Holy Baptism

 

"As each holy mystery has its outward signs, which manifest the work of the Spirit, so each Christian life, sharing in the power of the holy mysteries, itself becomes a sacrament. As God permits...the mind is illumined and the heart is energized and made pure. Those who are Christ's, live and walk in the Spirit and the Spirit bears fruit in them: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control (Gal. 5:22-25)".[1]

This informational packet attempts to aid families in making the necessary arrangements for a Baptism Service at Saint Stefanos Greek Orthodox Church in St. Petersburg, Florida, according to the practices of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Metropolis of Atlanta.

Preparation for Baptism Preparing for Holy Baptism

To begin preparing for the Baptism itself, families should set up an initial appointment through the Church Office to meet with the Priest. At this appointment, the family may also discuss tentative baptism dates with the Office Secretary (see below).
The parents must be Orthodox Christians in good standing ecclesiastically and financially with their parish; in cases of Inter-Christian Marriages, one parent must be an Orthodox Christian in good standing. A person who actively belongs to a parish who, if married, has had his/her marriage blessed by the Orthodox Church, and, if divorced, has received an ecclesiastical divorce, is considered to be a parishioner in good standing. Orthodox Christian parents who are not parishioners in good standing in a parish are urged to speak with the Priest further about this matter.

Choosing a Baptism Date

The Orthodox Church does not permit any baptisms on certain fast days, seasons, or Feast Days, including: from Christmas Day through Theophany (December 25-January 6); Holy Week; and on Great Feast Days of the Lord[3].
Families are encouraged to select several options for a baptism date before discussing with the Office Secretary. Certain seasons of the year are busier than others, so it is helpful to have several choices, allowing for the possibility of some conflicts on the Parish Calendar.
Selecting a Sponsor

Selecting a Sponsor (Godparent)

Infants are baptized in the Orthodox Church with the participation of an adult Sponsor. The words "Sponsor" and "Godparent" are used interchangeably; however, in today's society the word "Godparent" often has a connotation that does not accurately reflect the Orthodox perspective. In other traditions, the "Godparent" is often a close friend/relative to the parents, and is relegated to being an honorary aunt or uncle who does little more than send occasional cards and gifts to their Godchild.

The Orthodox Sponsor plays a much more significant role in the child's life, and continuing into adulthood- Baptism is only the beginning. At Baptism, "the Sponsor assumes a lifelong commitment to care for the spiritual aspects of the life of his or her Godchild".[4] The Sponsor is charged with nurturing their Godchild's life in Christ and contributing to their spiritual growth as an Orthodox Christian. Practically speaking, Sponsors (when proximity allows) may attend church with their Godchild; pray for and with their Godchild; aid in teaching their Godchild the Orthodox Christian faith; and much more.

Because of his/her very nature and role as just discussed, the Sponsor for an Orthodox Baptism must be an Orthodox Christian in good standing with his/her parish. The Orthodox Church does not prohibit non-Orthodox Christians from serving as Sponsors out of a sense of exclusivity or elitism; rather, it is because it would be inconsistent to charge someone with leading a child by example in the Orthodox faith when the person himself/herself is not Orthodox.[5]

Some families have a non-Orthodox close friend or relative whom they wish to have involved in the Baptism service as an "honorary Godparent". There are many opportunities to do so, though the role of the Orthodox Sponsor should by no means be diminished as a result. The non-Orthodox person may hold the child at certain times; help dress the child after immersion; hold candles and participate in the procession around the font.

Filling Baptism Paperwork

In the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States, all paperwork for a baptism is processed through the Metropolis under whose jurisdiction the local parish is. In the case of Saint Stefanos Church, this is the Metropolis of Atlanta.
At their initial appointment with Fr. John, the family will receive a Baptism Information Form to complete and return. This form requests certain details that are required to issue the Baptism Certificate. In order to process paperwork, the following items must be submitted to our Church Office:

Letters of Good Standing in an Orthodox Church for Parents, and for Sponsor(s) (see below)

Completed Baptism Information Form

A "Letter of Good Standing" is a document issued by a Parish Priest, certifying that a person is a parishioner in good standing of that particular parish (see above "Preparation for Baptism" for an explanation of good standing status). If the person is a parishioner in good standing of Saint Stefanos Greek Orthodox Church in St. Petersburg, Florida, such a letter is not necessary.

