls.

The students stepped forward to receive the priest’s blessing. Mueller dampened their heads with holy water as he held up a carved wooden cross. He then anointed the doorway with oil and once more sprinkled water on the heads of the students.

Though they had different reasons for requesting the room blessing, the students enjoyed the ceremony. One resident, Alexandra Mathews, explained, “Growing up with the Orthodox tradition, I always feel a bit of comfort when my house gets blessed because it provides security.” For some of the other, though, this was a new experience. Alexandra Bassen, who is not Eastern Orthodox, got her room blessed because she thinks “It [is] a culturally enriching experience.”

The oil, bowl, stick and cross returned to Mueller’s bag. He then departed, passing a pile of pink pillows and a display of paper cutout snowflakes, on his way to bless another room.