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Baptism

The institution of the Sacrament of Baptism
Why infant Baptism ?
Explanation of the ceremony
Summary
Preparing to serve as a Godparent
Frequently Asked Questions on Baptism
Download an A5 booklet of the Sacrament here.



The institution of the Sacrament of Baptism



It was the Lord Jesus who instituted Baptism.

"He who believes and is baptised will be saved" (Mark 16:16).

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..." (Matthew 28:19).

"Truly. truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God"
(John 3:5).

The great model of our baptism, then, is the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan.

The purpose of Holy Baptism is to:

1. To remove the consequences of the 'original sin'.
2. To wash away all other sins committed before the time of Baptism if the person is beyond the age of infancy.
3. To unite the person to "The Body of Christ" (that is, the Church), and to open the door of salvation and eternal life to him or her.

 [Back to top]


Why infant Baptism ?

Holy Baptism is the first of seven Sacraments in the Orthodox Christian Church. Together with the Sacrament of Holy Chrism it joins the candidate to the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church. Some people argue that the only valid baptism is that of an adult who believes in Christ first. They argue that to baptise a helpless infant only a few weeks old who is unable to believe is meaningless. So why baptise a baby when it doesn't know yet what is happening? Why not wait for the baby to grow and believe in Christ and ask for baptism? If we were to follow this line of reasoning, we wouldn’t inoculate the baby against diphtheria until he grows up and asks for it! But we know better. Baptising infants before they know what is going on is an expression of God's great love for us. It shows that God loves us and accepts us before we can ever know and love Him. It shows that we are wanted and loved by God from the very moment of our birth. Nothing shows the nature of God's grace more than infant baptism.

The Orthodox Church does not belittle personal faith in an adult who seeks baptism, but instead insists that the whole emphasis of baptism is not an what the baby does or the parents or the godparents, but on what God does. The fact that we are Christians is not due to any act on our part; it is due to the act of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Of course Baptism demands a personal response on the part of the baptised child when it reaches the age of reason. The child must accept what God did for him or her in Baptism. Baptism is not a divine pass that will get us into Heaven automatically. It must be followed by a personal awareness or awakening to the many gifts of God's love bestowed upon us through this great sacrament. [Back to top]


Explanation of the ceremony

The many gestures involved in the performance of the Sacrament of Baptism in the Orthodox Church are not mere forms devoid of meaning. Christianity is life. Each action in the Sacrament of Baptism expresses what Christ is actually doing for us through this Sacrament.

As with all of the Sacraments there is a visible part, the actions taken by the Priest; and an invisible part, the sanctifying Grace that comes from the Holy Spirit that fills the body and soul of the person receiving the Sacrament.

The sponsor or godparent
The use of sponsors in Baptism dates back to the days when Christians were persecuted by the Roman Emperor Nero. Parents were often massacred during these persecutions. Thus sponsors were provided to instruct the children in the Christian faith in the event the parents were martyred. The godparent promises to see to it that the child is raised and educated in the Orthodox Christian faith. 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.

The exorcism
The first act of the Baptismal service begins in the narthex (entrance) of the church. This is to show that the one being received is not yet a member of the Church. The purpose of Baptism is to bring him into the Church. To enter into the temple of God is to be with Christ, to become a member of His body. The Priest then calls upon the sponsor to renounce the devil and all his works on behalf of the child,

"Do you renounce Satan, and all his angels, and all his works, and all his services. and all his pride?"


The exorcisms announce the forthcoming Baptism as an act of victory. The renouncing of Satan is done facing west because the west is where the sun disappears, and was regarded by the ancient Greeks as the place of the gates of Hades. Then the priest faces east whence the light of the sun rises and asks the godparent to accept for the child Him who is the Light of the World

"Do you unite yourself to Christ!"

The renunciation of Satan and the union with Christ express our faith that the newly-baptised child has been transferred from one master to another, from Satan to Christ, from death to life.

The sign of the Cross
The priest then makes the sign of the cross on the child's body. This is repeated often during the service. Essentially the cross is the sign of victory which puts the devil to flight. In the old days slaves were branded, as are animals today, to show to what master they belonged. Today the sign of the cross brands us as belonging to Christ.

