Baptism Ceremony: Before, During and After
A Greek baptism in the Christian Orthodox Church is a major event in the life of any family.The Greek Culture is filled with a variety of traditions. Every region in Greece has its own traditions that uniquely set it apart from the rest of the country. Below you will find what is the same in all of Greece about a baby's Baptism.
For the sacrament of Baptism, one of the godmother/godfather must be an Orthodox Christian and must bring the following to church:
- 1 small white or ivory towel (to be used by the priest and godparent to wipe their hands after the baptism)
- 1 large white or ivory towel (to wrap the baby in)
- 1 large white or ivory oil sheet (used with the towel to wrap the baby)
- 1 set of baptismal undergarments - These garments are brought by the godparent to dress the infant immediately after the immersion in Baptism. In Orthodoxy, these garments are considered sacred and must be kept safely.
All of the above are called Ladopana-Baptismal Underwear Set and they are a 6 piece set.
- 1 small bottle of olive oil (for the priest to pour into the baptismal water)
- 1 bar of soap (for the priest and godparent to wash their hands with after the baptism)
- 3 white candles (which they light after the baptism when they walk around the baptismal font) - 1 large candle and 2 smaller matching ones
- A baptismal outfit, shoes and socks
- Martirika-Christening Witness Pins (that will be pinned on the guests attending the ceremony)
- A gold cross on a chain (for the baby to wear after Chrismation)
- A baptismal box to put all of the above inside and carry them to the Church.
The baptismal day is one of the most important days in the life of an Orthodox Christian. The sacrament of Baptism usually occurs within the first year of a baby's life after the forty day blessing. The sacrament begins in the Church Narthex where the parents hand the child over to the godparent. At that point, the godparent speaks on behalf of the child and denounces Satan and recites the Creed. Then, the priest, the parents and the godparent walk towards the front of the church where a woman (usually the grandmother) takes the baby to undress and wrap him/her in a large towel. The priest blesses the water in the baptismal font, and adds to it the oil that the godparent brought. Then he takes the baby and rubs him/her with the oil and water. Then he immerses the baby in the font three times symbolizing the three days that Christ spent in his tomb. While immersing the baby in the font, the priest is pronouncing the baby's name along with the name of the Trinity, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The priest then takes the baby out of the water and gives him/her to the godparent in who is holding the white sheet and towel. What follows is the sacrament of Chrismation where the priest anoints the baby with "myrrh" (oil that has been blessed by the Patriarch) and cuts three locks from the baby's hair. The priest also blesses the baby's clothes and then usully a grandmother will dress the baby in the Christening outfit. After that, the priest places the gold cross and chain on the baby and the godparent takes the baby and lights the big candle and the small candles. The small candles are usually given to kids to hold. They all then walk around the font three times symbolizing the dance of joy. The baby then receives Holy Communion for the first time. When the ceremony is over, the parents kiss the hand of the godparent and receive their baby and all relatives and friends wish them "Na sas zisi" which means "life to him/her".
Following the ceremony is a celebration either at a house, a reception hall or a restaurant. This celebration can range from a small gathering with cake and coffee to a huge gala with plenty of food and entertainment.
For the three days following the baptism the baby should not be bathed. The water from the first bath after the Baptismal Ceremony should be used to water flowers. For the three Sundays following the Baptism the baby receives communion dressed in his/her baptismal outfit. Usually the godparent takes the baby for Communion and someone else follows holding the lit Baptismal candle. The baby should be held on our right side when receiving Communion.
It is customary in some parts of Greece for the godparent to baptize all girls or all boys because traditionally a man and a woman that have the same godparent should not marry because in the eyes of the Church they are brother and sister. In some other parts of Greece-usually in the islands, the godparents' children cannot get married with the godchild because in the eyes of the Church they are brother and sister also.
The duties of the godparent after the ceremony do not stop there. The godparent must offer to his/her godchild every Easter an Easter Candle and offer a gift on his/her Name Day. In Greece , it is customary also for the godparent on every Easter to buy a new pair of shoes for the child. But above all of these the godparent has a spiritual responsibility. A godparent is the guarantor of an obligation. As a godparent, you are co-signing a great obligation. You are guaranteeing that your godchild will grow up to be a faithful Orthodox Christian. If he/she fails to meet this responsibility, you will be at least partially responsible, to the extent that you did or did not assist in her religious upbringing. Great care should be taken in selecting a sponsor for the sacraments of baptism. Such expectation will help assure a special kind of relationship not only between the sponsor and godchild, but also between the sponsor and the godchild's parents. Sponsorial relationships arising from baptism should serve to expand one's spiritual bonds with others. The more persons from a community engaged in a spiritual commitment, the more spiritually alive and aware that community can become. For this reason, it is important that godparents be chosen not for social reasons, but because they are persons who love God and His Church. Sponsors must be Orthodox Christians in good standing with the Church, otherwise they will not be able to bring up the child in a faith that is not theirs.