Greek Orthodox Christening

Since my arrival in Cyprus in September 2008 I have had numerous opportunities to photograph a Greek Orthodox Christening. This is always an interesting and exciting experience and I thoroughly enjoy documenting every step of the ceremony, which usually lasts between 1 – 1.5 hours.

The baptism is a covenant, an agreement between God and man. God promises to be our Father and we promise to be His children. Baptizing infants, before they are aware of what will take place, is an expression of God’s great love for us. It shows us that God loves us and accepts us before we can even know Him or love Him. It shows us that we are wanted and loved by God from the moment of our birth.

The Sacrament of the Greek Orthodox baptism is rich with symbolism, every step of the process reflects the journey from evil into the light of love for our Lord and savior Jesus.

On the 5th of February I photographed Andreas’ baptism, which took place at the beautiful Archangelos Michail church in Nicosia. This blog entry will feature some of the main images telling the story of the event and also describe the process.

So let’s have a look at the church first:

The church has a very rich interior with many important icons and frescoes. As there are only a few small windows high up close to the ceiling, heavy chandeliers are illuminating the church. I am surrounded by strong colours from the deep red carpet to the colourful walls and icons and an amazing stone ceiling and stone pillars.

Upon my arrival I notice that everything has already been prepared for the baptism. There is a small table with the cross, the baptism booklet, a pair of scissors and the oil.

We had a couple of minutes before the ceremony started to take some shots of the parents and godparent with Andreas, who, with a lot of curiosity, ‘studied’ the surroundings:

All the items required for the baptism (clothes, towel, toys, the cross etc.) are stored in a personalised wooden box, often painted very colourful and featuring a symbol, such as the bull, a frog, a butterfly or little boat.

The Renunciation and the Acceptance

The child will be held by the Godparent (Nouno or Nouna in Greek) as he stands in the Narthex of the church facing east (towards the altar). ‘East’ signifies the abode of God – the true Light.

The Priest, standing in front of them, blows three times onto the child’s head in the form of the Cross to drive away any evil spirits and adverse powers, blessing it 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 symbolizes the taking of possession of the candidate in the name of the Holy Trinity and recites a prayer addressed to 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 error of old, 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 honorable member of the Church, a child and heir of the kingdom.

The Godparent, holding the child, 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). He will then be asked to blow down on Satan. ‘West’ signifies a place of natural darkness, where the Devil, who is darkness himself, makes his abode.

The Confession of Faith

Then the Godparent, holding the child, will face east again and affirmatively answer the Priest who will ask him (three times) if he has pledged his allegiance to Christ. 

After doing so, the Godparent will recite the Creed, the Symbol of Faith which is a summary of the Orthodox Teachings, formulated by several Ecumenical Councils of the Christian Church during the first millennium A.D. when there was unity of Faith throughout Christendom .

Andreas followed the process with much attention and couldn’t resist touching the booklet as well 🙂

The Blessing of the Water

Now that the child is ready, 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, saying “Wherefore, O merciful God, be present also and sanctify this water”.

The Blessing of the Oil

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.

In the meantime the godparents undressed Andreas and observed the blessing of the oil.

The Anointing

The child 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 who he has just renounced and to slip away from the grip of sin.

Now the Godparent is being given a white sheet in which to wrap the baby immediately after the immersion.

THE TRIPLE IMMERSION

We believe that Christ died for our sins. The full immersion in water symbolizes death. Through baptism we share mysteriously in Christ’s death. The baptized infant rises out of the water as a new person, cleansed of every sin and promising the surrender of his life to Christ, his Savior. The triple immersion symbolizes the three days our Lord spent in His tomb as well as the Holy Trinity – “The servant of God – is baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

At this point most babies start crying, though the water is always checked for the right temperature. With all the oil on his body Andreas now had to be held very tight by the priest!

More anointing with oil

The baby is then dressed in white attire signifying the purity of the soul which has been cleansed from sin. The Priest places a cross around the child’s neck as a sign of protection.

The Candle and the Procession

The priest lights the baptism candle, which is then held by a child.

A procession, also called ‘The Religious Dance”, around the baptism font by the priest and godparent holding the child is believed to be a reflection of the celebration of angels dancing and expressing their joy that a new soul has been registered in the Book of Souls.

The Eucharist

Finally, the sacrament of Holy Communion, the precious Blood and Body of our saviour, is administered to the neophyte indicating that the child is spiritually nourished by the church.

Everyone left the church and I took some portraits of the happy parents and Andreas outside before heading to a lunch at Rantso Bar & Grill in Lakatamia, where the family and guests had a delicious meal and the kids enjoyed themselves playing games, getting a face-paint and dancing.

The tables were beautifully decorated and an orange cake in form of a bull (the personal symbol) was placed on the entrance table.

I designed a beautiful digital album telling the story of the day. Images will be posted on my blog in a couple of weeks!

If you have your child’s baptism coming up and you are looking for a photographer to document this special day, please contact me on 97799958 or email me for further information violacarnelos@gmail.com 🙂

Viola

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