The Creed
The godparent is then asked to confess faith in Christ in behalf of the infant and reads the confession of faith contained in the Nicene Creed. The Creed was a symbol or sign of recognition among the early Christians; it was like a password that distinguished the true members of God's family. By reading the Creed the godparent confesses the true faith that will be passed on to the infant in time.

The naming
From the moment the child is received into the Church emphasis is placed on his individuality. He is given his own particular name by which he shall be distinguished from every other child of God. This new name expresses also the new life in Christ received through Holy Baptism. In addition to our own individual name each person receives the name "Christian" at Baptism. From that moment on we bear the name of Christ.

The candles
However dark may be the night that surrounds us, Baptism remains the sacrament of entrance into light. It opens the eyes of the soul to see Christ, the light; of the world (John 1:19) It makes us sons of light (1 Thess. 5:5). In the early Church the baptismal candle was always kept by the one baptised and brought to Church for major events in the person’s life.

Even as the final hour of life approached it was lighted again as the soul went forth to meet its Judge. It was a constant reminder for the Christian to live and die by the light of Christ. Thus the candle becomes a symbol of the perseverance of the baptised soul until Christ's return.

The Baptismal font
The baptismal font in the language of the Church Fathers is the Divine Womb whence we receive the second birth as children of God. Baptism is truly a birth.

"But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12-13).

When a person is Baptised, they descend into the baptismal font. As the water closes over the head, it is like being buried in a grave. When the newly baptised emerges from the water, it is like rising from the grave - symbolically resurrected in Christ. Baptism represents our old, sinful nature dying and then being resurrected again by Christ in a new and cleansed form. As St. Paul says,

"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father we, too, might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4).

The water
The water is used for cleansing. In Baptism it expresses the fact that through this sacrament Christ cleanses us of all sins. The Priest blesses the Baptismal waters in the Font by calling on the Holy Trinity,

“Do You Yourself, O loving King, be present now also through the descent of Your Holy Spirit and hallow this water”.

Then he makes the sign of the Cross three times over the water saying,

“Let all adverse powers be crushed beneath the signing of Your most precious Cross”.

The naked infant
The infant is baptised in its naked state to denote that just as we came out of our mother's womb naked so we emerge naked out of the womb of God -- the baptismal Font. The removal of all clothes also signifies the putting off of the ‘old man’ which will be cast off entirely through Baptism.

Anointing with oil
Olive oil is blessed by the Priest and then applied by him to the child's forehead, breast, back, hands, feet, ears, mouth, in order to dedicate them to the service of Christ. The godparent then covers the entire body of the infant with olive oil in order to express our prayer that with Christ's help the infant may be able to elude the grip of sin and the evil one.

Immersion into the Baptismal font
In obedience to Christ’s words, the Priest Baptises the child with the words,

“The servant of God (name) is baptised in the name of the Father. Amen. And of the Son, Amen. And of the Holy Spirit, Amen”.

At each invocation the Priest immerses and then raises the infant up again. After the Baptism the Priest places the child in a new linen sheet held by the Godparent.

The Sacrament of Chrismation
In the Orthodox Church the Sacrament of Chrismation (known sometimes as Confirmation) is administered immediately following Baptism as in the early Church. It is considered the fulfilment of Baptism. The Priest anoints the newly baptised infant with the Holy Chrism saying,

“the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit, Amen”.

The whole man is now made the temple of God and the whole body is consecrated to the service of God. According to Orthodox belief every baptised lay person is consecrated by this Sacrament; he receives the gift of the Holy Spirit to become a deputy or an ambassador for Christ in this world.

New clothes
Following the Sacrament of Chrismation the Priest then invests the newly Baptised child in a new robe or garment, saying,

“Clothed is the servant of God (name) with the garment of righteousness, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen”.

The new clothes signify the entirely new life that we receive after we are "buried with Jesus in His death" (Romans 6:4). Traditionally, the new white garment expresses the purity of the soul that has been washed from sin. It recalls also the shining robe in which Christ appeared at the Transfiguration. There is now a likeness between the one baptised and the transfigured Lord. St. Paul calls it a putting on of Christ,

"For as many of you as have been baptised in Christ, have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:26-27).
"Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a newcreation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come"
(2 Corinthians 5:17).

A religious dance
Then the Priest makes, together with the Godparent and the child, a circumambulation around the Font, three times; and for each of the three rounds the chanters sing,

“As many of you as have been baptised into Christ, have put on Christ. Alleluia” (Galatians 3:27).

