Guidelines for the Celebration of Your Child’s Baptism at St. Paul’s
Baptism is participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:3-5) and a washing away of sin (1Corinthians 6:11). It is a birth from above (John 3:5) by which we are clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:27) and renewed by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
Why do we baptize infants when some Protestant denominations – like the Southern Baptists – do not? The Church baptizes infants on the basis of the commitment made by the parents and Godparents that the child will be raised and nurtured in the life of faith in Christ Jesus, our savior and redeemer. The Apostle Peter, preaching to the crowds in Jerusalem on the feast of Pentecost and calling on them to be baptized, declared that the promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ was for them and their children (Acts 2:39). In this sense, baptism replaces circumcision as the mark of the covenant (Colossians 2:11-12). Additionally, the New Testament records that whole households were baptized. In the ancient Roman world, a household would have included parents, children and even infants and slaves. Acts 10 details the baptism of Cornelius’ household by the apostle Peter and Acts 16:11-15 and verses 16-35 tells the stories of the Apostle Paul baptizing the households of both Lydia and his jailer in the city of Philippi. He also baptized the household of Stephanas in Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:16).
Parental Requirements and Responsibilities
Because baptism is a sacrament of the Church it cannot be celebrated in a spiritual vacuum and presupposes that the child being baptized will be raised in the Orthodox Church. Therefore, at least one parent of the child to be baptized must be a faithful and practicing Orthodox Christian. At St. Paul’s this means that a person is committed to Christ and His Church, active in the sacramental life of the community and a steward of the parish. The non-Orthodox parent must be supportive of raising their child in the Orthodox faith.
Naming your Child
It is the tradition of the Orthodox Church that the name given to one’s child be a Christian name, usually the name of a saint or the name of an event in the life of Christ or the Theotokos, in order for the child to more fully identify with his/her Orthodox faith. Names that are not specifically Christian may not be used for baptism.
Setting the Date
Please contact the parish office (949-733-2366) at least two months in advance to discuss a possible date and time of your child’s baptism. Setting the date and time with the parish office should precede any other arrangements for reception venues, etc.
In keeping with the liturgical tradition of our Church, baptisms may not be celebrated from Christmas Day through the Feast of Theophany (December 26th – January 6th), during Holy Week (Palm Sunday through Good Friday) or any of the major festal celebrations of the Lord such as the Transfiguration of Christ (August 6th) and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14th).
For those who are not active members of St. Paul’s: no date can be set for the baptism before the parents have met with our pastor, Father Steve. Parents desiring to have their children baptized at St. Paul’s but who are not active members of any other Orthodox Christian parish should plan to attend Sunday Liturgy here at St. Paul’s for a minimum of at least three months and become stewards of the parish before a date for the baptism can be discussed and set.
Godparent Requirements and Responsibilities
The sponsors or Godparents, who will be participating sacramentally in the service, must be chosen wisely, and are required to be faithful and practicing Orthodox Christians. If the Godparents are not members of St. Paul’s, a “letter of membership in good standing” must be provided by the priest of the parish that the Godparents currently attend. In the Greek Orthodox tradition, to be chosen as a Godparent is considered a great honor. Godparents become members of one’s spiritual family in the Church and are to assist the parents in the spiritual and religious development of their Godchild.
The Godparent traditionally purchases a new white dress or suit to be worn by the child. In addition to this, the Godparent brings to the church:
- A cross
- One white sheet (to wrap the baby in)
- One large white towel (to place on top of the sheet)
- One small white hand towel
- One bar white soap (i.e. Dove or Ivory)
- One bottle of pure olive oil
- White undergarment or equivalent
- Three white or beeswax candles
Following the day of the child’s baptism, the Godparents customarily bring the newly baptized child to Church to receive Holy Communion for three consecutive Sundays and as frequently as possible thereafter. This is done to form the habit of attending the Eucharist and receiving Communion frequently in the child. This also gives the Godparents an opportunity for the spiritual bonding that is so necessary in their role as the child’s teachers and guides in the practice of their faith.
Washed and Anointed: An Explanation of the Sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation
The liturgy of baptism as it is celebrated in the Orthodox Church is very ancient, most of it composed no later than the 4th century, more than 1600 years ago. It is comprised of two parts: the Service for the Making of a Catechumen and the Sacrament of Baptism/Chrismation.
The Service for the Making of a Catechumen
The word “catechumen” is an ancient Greek word that means “one who is learning the faith.” A Christian is someone always learning their faith, always seeking to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). This initial service takes place in the entryway or narthex of the Church and marks the official entrance, so to speak, of a new Christian into the life of the Church.