How Paperwork is Processed

Upon receipt of the above-listed materials, the Church Office will issue the Baptism Certificate. Immediately following the Baptism service, Fr. John and the Sponsor will sign the Baptism Certificate. The parents then receive the original top copy to keep. The middle copy is kept for Saint Stefanos' records, and the bottom copy is sent to the Metropolis Registry.

Preparing for the Baptism Service

The Sacrament of Baptism incorporates us into the Church, the Body of Christ, and is our introduction to the life of the Holy Trinity. Water is a natural symbol of cleansing and newness of life. Through the three-fold immersion in the waters of Baptism in the Name of the Holy Trinity, one dies to the old ways of sin and is born to a new life in Christ. Baptism is one's public identification with Christ Death and victorious Resurrection. Following the custom of the early Church, Orthodoxy encourages the baptism of infants. The Church believes that the Sacrament is bearing witness to the action of God who chooses a child to be an important member of His people. From the day of their baptism, children are expected to mature in the life of the Spirit, through their family and the Church.[6]

The following list contains the necessary items families shall bring for the Baptism service. It is sometimes customary for the Sponsor to provide some or all of these items. These items may be available from our Church Bookstore; please inquire with the Church Office.

  • 2 white hand towels
  • 1 small bar of soap
  • 2 white bath towels (or 1 white bath towel and 1 white twin-size sheet)
  • 1 small bottle of olive oil
  • 1 set of new white clothing
  • 1 gold/silver cross and chain
  • 1 white taper candle

Some parents may wish to have additional Orthodox or non-Orthodox clergy as a part of the service (ex. priest from a former parish, etc.). Proper protocol and etiquette call for the parents to make such wishes known to Fr. John, and Fr. John, as the presiding priest, will extend the invitation to the additional clergy. It is not proper for such an invitation to come from the parents, the family, or anyone other than Fr. John.

In regards to Orthodox clergy, for an Orthodox priest to celebrate a service at another parish, or in another jurisdiction (Greek Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, etc.), he must obtain the canonical permission of his respective hierarch, as well as the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta. The family's wishes to have additional Orthodox clergy should be made known to Fr. John well in advance to allow time for these procedures.

In regards to non-Orthodox clergy, Fr. John will extend the invitation for them to be present for the baptism service. Due to the very nature of Baptism as a sacrament of the Orthodox Church, such clergy cannot actively participate during the service. As an alternative, following the service the clergy may be invited to speak or offer their special blessings and wishes to the family. Families are encouraged to discuss this matter further with Fr. John.

Families will need to make arrangements for one or more chanters to chant the hymns and responses during the service. The Church Office can provide contact information for several chanters in the parish/area from which to choose. Families who wish to make separate arrangements shall seek Fr. John's approval before final arrangements are made.

Keeping in mind the nature of the Baptism service as a sacrament, and the surroundings of the church sanctuary, family members and guests are expected to dress modestly and appropriately, avoiding shorts, revealing clothing, short skirts, tight pants, low-cut tops, etc. All those present should also be respectful by remaining quiet while in the church, before, during, and after the service.

Day of the Baptism Service

The day of the Baptism, the church sanctuary, Doncedy Hall restrooms, and grounds will be accessible approximately one hour before the scheduled time for the service[7]. Should earlier access be needed, requests must be made in advance through the Church Office. No access will be given to the Educational Building.

 

Appendix I: Common Questions and Answers

The following materials are excerpted from The Orthodox Church: 455 Questions and Answers by Rev. Dr. Stanley Harakas.

Does the person baptizing a child in the Orthodox Church have to be an Orthodox himself?

You are speaking of the Godparent or "Sponsor". He or she is known in Greek as the "Anadohos", and, more popularly, as the "Nouno-Nouna". The sponsor must be an Orthodox Christian. Further, the sponsor must be a practicing Orthodox Christian in good order with the church. Generally, this means that the potential sponsor should be a member of an Orthodox parish and have no status or conditions which prevents him/her from participating in the sacramental life of the church. The most frequent reason people are not permitted to receive Holy Communion is marriage outside the church, though there can be other reasons as well. The rationale for all this is that the role and responsibility of the sponsor is to care for the spiritual upbringing of the person whom they baptize. It is not only participation in the sacrament of baptism, but the moral and spiritual relationship which lasts for the life-time of both the new Christian and the sponsor. To understand that is to understand why the sponsor at an Orthodox baptism must be an Orthodox Christian in good order with the Church.

What does the cutting of the infant's hair during baptism symbolize?