This reflects the belief that at this moment the angels in heaven are expressing their joy that a new soul is registered in the Book of Life. Tradition states that at this moment God assigns a guardian angel to stay with the newly-baptised person until the end of their earthly life. Following the reading from St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (6:3-11) and the Reading from the Holy Gospel (Matt. 28:16-20) the Priest says to the child,

“You are baptised; you are illuminated; you are anointed with the Holy Myrrh; you are hallowed; you are washed clean, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”.

The cutting of hair (tonsure)
The Priest cuts four locks of hair from the child's head in the form of a Cross. This is an expression of gratitude from the child, who having received an abundance of blessings through the Sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation and having nothing to give to God in return, offers part of its hair, as a first-offering to God. In the Old Testament, hair is seen as a symbol of strength. The child, therefore, promises to serve God with all its strength.

The Holy Eucharist
Immediately following Baptism and Chrismation the neophyte becomes a full member of the Orthodox Church. As such, the child is now entitled to receive the precious Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion (or Holy Eucharist). The new life in Christ, given in Baptism, is renewed again and again in the Eucharist. As nature provides milk for the nourishment of the infant after birth, so God provides Holy Communion for the infant immediately following Baptism in order to provide nourishment for the spiritual life the neophyte has received through Baptism. [Back to top]



Summary

Summarising what God does for us in Baptism we may say that first it tells us who we are. We are God's children. We are loved by Him from the very moment of birth when He takes us into His arms and bestows upon us the kiss of His love through Baptism, Chrismation and the Eucharist. He makes us heirs of His riches. Thus, our existence is not like that of worms that exist for a short time until someone steps on them and crushes them into oblivion. We are not "nobodies" for whom no one cares. We are "somebodies" for whom the Supreme King of the universe cares enough to call us His own sons and daughters! And at the end of our brief pilgrimage through this world, He will address each one of us personally, by our Baptism name, and say, "Come, my son or daughter (name), inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world". This we know for certain because we have been baptised in His name. [Back to top]


Preparing to serve as a Godparent

By Rev. William S. Chiganos


It is a rule of the Orthodox Faith that every person, child or adult, should have a Godparent at Baptism. To serve as a Godparent is both a special honor and imposes responsibilities which last a lifetime.

It is an honor because God is using you to lead a soul into the sphere of redemption. Christ tells us: “Whosoever believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16). Through Baptism we receive a full forgiveness of all sin, whether original or actual; we “put on Christ,” becoming members of His Body, the Church. The Godparent, along with the parents and guided by the Church, should assist the newly baptized child through the walk of life. Just as natural parents have serious obligations for the care and nuture of their child, so Godparents have important duties in regard to their Godchild, in particular to see to it that the child receives a Christian upbringing.

Before one says “Yes,” to assuming the role of Godparent, he or she should make certain that the commitment to the baptized child will be honored. Every Godparent becomes accountable to God as to whether or not he has discharged his duties to the child which he has baptized. Mindful of the sacred task of the Godparent, this information has been parent to provide every Orthodox Christian parent helpful hints in selecting the right person for the new infant and to make the intended Godparent acutely aware of his or her task.

When it all began
The early Church faced the problem that the majority of those who wanted to become her members came from pagan families and therefore lacked even an elementary Christian education and knowledge of the new faith. To remedy this, the Church undertook the task of educating them before their baptism. The systematic instruction, which was a preparatory stage for baptism was called “catechism.” During catechism one learned the simple elements of the Christian faith and morals and later in the fourth century one was also given an education of the more profound Christian mysteries, as is made clear in the 4th Prebaptismal Catechesis of Cyril of Jerusalem. The candidate had to be introduced by one of the faithful, called “anadochos,” and be examined by the “doctors” who were in charge of the catechumens, to ensure that clear spiritual motives led him to enter the Church. The “anadochos” which means one who receives, was responsible for the candidate and played a very important role during the process of his catechesis and even after the candidate had been baptized. Eventually, infant baptism become the norm rather than the exception in the Church and the “anadochos” or Godparent was called upon to be the spokesperson for the infant.