The opening prayers of this service are in fact exorcisms, prayers of confrontation with our only real enemy, the Devil, whom we are called on by the Scriptures to resist (1 Peter 5:8-9). The prayers of exorcism proclaim the reality of evil and the power of God to overcome it, announcing the forthcoming baptism to be a victory in the war against sin and death.
After these prayers, the Godparents, on behalf of their Godchild, are asked a very specific question: Do you renounce Satan and all of his works? Their response: I do renounce him! The first act of the Christian life is a renunciation, a challenge, and a confrontation with the face of evil. The priest continues, bluntly asking: Do you unite yourself to Christ? Their response: I do unite myself to Christ! It is this double movement – the renunciation of Satan and the acceptance of Christ – that forms the nucleus of baptismal commitment. It is not enough to turn our backs to evil. We must also turn to Christ and orient our entire life towards Him. As a sign of commitment to Christ, the godparents confess their faith by saying the Creed, a brief summary of Christian belief in the living God articulated at the first two ecumenical councils of the Church in the 4th century. Then the congregation processes into the Church and goes up to the baptismal font while the priest sings a verse of Scripture: “Blessed is our God who desires that all people should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Timothy 2:3-4).The Sacrament of Baptism/Chrismation
The sacrament of baptism begins with prayers for the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the water contained in the baptismal font, that it become for the child about to be baptized like the waters of the Jordan River in which the Lord Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.
Pure olive oil offered by the child’s Godparents is blessed in a prayer that mentions the dove that brought Noah a twig of olive in its beak as a sign of reconciliation and deliverance from the great flood (Genesis 8:8-11) that is described as a pre-figuration and symbol of baptism in 1 Peter 3:20-21. Poured into the hands of the child’s Godparents, the priest anoints the child’s ears, hands, feet as a sign that the child belongs to Christ, the Messiah or “the Anointed One of God” and praying that he/she will hear the word of God, always walking in the Lord’s commandments.
Orthodox Christians, following the command of the risen Lord given to the apostles just before His ascension into heaven, baptize “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Immersed in the waters of the baptismal font three times, the child is washed in “the living water” promised by Jesus, “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:10, 14).
Immediately after being baptized, the child is placed in the arms of its godmother who, with the rest of the family, takes and dresses her godchild in a white robe, the robe of martyrdom, a reminder of the persecution that Christians have endured through the centuries (Revelation 6:11).
During the dressing of the child, Psalm 32 is sung, celebrating the gift of the forgiveness of sins given in baptism and “the Lord’s unfailing love” for those “who trust in Him” (verse 10).
Chrismation, like baptism, is a sacrament of the Church. It is an anointing with a special oil called chrism or myrrh, made of olive oil mixed with various spices and perfumes, the recipe for which is given in Exodus 30: 22-25. It is an oil of consecration for holiness. It is our personal Pentecost. It is, as the priest proclaims during the service, “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” that the Apostle Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 and Ephesians 1:13-14. It is the seal of ownership that marks out the slaves of God as belonging to Him (Revelation 7:3). As the celebrating priest anoints the child, each time he says “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” and the congregation responds by saying “Amen!”
After the sacrament of chrismation, there is a procession of clergy, parents and godparents around the baptismal font during which Galatians 3:27 is sung: “All those who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia!” Candles are carried as a reminder that Christ is “the light of the world (John 12:46) and that Christians are a people who “belong to the light” (Ephesians 5:8). Incense, an ancient symbol of worship and the prayers of the saints, is also offered during the procession (Exodus 30:7-8 and Revelation 8:3-4).
The epistle and gospel readings for the baptismal service are Romans 6:3-11 and Matthew 28:16-20. In this section of his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul briefly outlines his understanding of baptism as participation in the death and resurrection of Christ “that we should no longer be slaves to sin” and that baptized Christians should count themselves “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” The account from Matthew’s Gospel is the giving of the great commission to the apostles, sending them out to share the gospel with peoples of all nations, to baptize them in "the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" and to teach obedience to Christ’s commands.
Prayers for faithfulness, throughout life, to the gifts of grace given in Baptism and Chrismation are then offered by the celebrating priest, who prays that as the child “goes forward to the prime of life and even the gray hairs of old age,” he/she may always worship and praise the one, true and living God.
The cutting of the hair (or tonsure) of the newly baptized by the celebrating priest is drawn from military practice. In the ancient Roman world, as is still the case today, one of the first things that happens to a person who enters the military is the receiving of a haircut. This imagery is drawn from Ephesians 6:10-17. Christians are “on duty” – so to speak – in service to Christ and His kingdom.
Finally, the baptismal cross is placed around the neck of the child by its Godparents while the priest quotes the Scriptures once again: “The Lord said, ‘Whoever would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me’ (Matthew 16:24).” The service then concludes with a final prayer for the newly baptized child, its parents and Godparents.