This blog post is more than a little late, but on Sunday, 11th May 2008 our family joined the Orthodox Christian Church. The Orthodox Church is split into several jurisdictions, the two main ‘streams’ being Russian and Greek (others include Syrian, Armenian, Coptic, and Indian). Our church is under the Greek Patriarchate of Great Britain and Thyateira. The girls were baptised and Chris and I were chrismated (annointed with Holy Oil and confirmed) and became full members of the Church. It was a wonderful day and here are some pictures and explanation of the ceremony…
The Renunciation and the Acceptance – the child will be held by Godparent or Godparents (Nuno and Nuna in Greek) as he stands in the narthex of the church facing east (towards the altar). The priest, standing in front of them, blows three times into the child’s face in the form of the cross to drive away any evil spirits and adverse power and blesses him each time saying “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”. He then places his hands on the child’s head, which symbolized the taking of possession of the candidate in the name of the Holy Trinity and recites a prayer addressed to the Triune God: “In your name, O God of truth..I lay my hand on your servant who has been found worthy to seek salvation in your Holy Name and protection under the shelter of your wings. Banish from him the old error, fill him with faith and hope in you..so that he might know that you are the only true God..Grant him the ability to live in accordance with your commandments.”
The Exorcisms – The prayer is followed by three exorcisms and yet another prayer, the prayer of acceptance, at the end of which the priest, in summary of all that was said before, asks God to drive out and banish from the child any and every evil and impure spirit which may be hiding and lurking in his heart and make him a reason-endowed sheep in the holy flock of Christ, an honourable member of the Church, child and heir of the kingdom. The child and Godparent will then be asked to face west and renounce Satan and all his works, and all his worship and all his angels, and all his pride in a question and answer form three times and then asked to breathe (instead of the old tradition of spitting) down on Satan. Facing west signifies the west, a place of natural darkness, where the Devil, who is darkness himself, makes his abode.
The Confession of Faith – Then the child and Godparent will face east again and affirmatively answer The Priest who will ask them (three times) if they have pledged their allegiance to Christ.
The Blessing of the Water – Now that the child is ready, they will enter the Church and the Priest will ask the Holy Spirit to come down and bless and consecrate the water in the font and make it an instrument of salvation.
The Blessing of the Oil and Anointing – Once the blessing of the water is complete, the Godparent will offer a small bottle of olive oil over which a prayer for the banishment of evil is read to make it “an anointing of incorruption, a weapon of justice, a renewal of soul and body, a defense against every influence of the Devil and a release from evil to all those who are anointed with it, or partake of it.” Some of this oil is then poured crosswise three times on the water in the font in order to render the consecration of the water complete. The child (now naked- although older children and adults usually wear a swimsuit or other suitable covering) will be anointed with the blessed oil on the forehead, nose, ears, mouth, chest, legs, feet, hands and back. The Godparent will then anoint the child, to prepare him, just as an athlete prepares, to battle the demon whom he has just renounced and to slip away from the grip of sin.
The Baptism – Now the child will be immersed in the font three times with prayers, and then handed to the Godparent who is waiting for him with a white sheet and towel.
The Sacrament of Chrism (Confirmation)
Now newly baptized, the child will be chrismated with Holy Myrrh on the same parts of the body where he was earlier anointed with oil. Holy Chrism is the seal of the gift of the Holy Sprit, which brands all baptized persons with a seal which sets them apart as inalienable possessions of Christ. That is, the Holy Spirit embraces them and envelopes them like a shield and an armor of faith to enable them to live the faith into which they have just been baptized. This is why Chrismation is also known as the Sacrament of the Holy Spirit.
The use of the Holy Chrism was introduced to the Christian Church from the existing Old Testament practice. It is stated that, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Take the finest spices ?? 12 pounds of liquid myrrh, 6 pounds of sweet?smelling cinnamon, 6 pounds of sweet cane, and 12 pounds of cassia (all weighted according to official standard). Add one gallon of olive oil, and make a sacred anointing oil, mixed like perfume.”’ (Exodus 30:22?25)
The Holy Chrism is prepared from oil and another fragrant essences, which symbolize the variety of gifts of the Holy Spirit that the chrismated Christian receives. The most ancient list of materials and the aforementioned information “concerning the materials of the myrrh,” which are still used today, date from the eighth century C.E. This list includes the materials used for the preparation and making of the Holy Chrism. At the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, there is an official List of kinds of fragrances, from which the Holy Chrism is made, which includes 57 kinds of elements. The chrism which was used has been blessed by the Patriarch and a tiny remnant of it can be traced all the way back to apostolic times.
The anointing of the forehead signifies the sanctification of the mind, or thoughts.
The anointing of the chest signifies the sanctification of the heart, or desires.
The anointing of the eyes, ears, lips signifies the sanctification of the senses.
The anointing of the hands and feet signifies their sanctification to good works and the walk in the way of His commandments.
Following the Baptism and Chrism, the Priest will tonsure the child by cutting some of his hair crosswise to signify: that Christ will be the head of the child from now on, that he will reject other allegiances, the first sacrifice from his body to God.
The Priest now blesses the child and places a white garment of righteousness on him. The child will leave to be dressed and the Priest will read additional prayers at this time. The child will return fully dressed and undergoes the ablution or symbolic washing away of the Myrrh and then receives the blessing of Christ. The Godparent will then take the child’s baptismal candle and will then be lead three times around the font. This is an act of rejoicing with the angels in heaven at the return of a lost sheep, and with the other Christians present at the addition of one more member to the flock of Christ.
In the early church the baptismal candle was always kept by the one that was baptized. The baptismal candle was brought to church on feast days, on the anniversary of one’s baptism and at midnight Easter liturgy. If the person was to be wed, they would light the same candle at the wedding ceremony. If one was to be ordained they would light it at the ordination. When the final hour of life approached it was lit yet again as the soul went forth to meet its Judgment. It was a constant reminder for the Christian to live and die by the light of Christ.
The readings follow from the Epistle of Paul to the Romans (6, 3-11) where Paul makes the comparison between the immersion and emersion with the burial and resurrection of Christ and from the Gospel according to St. Matthew (28, 16-20) where the Divine Institution of Baptism was established by our Lord.
Immediately following the baptism the “newly enlightened” receives the precious Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and in the case of an infant, is brought to church regularly to receive the sacrament. The new life in Christ is renewed again and again with the Eucharist. As nature provides nourishment of the child after birth so God provides Holy Communion for the child’s spiritual life after baptism.