The Role of The Godparent During Baptism
The Godparent is the representative of the infant who is being admitted into the Church of Christ. He speaks for the infant and vows that he will do all he can to assure that the child will be a true soldier of Christ and a devoted member of His Church. He accepts the sacred responsibility of guiding the child into the understanding and practice of the teachings of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

The Godparent makes a public profession of the Nicene Creed during the Baptism. Every Godparent should try to have the Creed committed to memory prior to the Baptism. His renunciation of the devil is made on behalf of the candidate for Baptism. The Godparent implicitly pledges himself to aid his Godchild in whatever necessities that may arise, but most especially in the giving of good Orthodox Christian example to the Godchild.

Choosing the Godparent
Parents must exercise the greatest care in the selection of Godparents for their children. Certainly they will never select atheists or agnostics, or persons who are lukewarm toward the Church. The Godparent must bring godliness and holiness to the child. Godparents are parents representing God or parents on God’s behalf. Jesus loved to have children come to Him. The Gospels tell of one such incident: “Some people brought their babies to have Jesus place His hands on them. The disciples saw them and scolded them for doing so. Jesus called the Children to Him and said, ‘Let the children come to me! Do not forbid them, because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:13-14).

The faith of the Godparent is significant. The person who confesses Jesus Christ as His Lord cannot ignore and violate in word and deed this faith. How can he promise God that he will make certain that the child will grow to be true follower of Christ, when he himself lives a life of unbelief and disobedience!

It goes without saying that the Godparent cannot be a non-Orthodox person. How could someone who is not Orthodox provide the proper religious education, example and inspiration to his Godchild? The Church also cautions us to select a person who has reached the age of reason and moral responsibility (at least 12 years of age).

Schismatics

Indeed, 98% of the Greek Orthodox faithful in Australia are baptized in the canonical Orthodox Church through the authority of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.

For the 2% whose parents may or may not have been aware that the church where they had arranged for the Baptism of their child was not canonical, the following clarifications might be informative.

In such cases, the question is often asked: “Isn’t every Greek Orthodox Church in Australia ‘Orthodox’?” Unfortunately, there are some so-called ‘Greek Orthodox Churches’ operating in this free and democratic nation which are not recognized by any canonical Orthodox authority in the world, and are classified as ‘schismatic’. Consequently, neither their ‘priests’ are recognized, nor are their ‘Sacraments’, even though each of these groups attempts to justify their existence by their own line of defense.

Such ‘schismatic’ ‘Churches’ include: the so-called Autocephalic Greek Orthodox Church of America and Australia Inc., the Independent Greek Orthodox Church of Australia and New Zealand, the Genuine Orthodox Church and others.

These groups, whilst recognized by the State as ‘religious entities’ and are permitted to operate by law, nonetheless do not have the spiritual recognition of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia which functions under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople – the Spiritual Centre of the Eastern Orthodox Church throughout the world.

As a result, persons ‘baptized’ by such non-canonical clergy in any of the above ‘schismatic’ churches must firstly speak to a canonical Priest who will advise what must be done in accordance with the regulations of the Archdiocese to formalize their standing in the Church.

Oriental Orthodox

There are also Churches which identify themselves as ‘Orthodox’ but which, for many centuries, have not belonged to the original tree of Orthodoxy. They include the Oriental Orthodox Churches such as: The Coptic Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Indian Orthodox Church, and others. Unfortunately, because they do not share the same Faith, they cannot become a Godparent in our Church

For further clarification please consult the local Parish Priest.

After The Baptism
Your task as Godparent is about to begin. At the close of the service the sponsor solemnly delivers the child into the arms of the mother in front of the congregation. As she receives her child, now baptized, sealed, and illuminated, she kisses the hand of the Godparent as a token of the spiritual relationship that is established between the Godparent the family. This is a Christian expression of gratitude and respect.

The Church encourages the Godparent to bring the child regularly for Holy Communion, following the Baptism. The Godparent should also prepare to receive Holy Communion. He will hold each time, the lighted baptismal candle which he carries with him at the conclusion of the Baptismal service.

A faithful Godparent will be a friend in Christ and maintain close contact with his Godchild. The focus at all times is to progress the child in the knowledge and practice of the Orthodox Faith. He should at all times model a Christ-like example. The relationship between the Godparent and the baptized is so important and so close that the Church forbids marriage between the Godparent and Godchild.

