The joy and meaning of a Greek Orthodox baptism

Submitted by Danielle Cantrel

My Greek sister-in-law has introduced our family to many wonderful traditions.

DSCN6429Our previously sedate and distantly Protestant family gatherings are now punctuated with toasts of ouzo, deep dishes of moussaka and slabs of homemade feta. Her and my brother’s wedding at a Greek Orthodox Church was a beautiful event with all the grandeur expected from a formal ceremony, but since the nuptials were in Greek and many of the customs were unfamiliar, I felt a bit lost. Three years later when it was time for my niece to be baptized in the same church, I decided to inform myself with a little research.

Of course, nearly every religion has a baptism ritual of some kind to commemorate a child’s union with and acceptance into the church. However, in the Greek Orthodox tradition it’s imperative to hold the baptism as soon as possible because the baby doesn’t officially have a name until s/he is baptized.

Like any good auntie, the first thing I asked my sister-in-law was whether there were any dos or don’ts regarding baptism gifts. I was interested to learn there are some traditional gifts usually given by the closest members of the family. The baby's Greek grandparents had already provided the ladopana, a gift set that includes all the basics my niece needed for her baptism, such as a clean wrap and a bottle of blessed olive oil (also called myrrh). In fact, the ornate bottle was the same one that had been used for my sister-in-law’s baptism some 30 years before. How sweet!

To my surprise, the most important baptism gifts seemed to be the ones given to guests, not to the baby or new parents. As the aunt, I was honored to help make and distribute the bomboniera (bundles of Jordan almonds) and the martyrika (small beribboned pins that symbolize each guest’s witnessing of the sacred event).

Ultimately, I was happy to hear that besides these and a few other traditional items, the ruched pink ensemble I’d purchased for my niece was completely appropriate and welcome as a baptism gift.

As I witnessed the baptism ceremony, I realized I would have understood most of the elements even if I hadn’t asked about them beforehand. My niece was prayed over, named and the top of her head was dunked in water – all things I’d seen at baptisms in my own infrequently visited Lutheran church. She was also anointed with oil as a symbol of her service to Christ and the priest cut off three of the sweetest little curls from the back of her head. Having nothing else of her own to give, the locks are considered the baby’s gift of gratitude to God.

A joyous dance around the baptism font reminded me of the circles my brother and his new wife walked around the altar during their wedding ceremony. On that day and on the day of my niece’s baptism, I didn’t need anyone to explain the symbolism of a simple circular walk – the celebration of cycles, tradition and old customs being kept alive.

Attending my niece’s Greek Orthodox baptism gave me a greater appreciation for a ceremony that, not being a particularly religious person, I really hadn’t given a lot of thought to. It was touching to realize my niece would always have a place where she could connect to her mother’s heritage and cultural traditions. In addition to all of its religious meanings, baptism gives a child a place to belong. In our new multicultural family, it also means a feast with lamb, dolma and baklava!

ABOUT the Author:

Danielle, who blogs on behalf of Sears and other prestigious brands, recently made cellphone cases for her nieces, which were very well received. Her next felt project will be a cover for her dad's Kindle. Read her work at Cooks and Travel Books.


#2 Danielle 2012-05-03 06:55
Thanks! I think it's really important to learn about other cultures and religions. Learning to accept others beliefs and way of life, despite their differences from you own, is important. I'm glad for the opportunity to share my experience with you. Thanks for reading!
#1 Beth 2012-05-02 10:21
Thank you for this wonderful brought back great memories of my Greek Great Grandfather! Although our family does not practice Orthodoxy now, I still feel connected to the customs and traditions of my heritage. Opa!

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