In the Christian tradition, the ritual cutting of the hair at baptism is a sign of dedication and commitment to God. The words said at that moment in the service are, "The servant of God (name) is tonsured in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." It reminds us of the Monastic tonsure at which time the monk dedicates his whole life to God.

What is the correct age to baptize a baby?

Present practice is to baptize a child after the baby has had some time to grow physically to be strong enough to participate in the public event of the sacrament of baptism. Since our church practices the immersion of infants, it is not recommended that the baptism take place too early. Nor should parents wait too long, when there is a danger of the child becoming unmanageable at the service. Plan your baby's baptism between the fourth and seventh month from birth.

Why are people baptized when they are still infants and not when they are old enough to decide by themselves if they want to become Orthodox Christians?

The question of infant baptism comes up frequently in this column. Responses have been given on many levels: scriptural, historical, doctrinal, etc. Today, I will respond on the human and social level and recommend to you a small pamphlet for a more broad answer to your question. The nurture of children is the obligation of every generation. Parents, as the sociologists say it, "acculturate" their children. They teach them a language, traditions and practices, an ethnic heritage and so much more. Psychologists indicate that this process gives persons a strong "identity." Psychologically, we are stable and balanced when we know "who we are". Parents do not leave the choice of name, nationality, education, and many other areas of life unresolved until the children "grow up and choose for themselves". Religion is more than simply a cohesive social force. It is more than personal conviction. It is more than an individual preference. It is all these, but most importantly it is a whole outlook on life, a "world view", and an orientation to existence. Such an important thing cannot be left to chance. When it is, you have a generation of people without moorings, lost and confused and filled with anxiety- a description of many people in our age. In short, it is good for the children's well-being that they be made part of the church from the beginnings of their lives. It is good for them, and good for society as a whole.

For more discussion, from a more Biblical, traditional and religious perspective, I recommend to you a pamphlet by Jordan Bajis, published by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, and titled, "Infant Baptism".

Could a person from a different denomination get baptized and chrismated into our church?

Yes, a non-Orthodox Christian can become an Orthodox Christian in the following manner. If the person is a member of a Christian Church which baptizes its members in the name of the Holy Trinity (in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that is) it is not general practice to rebaptize them. However, if a person has not been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, but still calls himself/herself a Christian, baptism must take place in order to become an Orthodox Christian.

Those who have been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity are received into the Orthodox Church throughout the Sacrament of Holy Chrismation which grants the gifts of the Holy Spirit to them, among which is the status of layperson in the church.
It should be pointed out that no one should be coerced into membership, and that the free choice to change faith and become Orthodox should be based on a full understanding of Orthodox faith and practice. This is usually obtained through a period of instruction.

Why is oil used as the substance to represent and to bestow the gift of the Holy Spirit to a catechumen?

Your question appears to refer to the sacrament of Chrismation or Confirmation. It is usually administered immediately after baptism. However when a person belonging to another Christian Church, who has already been baptized, receives instruction in the Orthodox faith, he or she is received into the Orthodox Church by Chrismation. This may explain your reference to "a catechumen".
The sacrament itself, as the "seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit" is found in the earliest Church (Acts 8:14-17, 10:2-6) where the gift of the Holy Spirit is conferred by the laying on the hands by the Apostles. In two other Biblical passages the words "unction", and "anointing" and "seal" occur, which could be understood to refer to the administration of the sacrament with oil (2 Corinthians 1:21-22 and 1 John 2:20-27). In the early tradition of the Church both means were used: the Laying on of hands and the anointing with oil. In both cases, it was bishops who performed the sacrament, not priests. We see that this practice was established very early in the life of the Church since priests were prohibited from blessing the oils of Chrismation by the 6th Canon of the Council of Laodiceia, held in the year 318. The reason for this change in practice from the laying on of the hands to the blessing of oil, was the great increase in the number of new converts all over the Church and the inability of the bishop to be present at every baptism. The bishops blessed the oil, and the priests administered it. Present practice is for the oils, mixed with fragrant substances, to be consecrated on Holy Thursday in the Cathedrals of the Mother Churches, and subsequently, to be distributed to their dependent Churches. Clearly the use of oil, and not another substance, was dictated by the close proximity of the meaning of spiritual or inner anointment with the Holy Spirit and the outer anointment with the Holy Spirit and the outer anointment which is accomplished with oil: "You have been anointed by the Holy One" (1 John 2:20). The use of specially prepared oil for consecrating persons or things is an Old Testament practice. Thus, the Bible records: "Take the finest spices:...liquid myrrh,...sweet smelling cinnamon,...aromatic cane...cassia...and olive oil; and you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; a holy anointing oil it shall be..." (Exodus 30:22-33). Based on this tradition, the Church uses oil for Chrismation.