Godparents are encouraged to call the remembrance the sacred and joyous moment of Baptism. This may be done by remembering the Godchild on the date of Baptism along with birthday anniversaries, Christmas, etc. Significant gift-giving honoring these special occasions could include such objects as icons, medallions, a Bible, and religious books which will be helpful in building up the spiritual life of the child. B y now you have to come to realize that the most important quality for the Godparent is to live a Christ-filled life and that he demonstrate his faith as a light-bearer, devoted to receiving salvation for himself and his Godchild. The Godparent is called upon to accept the Divine Commandment read from the Holy Gospel at the service of Baptism, “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

What Must I Consider?
If you hope to be a Godparent some day, it would be well to consider carefully the chief conditions which the Church prescribes in the way of preparation:

1) When you are approached and asked to baptize a child, do not answer immediately. Reflect and ask yourself if you could be true to the Baptismal vow.

2) The Godparent must be an Orthodox Christian, of good moral character, regular and faithful in attendance at Liturgy and the reception of the Sacraments, and with a sound knowledge of the basic teachings of the Orthodox Church.

3) Study the Creed and be prepared to recite it when the Priest calls upon you. The custom of having the Chanter recite it is incorrect. Knowledge of the Creed and familiarity with it constitutes the basic prerequisite for becoming a Godparent.

4) A Godparent should be over the age of 12. There must be at least a fair possibility that the Godparent will live long enough to carry out the obligations assumed.

5) The Church permits only one Godparent. Consult with your Priest in advance of the day of the Baptism so that you will be prepared to answer correctly the questions asked during the Service of the Catechumens, the first part of the Sacrament of Baptism.

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Frequently Asked Questions on Baptism

Why do we get baptised?

We were commanded to be baptised by Jesus himself. He himself, though sinless, was baptized in the Jordan River. After His resurrection he commanded his Apostles saying, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mat. 28:19)

During Holy Baptism a death and resurrection take place. In the Orthodox Church we totally immerse, because such total immersion symbolizes death. What death? The death of the “old, sinful man”. After Baptism we are freed from the dominion of sin, even though after Baptism we retain an inclination and tendency toward evil. This inclination and tendency remain so that the Christian may struggle to achieve his rebirth. From the Holy Font, and with the triple immersion in the blessed water, those that are baptized emerge reborn into a new life, resurrected into the life in Christ, children of God, citizens and members of God’s Kingdom. The Apostle Paul said, “Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin”. (Romans 6:3-6)

The actual service of Baptism begins with the rejection of Satan and the acceptance of Christ. Before being baptized, the person- or his sponsors or godparents for him- officially proclaims the symbol of Christian faith, the Creed. The baptismal water is then prayed over and blessed as the sign of the goodness of God’s creation. The person to be baptised is also prayed over and blessed with sanctified oil as the sign that his creation by God is holy and good. And then, after the solemn proclamation of “Alleluia” (God be praised), the person is immersed three times in water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The baptized person is then clothed with the “garments of salvation”, symbolized by the white baptismal robe. The words of the Apostle Paul are then chanted as the newly-baptized is led in procession around the baptismal font three times as the symbol of his procession to the Kingdom of God and his entrance into eternal life: “For as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, Alleluia.” (Galatians 3:27)

Baptism is a very joyous occasion, because with Baptism we become members of the Church, a Church that will lead us to our salvation and bring us peace and joy.

Can a child be baptised in more than one denominations?

“Some sacraments of the Church may be received only once, others may be received often; still others are not received by everyone in the Church. Baptism belongs to the first category. Like all the sacraments, baptism is a ‘mystery’ of God’s grace working within the Church and in the life of an individual Christian. The important point when looking at baptism is not ‘Can I be baptised more than once?’, but, ‘is the Baptism I have undergone (or will undergo) a ‘real’ (or ‘valid’) baptism?’ The Orthodox Church holds to the belief that we can be baptised only once. You can only be made a member of the Church once; the Church is one Church there are not many Churches!

The Holy Orthodox Church does not arbitrarily decide on whether a baptism is ‘true’ or not. The form and action of baptism is fundamental to its nature. We seek to be true to the revelation of God and to the Holy Tradition of our Church. It is this that makes us Orthodox!

