Baptism is the first major sacrament of the Orthodox Church, and the foundation of all Christian life. The word baptism is derived from the Greek word baptizo, which means to immerse. Baptism was established by Christ Himself, and is a requirement for all human beings in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Christ made this very clear when He said, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16).
John the Baptist baptized many people as a means of repentance in preparing them for the Kingdom of Heaven. Christ had John the Baptist baptize Him in the Jordan River, not for repentance of His sins — Jesus had no sins — but because He wanted to save mankind.
Baptism is performed with three immersions in water, which represent the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. A child who is baptized is cleansed from all sin. The spiritual fruits of baptism are many: a person becomes a child of God, a member of the Body of Christ, and an heir of eternal life. Through baptism, one participates in the Death and Resurrection of Christ, and is on the path of salvation. This is spiritual rebirth in the deepest sense of the word.
Chrismation is the sacrament in the Orthodox Church that is performed immediately after baptism. Chrismation occurs when the priest anoints the newly baptized child with Holy Chrism. Having been spiritually cleansed by baptism, the child is filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Following Baptism and Chrismation, the child receives the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. The Church administers Holy Communion to the child because this serves as nourishment for the spiritual life that the child has received through baptism.
A sponsor (godparent) must be a person of high moral character and a member of the Orthodox Church. A sponsor has the responsibility of taking the child to an Orthodox Church so the child can receive Holy Communion for three consecutive Sundays following baptism.
It would behoove parents to have their child baptized by a genuine Christ-loving Orthodox Christian, rather than by a close friend or relative. Parents would be wise to select a sponsor who attends church services regularly, who receives Holy Communion frequently, and who supports the Orthodox Church through membership and participation in many of its activities.
A person who agrees to be a godparent needs to be mindful of the responsibilities that this honor entails-responsibilities that should continue for a lifetime. It is an ongoing duty of the godparent to care for and nourish the child's spiritual life, growth, and development in the Orthodox Church.
There are several ways in which a godparent can strengthen the godparent-godchild relationship. Remembering one's godchild at special times throughout the year can help this bond to flourish.The godparent can celebrate the anniversary of the baptism by mailing his or her godchild a card. Also, a godparent should give one's godchild a gift - preferably a Christian-oriented gift such as a Bible, a prayer book, or an icon - on the godchild's birthday and at Christmas.
Time should be allotted to cultivate a unique spiritual relationship. The godparent can celebrate his or her godchild's nameday by visiting the godchild on that day, and perhaps taking the godchild to a restaurant for dinner. On Easter the godparent can visit the godchild and read religious stories relating to Christ's Resurrection. The godparent can attend church services and receive Holy Communion with the godchild from time to time.
One way that the Orthodox Church plays an important role in enhancing the godparent-godchild relationship is by having a Godparent/Godchild Sunday each year. This celebration reinforces the importance of the godparent/godchild bond in Christ, and promotes Christian love in the relationship. The godparent and godchild should attend church services and receive Holy Communion to solidify their relationship on that special Sunday.
It is also important for the godparent to have a good relationship with the parents of the godchild. The godparent should assist the godchild's parents whenever possible - especially when doing so enhances the godchild's spiritual life.
Baptism has been called Illumination, because with it man comes out of the darkness of sin and into the light of righteousness — the light of Christ. The role of the godparent is critical to ensure that the Light of Christ continues to shine in the soul of the godchild. This awesome responsibility is not a one-day event, but a vocation that lasts for a lifetime.
George Patsourakos of Billerica, MA retired as an education specialist for the federal government. He received a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's degree in education, both from Northeastern University. You can refer comments and questions on this article to him at his e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org