Saint Volodymyr le Grand b
Ukrainian Orthodoxy
Orthodoxie ukrainienne

Baptism

Question:

I was wondering if you could tell me the traditional things that I will need for my sons christening/baptism.  Such as a white towel, white garments for after he is baptized, etc.

Also could you let me know what the God-parents are supposed to bring for the baby.  Also are there any traditional gifts that the parents, grand-parents, etc. get the baby for their christening?

Thank you very much, it seems like everyone I ask, has given me a different answer.

Response:

Dr. Alexander Roman alex.roman@unicorne.org

It is traditional for the Godmother to bring the white garments and the white towel since she will be the one doing most of the dressing and covering after the Baptism and the Chrismation.  The “Kryzmo” as it is called will be used to make the child’s embroidered shirt which should ideally be worn to Church in imitation of the early Christians who wore their white baptismal robes whenever they went to Church to signify the newness of their lives in Christ by the Holy Spirit that they have received.  The newly-baptized Christians wore these bright robes during all of Paschal Week (as the Church regards those seven days as the One Day of the Resurrection of Christ) and this is why it is called “Bright Week” to this day.  Pilgrims to the Holy Land who go to the river Jordan will often put on a white robe with a red Cross on the back and will wade into the holy river in which our Lord was Himself baptized and will then keep the robe as a sacred reminder and sacramental for the rest of their lives.

The Godfather traditionally supplies the Cross and also an icon (which could be of the patron saint of the child or of the Guardian Angel).  The Cross should be on a blue cord to allow the Priest to place it on the newly-christened child easily.  It shouldn’t be a “child’s Cross” but one that would be appropriate for an adult to wear. 

Care should be taken to ensure that an Orthodox Cross of the three-bar variety is provided (this could be inscribed inside a “one bar Cross”) and with the letters “IC XC” for “Jesus Christ” on it in accordance with Orthodox canonical regulation.  The Cross is a symbolic expression of the Christian Creed which is recited during the Baptismal service.  For Orthodox Christians, the wearing of the Cross signifies that one asserts both privately and publicly one’s confession of the Creed and faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  For this reason, there is the tradition of never taking off one’s Cross (in Ukraine today, workers in steel mines wear special neck Crosses that will not melt owing to their proximity to open furnaces). 

Neck Crosses need not be of expensive gold and in fact it is traditional in Ukraine and Russia to have them made of bronze or brass to recall the words of our Saviour in the third chapter of the Gospel of John when He likened His Crucifixion to Moses’ raising up of the brazen serpent in the desert.  This is why so many Crosses in our tradition are made of brass and bronze.  They are sometimes inscribed in blue which is the colour of God’s people and gold – the colour of eternal life in God.

Later, the baptismal Cross is also often worn on a cord that is long enough to allow one to make the Sign of the Cross on oneself with it at night before going to sleep and in the morning and at other times.  The neck Cross serves as a reminder for life of the anointing on one’s body that one received at Baptism (which is actually in the shape of an eight-pointed Orthodox Cross).  The Cross is one’s sure protection from evil and bad circumstances throughout life when one is in trouble or loses hope.  It also serves to remind one to make the Sign of the Cross over oneself as frequently as possible and also over things one uses, including one’s bed before retiring.  The Orthodox Cross is reverenced properly with a reverent kiss on the upward-facing point of the Footrest.   A religious icon-medal of the Mother of God or of the patron Saint of the child could also be given and worn with the Cross.

The neck Cross should be blessed by the Priest in the same Holy Water in which the child is submerged during Baptism (it would also be good to place the Cross on the Tetrapod or icon-table before the iconostasis for the duration of one Divine Liturgy).

The icon that is provided (and guests could/would bring others to mark the occasion) would become the first icon in the child’s own icon corner in his or her room.  Other icons marking similar “rites de passage” would be added to the corner (with icons of Christ to the right and those of the Mother of God to the left as a rule and also icons of the Saints).  When the parents decide on a name for the child, they should also decide on which Saint with that name will become the child’s “Namesake” and which specific date they will observe the “Namesday.”   The Namesake of the child should be ideally celebrated as near to his or her birthday as possible and the day should be observed annually by the entire family in some way as an annual commemoration of the Baptism and the Life in Christ that the child has embarked on with the support of his or her family and especially the Godparents who have a very important role to play in helping to form their Godchild in the full stature of Christ!

If an icon of that Namesake can be obtained, then that would be very good.  During the party following, the icon should be enshrined on a table with the picture of the child.  Perhaps a brief description of the Saint could be printed up and distributed to the guests.  The Greeks especially like to have little gifts for the guests that consist of a small photo of the child with a picture of the Saint’s icon – that is up to you.  Baptism/Chrismation has to do with spiritual rebirth and so a special relationship is established between the child and the Patron Saint. 

It all sounds like a lot of work and bother.  But let’s remember the great significance of the day of Baptism when the Godparents, in the name of their Godchild, express the commitment to affirm and defend the Orthodox Christian Faith and to renounce the devil and all his wiles.  The child is being prepared for spiritual warfare!  The Mysteries of the Church, faith, prayer, the Cross, Holy Water, the icons – all these are the weapons that he or she will need to conduct it successfully.  God bless!

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