On Saturday, July 31 (o.s.), I had the honor and privilege of baptizing my infant daughter Sophia at the Chapel of St. Mark the Evangelist in Raleigh, North Carolina. The godparents were Mr. Leonidas and Dr. Anna Pittos of Detroit, Michigan.
The Pittoses arrived by plane around 7:30 pm on Friday evening. I picked them up from the airport, and took them to my home. We enjoyed several hours of discussion, and retired for the evening. I awoke around 8:00 am on Saturday morning, and began to execute all the remaining preparations for the momentous event. We started at 12:15 pm, so during those four and a quarter hours, I essentially was running around like a madman getting ready.
A baptism is both a religious and a cultural event, so the preparations involved both the spiritual and the secular. Practicing some chants, making sure all the necessary accessories were available for the ceremony, and keeping a prayerful disposition were combined with grilling the chicken and making sure the quiche was fully-cooked, and that we had enough napkins and plates. Guests began to arrive around 11:30 am.
The service went off without a hitch. Orthodox baptisms contain many long prayers, and several ritual actions with great significance. The focal point of the service is naturally the moment of baptism itself, when the candidate is immersed in the water three times (in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), but there are several things leading up to the immersions, such as the renunciation of Satan, and several things take place after, such as the giving of the Cross to the newly-baptized. All in all, it lasted about 50 minutes. We then hosted a fellowship meal for those assembled, and the last guests left around 5:15 pm. It was a marvelous day.
There is a prayer that Orthodox priests pray before baptizing someone. It states:
Wash away the defilement of my body and the stain of my soul. Sanctify me wholly by Thine all-effectual, invisible might, and by Thy spiritual right hand, lest, by preaching liberty to others, and offering this in the perfect faith of Thy unspeakable love for mankind, I may be condemned as a servant of sin. Nay, Sovereign Master that alone art good and loving, let me not be turned away humbled and shamed, but send forth to me power from on high, and strengthen me for the ministration of this Thy present, great, and most heavenly Mystery.
This is a great irony, that through baptism, we put on Christ (Galatians 3:27), we are born again (John 3:5), and we arise with Christ (Romans 6:4), yet the one baptizing us can be submitting himself to judgment by not living up to this standard. With this in mind, the Church offers this prayer, so that the priest who is truly diligent can ask the Lord for cleansing of his own soul, before seeking to cleanse another’s. Such prayers are not rote, and I take note of what I am asking God to do for me. It is a great honor to be able to serve as a priest and to baptize, yet it also entails a great responsibility. Saint Augustine rightly taught that any sin of the minister does not deprive the one receiving the sacraments of grace during his controversy with the Donatists, yet by acknowledging that grace is present even in the case of sinful ministers, it only highlights the condemnation that such persons inflict upon themselves. May I not ever become complacent or read these prayers in a superficial manner.
It is hard to describe what it feels like to baptize someone, let alone one’s own child. I have previously baptized six adult converts, but this was actually my first infant baptism. I noticed clearly that during the exorcisms, the baby seemed tense and fussy, and after the three immersions, she became utterly still and eventually fell asleep. This is not an isolated phenomenon, but something I have previously observed in past baptisms. In some pictures, one can see Sophia looking at me with a huge smile on her face, and I thank God that He granted me the blessing to perform this life-giving sacrament on my own child.
It is an awe-inspiring feeling when one performs a baptism, knowing that God has granted us humans some participation in His divine work. I pray that my Sophia, and all others who are baptized into the Church of Christ, will always keep their eyes on the Lord, and never let them wander due to the distractions that exist all around us. Baptism is one’s entrance into God’s family, but it is only the first step in a life-long journey of faith.
Some reading this article may be intrigued to find out more about the Orthodox Christian Church—which is the original Christian Church—and its practices. I encourage you to contact me for further information. God bless you!