Three main criteria determine the ‘acceptability’ of a baptism: 1. the use of water; 2. baptism in the name of the Trinity; and 3. a ‘sacramental’ understanding of the nature of baptism. The later one refers to an understanding and a belief that baptism is primarily an act of God’s grace at work in the life of a person. Baptism is not a simple action – a mere ‘symbol’, nor is it only a response of the faith of a believer. Baptism is truly a mystery through which God washes away sin creating a ‘new’ creature in Christ and making the new illumed person a member of Christ’s body, His Church.

An Orthodox Christian cannot be baptised again. He or she is already a member of the ‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’ of God. What then do we with this mystery of Grace after we have received it in baptism, well, that is another question that relates to our journey of faith that is the Christian life”.

If a person gets baptised in a non canonical Church does that person have to get re-baptised again to get married?

This depends on which “Church” the person was “baptised” in. There are some non canonical groups in Australia at the moment in which the “sacraments” performed are not recognised by any canonical Orthodox Church in the world. Consequently, all those “baptised” by them are deemed as never having been baptised and so need to be baptised in a canonical Church before they can get married.

Historically, however, there have been some instances (e.g. during the schism of several Community Churches in Melbourne in 1963 – 1970) where, although baptisms in these Churches during these years may have been non canonical, the Church hierarchy at the time – after resolving and healing the schism and for pastoral reasons – decided to “canonise” these baptisms through the Sacrament of Chrismation.

Are we allowed to change godparents after the sacrament of Baptism?

In Greek, the godparent is called anadochos which describes the action of the godparent receiving the newly illumined Christian out of the baptismal waters and into their arms. There is only one person who takes this role and, from that moment onwards, this godparent becomes accountable before God as to how they fulfil their role as a spiritual parent. It is for this reason that the selection of the godparent must be according to spiritual criteria rather than for just social reasons or convenience.

Although the godparent cannot be changed after Baptism, it is hoped that other people in the life of the child – besides the parents and godparent – will also become good spiritual examples and guides in the faith.

Why does the priest stand with the godparent and the child at the front of the Church during the first part of the Baptismal service?

“The service of Baptism is divided into two main parts. The first, the ‘Prayers at the Making of a Catechumen’ is a preparation service to begin the candidate on the path of ‘enlightenment’ that ultimately leads to baptism and the beginning of a ‘new life in Christ’. A ‘Catechumen’ is someone undergoing ‘instruction’ in the faith. In the ancient Church the ‘Catechumenate’ was divided into a number of levels, each one considered a higher state of enlightenment than the one before it.

The structure of the building of an Orthodox Church is divided into a number of areas beginning at the doors that provide entry from the outside (the ‘world’). Upon entering one turns one’s back to the world and faces the Altar area, which represents the very presence of God and heaven itself. The symbolism here is that as we move closer to the Altar (the symbol of the presence of God), we place ourselves further from the world (the realm of Satan and the darkness of sin).

It is a strong and fitting symbol for the one undergoing entry into the ‘Catechumenate’ to stand just inside the main body of the Church away from the world, but still far from the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’.

The Catechumen begins a journey of faith that (hopefully) will lead to salvation and living in the presence of God. The journey in and with Christ and aided by the spiritual guidance of the godparent is symbolised by the ‘Prayers at the Making of a Catechumen’ being said near the doors of the Church, beginning the Christian journey that has God as its purpose and focus.”

Can I have two sponsors (godparents) for my child?

The answer is no. Historically in the church there has only ever been one godparent per neophyte (the person being baptised). Baptism is a rite of passage into the Church which is the family of Christ. The sponsor is the person who introduces one to the Church and promises to ensure one’s spiritual upbringing. Many people may help in that upbringing, but he is the one who put himself forward as the one to take full responsibility. Similarly, only one person may sponsor another to migrate to Australia. One person takes responsibility. This does not exclude others from participating in the child’s life, but only one person is the sponsor.

Can I have two names for my child?

Your child may have as many names as you desire, but will only be baptised with one. Your child has only one identity. The child’s name is part of its identity, even if you baptise with two, the child will only ever use one name. The other name will be lost. Baptism is also about receiving one’s identity in the body of the Church, that is, among the people who make up the Church. Two or more names is a false notion and is not permitted in baptism. On the birth certificate you can put as many names as you like, but nothing will be different. The child will still only have one name. So it is best to be truthful to the child and to everyone else who has expectations in relation to the child’s name.


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