Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jane's Baptism

Jane's baptism was really beautiful. In the Russian Orthodox manner, by the end of the service no baptismal stone was left unturned, so to speak. Combined with the liturgy, the baptismal service takes almost two hours. Since many people are not familiar with Eastern Orthodox Christian baptism, I'll tell about it here.

Upon entering the church, you see the baptismal font next to a table with the items that will be blessed or used in the baptism.

Jane Anne was born on Oct 26, 2008, almost 101 years to the date from her great-grandmother's birthday. My Grandmother Annie Jane, in whose honor we named Jane, was born Oct 29, 1907. Jane Anne will wear Grandmother's century-old baptismal gown for the service.

The baptismal service begins in the narthex (entryway to the church), just before the nave (main body of the church). The parents are largely not a part of the service, as the focus is on the one being baptized and the Godparents.

Traditionally, the Godparents are not related to each other nor to the one being baptized. In choosing Godparents, Steve and I consider which two families we would like to graft into ours to be a source of Christian advice, encouragement, and mentoring to Jane in the future. We choose Levan and Tanya, and hope that we do as well with Jane as they have with their children.

In the narthex, Levan and Tanya stand before Fr Alexander and, on Jane's behalf, will voice the responses to the prayers he says. Fr Alexander breathes gently into Jane's face, makes the Sign of the Cross over her, and lays his right hand on her head. The service begins with three exorcisms, followed by a prayer of acceptance.

By way of explanation, this synopsis comes from the St Barbara Greek Orthodox Church website:

The Sacrament of Baptism is divided into two distinctive services. The first service takes place in the Narthex of the Church and is known as The Service of the Catechumen. It is during this service that several things occur, first, three prayers of exorcism are read, asking God to “empower,” the soon to be baptized Christian, “to triumph over Satan and his vile spirits so that having found mercy with You, (God), they may be found worthy of Your immortal, heavenly mysteries and offer up glory to You O God….”

The Priest then asks God to bless the soon to be baptized Christian with a guardian angel to guide, guard and protect them all the days of their life.
Once the catechumen prayers are completed, the Godparents recite the Symbol of Faith (the Nicene Creed), and enter the nave. At this point, the Divine Liturgy begins.

In the picture below, you see the baptismal font with candles, Fr Al reciting the prayers, Tanya holding the candles, and Levan holding Jane who is wrapped in a white towel.

Father blesses the baptismal water and the oil that will be used to anoint Jane. Then he traces the Sign of the Cross on her with the oil, from head to toe, saying:
(on the forehead)
The servant of God Jane Anne is anointed with the oil of Gladness, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

(on the chest and between the shoulders)
Unto the healing of soul and body.

(on the ears)
Unto the hearing of the faith.

(on the hands)
Thy hands have made and fashioned me.

(on the feet)
That she may walk in the way of Thy commandments.

After Jane is anointed, she is taken for baptism. Holding her upright and facing toward the East, Fr Al will immerse Jane in the baptismal water three times, saying:
The servant of God, Jane Anne, is baptized in the name of the Father, Amen (immerse). And of the Son, Amen (immerse). And of the Holy Spirit. Amen (immerse).

This is generally where the otherwise peaceful and quiet child is shocked into consciousness. If the child hasn't cried up to this point, the water usually prompts him. We are all amazed that Jane doesn't make a peep and hardly even blinks.

After the immersion, I meet Tanya in the back of the church to clothe Jane in Grandmother Annie's gown while the choir sings Psalm 32.

All dressed and back inside the church.

The liturgy continues, as the baptism is woven into the service. Tanya brings Jane back into the nave, where Fr Al administers the Order of Holy Chrismation, in which she is anointed with Holy Chrism, a consecrated oil. With a brush, he traces the Sign of the Cross on her forehead, over her eyes, nose, lips, on both ears, her chest, her hands and feet, each time saying:
The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Fr Al the leads the Godparents and Jane in a circular procession around the Baptismal Font while everyone sings:
As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia.
The Prokeimenon is read. Today happened to be Steve's day to read, so he was able to read for Jane's baptism:
The Lord is my light and my salvation: Whom then shall I fear?
The liturgy continues, and the Epistle and Gospel are read. Her Godparents continue to hold Jane until the time comes to "wash off" the consecrated oil, which Fr Al does by wiping it with a small sponge. He dips the sponge in water and sprinkles Jane, then wipes the chrism from her face, head, chest, and other places where she has been anointed saying:
You are justified. You are illumined. You are sanctified. You are washed: in the Name of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of God.

You have been baptized. You are illumined. You have been Chrismated. You are sanctified. You are washed: in the Name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Immediately following this, Fr Al says another prayer over Jane asking God to bless her who makes her first offering "shorn from the hair of her head."
O Lord our God, who, through the fulfilling of the baptismal font, by Thy goodness dost sanctify them that believe on Thee: Bless this child here present, and let Thy blessing descend upon her head. And as Thou didst bless David the King by the hand of thy Prophet Samuel, bless also the head of this Thy servant Jane Anne, by the hand of me, a sinner, inspiring her with thy Holy Spirit; that as she increases in stature, and even unto a ripe old age, she may ascribe glory unto Thee, and behold the good things of Jerusalem all the days of her life.
And with that, Father takes his tiny scissors and cuts small pieces of hair from Jane's little head in the shape of a cross.

After the Baptism has been performed, Fr Al goes to the back of the church and takes little Jane between his hands, as you would hold a child you were handing over to someone else. He enters the nave and raises her aloft, making the Sign of the Cross with her body, saying:
The servant of God, Jane Anne, is churched: In the Name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As he walks through to the middle of the nave, he says:
She enters into Thy house, to worship towards Thy Holy Temple... In the midst of the church shall she sing praises to Thee...

Finally, Father takes little Jane and lays her gently at the top of the steps leading to the sanctuary. She lies there quietly as the choir sings the Prayer of St Simeon:
Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word. For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of Thy people Israel.

As the song comes to an end, Father asks if there is anyone who wishes to claim the child. Steve and I walk up to the steps and I scoop her up into my arms.

Jane receives her first communion at this time, and is recognized as a full member of the Church. She will begin to go to confession when she is old enough to reason, somewhere between five and seven years old. Orthodox confession is much like a brief counseling session with the priest to help you put your thoughts and actions back on course, not simply a recitation of your wrongdoings.

Shortly after communion, the service does, in fact, end. Eastern Orthodox are not known for doing anything in half-measures. At the end of the service, you KNOW that something really significant has happened.

After the service ends, we all go over to the parish center for a reception. The Godparents have taken care of all the details I would have forgotten about, like the cake. Tanya has remembered that I'm a pie girl and has no less then three pies waiting for me, even rhubarb!

For the reception, I change Jane out of the century-old baptismal gown and into one made especially for her by my friend Mary Jane. Now Jane will have one to hand down to her grandchildren.

Here we are with the immediate family, the Drexlers and the Gillilands.

The church family: Nino & Levan, Steve, Tanya & Dale, Jane and I.

And our adoptive family, Steve, Jane and I with the girl whose immense love and courage made our adoption of Jane possible, Jane's birthmother Karinna.

Thank you to everyone who made the day possible: Fr Alexander, Nino and Levan, Tanya and Dale, Bonnie and Harford Drexler, Patricia and Jerry Gilliland, and Karinna.

more info on Orthodox Christian Baptism can be found here.

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful recount of what had to be a stunningly beautiful day! Congrats to you & Steve and to little Jane. Thanks for sharing! - Kim