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Mystery of Baptism

One should be prepared for baptism. First of all you have to find out if the church has a special class for the catechumens (those preparing to be baptized and studying the basics of the Orthodox Faith). If there is such class, one should attend it regularly. During the days before baptism one should read the Gospel and other books on Christian teachings, such as the the law of God. You should bear in mind that those days are special, so your attention should not be distracted by other things, no matter how important they might be. Devote that time to spiritual and moral meditation, concentrate on the inner life of your soul. Avoid the fuss and fret, idle talk and TV watching. Shun entertainment, as what you are about to receive is great and holy, and all holy things granted by God are to be received with great awe and reverence. On the baptism day you must not eat, drink or smoke since morning. Spouses should abstain from matrimonial interaction at night on the eve of baptism.

The Mystery of Baptism is a great and holy thing. Anyone approaching God’s sacred things must be especially clean. To be baptized you should come to church extremely clean and neat. Women with a monthly flow of blood cannot approach the baptism font until those days are over. Besides, women should not wear ornaments or have cosmetics applied. You must be on time (before the baptism begins) for the baptism. If the great mystery of baptism is performed in your church on weekdays, it is not necessary to arrange it specifically for Sundays.

There is an anecdote about the godparents and baptism. When the mystery ritual was over a woman with a small boy entered the baptismal room accompanied by a man who looked Asiatic. The woman started asking to baptize the boy as they were leaving the town that day. The man introduced himself as a godfather-to-be. "Are you wearing a cross?" asked the priest of the man. "What for?" was the reply. "What do you mean — what for? Aren’t you an Orthodox believer?" — "No, I am Muslim," — replied the man.

This anecdotal episode shows vividly how lightly people take the task of choosing godparents. A large majority of them do not comply with the minimal requirements of the Church: they do not know a single prayer or how to cross themselves, they did not read the Gospel, they do not wear a cross. Some godfathers think it proper to "have a glass for bravery" before coming to church, godmothers are sometimes dressed immodestly and overusing cosmetics. And almost nobody knows anything about what the role and responsibilities of godparents are, or what they should be at all.

According to the traditions of the Church an infant should be baptized on the 8th or the 40th day after birth. Clearly, to demand at this age faith and repentance — the two main requirements for unity with God — is impossible. Therefore, godparents have existed since ancient times — people, who according to their faith baptize the child (In passing one must note that godparents are not necessary for those over 18 years of age).

The godparent can only be an Orthodox believer, able to prove his faith. In fact a boy needs only a godfather and a girl — only a godmother. But due to an ancient Russian tradition both are usually invited to be godparents. Birth parents cannot become godparents of their child. Spouses cannot be godparents of the same child. Grandparents, brothers and sisters can surely be godparents of the baby.

After the baby is immersed in the font a godparent is to take it in his or her arms from the priest. That’s why in Slavonic a godparent is called a "recipient." Doing so, a godparent assumes responsibility to bring the child up in the spirit of Orthodoxy and will be held accountable for the upbringing at the Last Judgment. To their last day, godparents pray for their godchildren, they teach them to be faithful and devout, and they introduce them to the mysteries of the Church. That kind of connection between children and godparents is deeper and more everlasting than between birthparents and children. Both the destinies of the child and the godparent depend on how thoroughly those obligations are fulfilled by the godparent.

Service of Baptism

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OFFSITE: Beginning Orthodoxy, Part I - The original, unaltered article.
OFFSITE: Photography of Jarek Charkiewicz