We expect that children who are Baptized will be reared as members of the Church, with Sponsors and parents seeing to it that the child is raised in a Christian home and is brought to services and to Communion regularly. For this reason, Baptisms are typically performed for persons who are members of St. John of Damascus parish, with Sponsors/Godparents who are known to be practicing, faithful Orthodox Christians.
OCA GUIDELINES FOR BAPTISM
The following directions, from the Guidelines for Clergy (Orthodox Church in America, 1998), address various issues surrounding the celebration of Baptism and are considered normative for our practice.
Baptism and Chrismation must be understood and experienced as corporate acts of worship and praise. The must be communal actions of the Church as the mystical Body and Bride of Christ, common liturgical actions of the whole people of God, witnessed, celebrated and accomplished by all, together in one place, at one time. See: On the Spiritual Life in the Church, Encyclical Letter, Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America, 1988.
- The candidate for baptism should bear the name of a recognized Orthodox saint. This matter should be discussed with the prospective parents long before the birth of the child. An adult convert to the Church should also bear the name of an Orthodox saint, especially if the name given at birth is unusual to the Orthodox tradition.
- The Mystery of Holy Baptism is administered in full accordance with the Office of the Service. No exorcism or prayer is to be shortened or omitted. Baptism is properly performed by triple immersion; therefore, mere pouring is not normally permitted. It is necessary to have a font large enough for full immersion.
- The final step in Christian Initiation is the partaking of the Holy Eucharistic Mysteries. In the instance of Baptism or Chrismation, it is desirable that the newly illumined receive Communion as soon as possible from the chalice, during the Divine Liturgy.
- The sponsor of a candidate for Holy Baptism is a guarantor to the Church that the person will be reared and/or educated in the Orthodox faith; he/she must be a practicing member of the Orthodox Church. A person can guarantee only that which he/she possesses and practices; therefore, a non-Orthodox is unable to guarantee sponsorship because he/she has neither the faith nor the practice. The sponsor should be of the same gender as the candidate.
- A worthy sponsor is already leading a full sacramental life, confessing sins through the Mystery of Confession and receiving Holy Communion. The priest is to instruct the parents and the sponsors of their respective obligations to the catechumen, and to exhort them to live a full sacramental life.
- A person who has excommunicated himself/herself or has been suspended from reception of the mysteries by a hierarch, for whatever reason, is ineligible to be a sponsor.
When an Orthodox Christian takes on the responsibility of a godparent within the Orthodox Church, the main action of the godparent is to be an icon of Christianity to the child. This means first and foremost, the godparent will live an authentic Orthodox lifestyle, regularly attending the sacred services and participating in the sacramental life of the Church, including confession and communion. They will strive to intercede in prayer for their godchild every day.
If circumstances allow, the godparent will participate in the life of the child as a family member would. Celebrating birthdays, namedays, and holidays are typical for a godparent. The godchild should know that if they need to rely on the godparent for advice or spiritual guidance, the godparent will be available. Above all, the godparent is an icon of Christ for the godchild and models what life in the Orthodox Church entails.
RECEPTION OF ADULT CONVERTS INTO THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
- After the established catechetical instruction has been administered, non-Chalcedonians are to be received through Holy Confession, Penance, Confession of the Orthodox faith, and the reception of the Holy Eucharist. These include Monophysites (Armenians, Copts, Ethiopians, and Syro-Jacobites), and Nestorians.
- Catechumens who previously have been baptized in a water event in the name of the Holy Trinity in a manner recognized as authenticate by the Church, after having completed the established catechetical instruction and making a personal affirmation of the Orthodox faith, are received through the Mysteries of Confession, Chrismation, and the Holy Eucharist according to the prescribed ritual. This group includes Roman Catholics and some Protestants.
- Catechumens from non-Christian religions who do not believe in the Holy Trinity, or from those that do not baptize with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are to be received into the Church through the Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation, and the Holy Eucharist. This is preceded by an adequate period of catechetical instruction as determined by the local hierarch.
- Catechumens from all non-Trinitarian groups and cults, including Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Quakers, Unitarians, and adherents of Bah’ai, Unification, and Unity, must be baptized.
- In any case of doubt as to the rite of the reception to follow, or doubt about a prior baptism, the hierarch must be consulted. In instances of reasonable doubt about a prior baptism, after approval is given by the hierarch, the Office of Holy Baptism is performed conditionally with addendum: “if not already baptized, the servant of God, (Name), is baptized…” (Holy Apostles, c. 49).
Historically, adult converts into the Orthodox Church required a sponsor, someone that could vouch for the converts conversion into the Christian faith. With the legalization of Christianity in the fourth century, adult baptism became less and less common in the Orthodox world and the role of the godparent became more prominent. In a thoroughly non-Orthodox culture, the role of the sponsor has again become commonplace.
The role of the sponsor today is primarily one of prayer and support for the newly enlightened. The sponsor takes on the responsibility of daily praying and interceding before God for the person they have sponsored in the Church. This role of intercessor builds the faith of the sponsor and provides spiritual intercession for the one sponsored. The sponsor should also strive to live an authentic Orthodox Christian lifestyle, being an icon of Christian love, charity, and faith for the one sponsored.
There is no requirement or expectation that the sponsor will need to develop a deep familial relationship with the person being sponsored. All within the church are our brothers and sisters in Christ. When someone sponsors a new Orthodox Christian, it gives them an opportunity to concretize this reality with one person in particular. This puts an appropriate pressure on the sponsor to be a good icon of Christ for the person they have sponsored. It also promotes love and charity and so it is invaluable for an Orthodox Christian.
The sponsor is not a godparent or spiritual director for the adult convert and should not take on any role that would imply such a relationship. As always, the sponsor should be available (if circumstances allow) for spiritual conversation and advice as a brother / sister in Christ.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:15-18