Word Study: "Bless"

Malankara Woman Receiving a Blessing in Church

At Axia Women we count ourselves fortunate to have seminarians in our midst! Sometimes we ask them to use their knowledge to take us deeper into what we encoubter in church every day. Here's Tanya Penkrat delving into a word we hear regularly and often, illustrated by a photo of another seminary graduate receiving a blessing of her own at a recent service in the Malankara church.

Words.  St John begins his Gospel equating “Word” with the Son of God.  The creator brought everything into being with a word (except for humans). And we have been gifted with words so that we can express all the experiences of our world with words.   Because we are created in the image and likeness of God, “words” are a very powerful tool to have (remember the story of the Tower of Babel). So often, however, we take words for granted. Especially words we hear frequently, as in liturgy.  For example: “bless”. Do I know what this word really means, in greater significance?  This led me to do a “word study” and make several  discoveries. (I also considered looking at “Allelujah” and “Holy,” but am saving them for another day!)  

Bless. Okay, we say, “God bless you!” “Blessed is our God!”  “Father bless…”  Of course, I know what this means. But more looking more deeply: The English word "bless" is used to translate the Hebrew word BRK (Baruk) which the dictionary tells me was a relational “marker” and “to bless” is a verb which makes it an action or a verbal act…  Not very helpful!

Hmmm.  The dictionary more usefully tells me that, as a verb it means to bestow goodness, or favor, to congratulate, thank, to praise or finally make peace, worship or praise.  This is more or less what I inferred it meant.  But to me it is even more interesting that, of course. the word refers always to God.  God has the power and will to act with creativity and kindness, so it is he who “blesses”.  It is his act, or word bringing good such as a gift of health, longevity, fertility, land, honor victory and power. God blessed his creation from the beginning: After the fifth day, creating water and air and all its creatures “God blessed them and said ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on earth.’”  Then after God made humankind in his own image, He “blessed them and said to them ‘Be fruitful and increase in number.'” And finally, on the seventh day God finished creation and rested, and “blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (All quotes from Genesis from the NIV Bible).

Angels and humans can also “bless” as intermediaries of God, as an invocation of God’s power (a type of prayer). So, it appears that to bless is God’s power to will goodness upon that which he blesses.  And humans, who are made in God’s image, can also bless as an invocation or prayer to God’s power. When Angels bless, thy also do so as agents of God and convey blessings that originate with God.  So, when I say “God bless you” after you sneeze, I am basically saying a prayer asking God to protect the “sneezer” from the possible illness the sneeze might signify.  Not empty words at all!

When we start a service saying “Blessed is our God,” we are, in effect, recognizing God’s power to bless us.  He is the originator of all blessing and so we describe him as such in words of thanksgiving, worship and praise and name him “Blessed.”

Finally, we ask for blessings from our priest and other clergy and spiritual leaders.  We bless our children and each other and are blessed in turn by our parents, and friends.  All of these blessings, as said before are prayers to God via earthly people of faith, asking for goodness, health, safety and peace from and for those we love.

May God bless all of us to continue improving by living according to his loving ways. Amen

Tatiana (Tanya) Penkrat is a graduate of Skidmore with a BA in English literature and an MDiv from St. Vladimir's Seminary.  She has done many things throughout her life: working for Radio Liberty, doing graphic design, remodeling an old stable in Tuxedo Park, gardening, owning and running a flower shop, and coordinating events for SVS.  She has 4 children and 6 grandchildren.  Walking and hiking in woodlands and reading are her two favorite pastimes, as well as attending concerts and opera at Lincoln Center.

Tanya Penkrat