How did the tradition of godparents come about?

The godparent at a baptism is recorded as early as the year 200 by Tertullian in his book De Baptismo. St. John Chrysostom mentions godparents in his book On the Psalms. In the early Church, adults, primarily, were baptized. Godparents were chosen for each person. They were nearly always of the same sex as the person to be baptized. Their role was to assure the Church of the moral character of the candidate, to assist at the baptism itself, and to watch over his or her growth in the faith. By the 6th century the practice of infant baptism became dominant. Together, with their previous duties, the godparents assumed the responsibility to guide the newly baptized child in the faith. Together with the parents, the godparent is responsible for the spiritual and moral growth of the child. In the East the godparent is known as "Anadohos" which literally means "one who takes responsibility for another" which shows both the role and the significance of the godparent. According to the teaching of the Church, the following cannot be godparents: the parents of the person being baptized, the spouse, non-Christians, non-Orthodox, Orthodox who have been denied the right to receive Holy Communion, for whatever reason; the clergy of all ranks (with exceptions, if necessity requires it), those who live a scandalous immoral life, persons not fully conscious of the meaning and function of the role of godparent such as infants and little children, the seriously mentally retarded, etc.

All other Orthodox Christians, men, women, young and old, may assume this important task in the Church's life. In the early Western Church the term "godparent" (godmother or godfather) was used to indicate the spiritual parenthood of the "anadohos". When you become a child's godparent, you become the spiritual and religious mentor and guide of your godchild for the duration of both of your lives.

How can a Godparent or sponsor live up to his or her responsibilities? What are some of the responsibilities?

The sponsor is a very important person in the baptismal service and in the life of the baptized Christian. In the early Church the majority of persons entering the Church were adults. This meant that they were able to make their own profession of faith, to reject evil and sin, and personally to commit themselves to Christ. In infant baptism, which otherwise has much to commend it, this is not possible. The parents make the decision to baptize their child, thus bringing the child into the life of redemption. It is the Godparent, however, who rejects the devil, accepts Christ, and who makes the profession of faith on behalf of the child. It is a mistake for Godparents to think of their role as a merely social one. It is primarily religious and spiritual. The task of the Godparent does not consist simply in buying a cross and some new clothing, and participating in the service of baptism (saying the words mentioned above, anointing the child with the oil, receiving the child from the font, processing around the font, bringing the child to its first Holy Communion). All these things are merely the beginning of the responsibilities of the sponsor. For with these acts, the sponsor assumes a lifelong commitment to care for the spiritual aspects of the life of his or her Godchild. This means several things. First, to see it, together with the parents, that the child is taught the necessary things for the living of the Christian life. This includes attendance at Church, religious education classes, and, most importantly, frequent participation in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Godparents should also have close personal ties with their Godchildren. They should visit with them regularly, in person, by letter, or on the phone. They should remember their Godchildren on their name days, birthdays and other holidays. All this should be accompanied by loving counsel and concern in reference to the various stages of their lives with a view to the Christian formation of the Godchild. In later years, during the teens, a Godparent who has done these things during childhood years may prove to be the only one who can influence a young person during those trying and difficult times. Finally, the Godparent should include his or her Godchild in daily prayers.

[1] "The Sacramental Life of the Orthodox Church", by Rev. Alkiviadis Calivas, Th.D. Copyright 2003 Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
[3] Namely, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14); the Nativity of our Lord (December 25); Theophany (January 6); the Presentation of the Lord (February 2); the Transfiguration of our Lord (August 6); Palm Sunday (Sunday before Pascha); the Ascension of our Lord (40 days after Pascha); and Pentecost (50 days after Pascha).
[4] Harakas, Stanley. The Orthodox Church: 455 Questions and Answers. Minneapolis: Light and Life (1988), page 144.
[5] For further discussion of the Sponsor, please see Appendix II.
[6] "The Sacraments" by Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald. Copyright 1983-1996 Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Department of Religious Education.
[7] Parties who have contracted to use the Doncedy Hall for the reception site will have access to the Hall and grounds as agreed upon in the Contract. The church sanctuary will be accessible one hour before the service, unless other prior arrangements have been made through the Church Office. No access will be given to the Educational Building.