ByzCatholic, Riteology

Christian Initation: Eastern Baptism, Infant Communion, and Chrismation

In a few short months, we will get to meet our Little Badger baby outside my womb! And more exciting than the impending birth is her reception into the church. (I mean, labour isn’t exactly a fun activity to look forward to). I remember when Little Fox was born, I felt anxious about her not being baptized for the first few days. Even though we were doing everything to reduce the risk of SIDS, the thought of my child dying without the gift of baptism weighed on my mind. And Little Fox was baptized quite soon after her birth. Her uncle was in the process of moving from our city, and we made sure he could attend before her left.

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Even with my anxiety and the need to make sure Little Fox’s uncle could attend, I have several regrets about the rushed baptismal date. I never had a baby shower or gender reveal party or anything for Little Fox. Which, by itself, was fine for me. I didn’t have a bridal shower or bachelorette party either. What I had been looking forward to was having a celebration of Little Fox’s reception into the family of God. Not only did we not have a reception, besides immediate family and one of my husband’s aunts, we didn’t invite anyone to her chrismation. We didn’t ask her Godparents to take on that roll in person… we did it over Facebook messenger less than a week before the date of the baptism.

But enough about my regrets! This time we are planning ahead for the new baby’s baptism, and our plan is to have a reception to celebrate both our children afterwards. I’ll pre-make invites, inserting the proper date and time after it is set with our priest. And I’m spending some time reading about and reflecting on the practice of infant reception into the church and upon godparents ahead of time. And this time I’m going to not be so shy and have a conversation with the people we’d like to be our child’s Godparents ahead of time.

Okay that last one is still going to be a challenge for me. At least I have a husband to help me out!

What is the Current Practice

In the Eastern Church, babies receive baptism, first communion, and confirmation all at once. Confirmation is more commonly referred to as chrismation. This sacrament of the Holy Spirit is administered to infants directly after their baptisms.

This practice differs from the Latin Rite, where infants are baptized, but do not receive communion or confirmation until the age of reason. Byzantine churches still have education for children upon reaching the age of reason. These children are prepared for their first confessions as well as a public reception of their “first solemn communion.” Some Byzantine babies receive baptism and chrismation, but do not receive first communion until reaching the age of reason. This is done at the choice of the parents. The main reason I’ve heard cited for this is in the case that families are mixed Roman Catholic and Byzantine. Since the family also attends a RC parish, they do not want their child confused about why they cannot receive there

Whether your family is mixed, or traveling somewhere that a Byzantine church isn’t available, it is still possible that your child can receive in an RC Church. Simply talk to the priest ahead of the mass. He may be willing to administer communion to your chrismated child. (We have met and heard of several RC priests willing to do this).

History of Baptism and Infant Communion

Infant reception of sacraments goes back the beginning of church history. I wrote a little bit about infant reception of the Eucharist in my article about the Byzantine use of leavened bread for hosts. You can check out that article here.

In the early church, baptism usually occurred in rivers or streams… somewhere there was living water. This is also why in the East we prefer full submersion baptism. Although some priests will give the option for sprinkling water/pouring water over the head instead of immersion, this is not the Eastern tradition. “Sprinkling” baptisms are more common in the Western church, although there has been a return in popular of submersion baptism there too.

Baptism is typically performed at least eight days after a baby’s birth. Baptism is for Christians what circumcision is for Jews. In danger of death, children may be baptized earlier than eight days. Some parents aim for around 40 days after the child’s birth to mirror the Presentation in the Temple. There is no canon stipulating when an infant has to be baptized.

On Godparents

Becoming a Godparent is an awesome and beautiful responsibility, not unlike becoming a parent oneself.  The people chosen to be Christian Reception Party FoodGodparents should be involved in the Church, and leading a good example of Christian life. It is important that the Godparents are working to continue to grow in their own faith. (Through reading, retreats, and other spiritual activities). While the entire parish community is responsible for helping the parents bring up the child in the faith, the Godparents accept particular responsibility in leading this mission and ensuring this occurs. The missionary role of Godparents reflects the task given to all of us in baptism.

Ideally, Godparents will live close to their godchild. It is helpful for the child to see the Godparents participating in the life of the church, particularly through the sacrament and Liturgy.

There are a couple traditions surrounding Godparents in the East. For one, they provide the chrismation gown. It is also generally their responsibility to bring the dark and white towels required for the baptism.

There are many ways for a Godparent to nurture the faith of their godchild. This can be done by teaching the child prayers, and praying with and for the child. They may also read and talk through bible stories together. Going to church together is encouraged, and if possible, the Godparents should consider taking their godchild with them to Divine Liturgies if the parents can go or on non-obligatory days. Godparents should help prepare the child for reception of future sacraments, and be present when these are celebrated.

It is also helpful to get together with the child on the anniversary of baptism. If circumstances don’t allow this, at least call, or write a letter to the child.

Celebrating and Commemorating this Great Event

Initiation into the Church is perhaps the most important event of a child’s life. A fantastic way to honour this day is with a reception. Depending on your finances and family situation, this may be held in a church hall, a restaurant, or in your home. If you have other people who can help plan and organize this event, go big!

Baptism Party FoodHowever, caring for a new baby takes up a lot of your energy. So, if you’re doing this yourself, I recommend going Simple but beautiful. Plan for foods that can be stored at room temperature if you’re hosting. That way you don’t need to worry about setting up the food after the baptism. Or about bow to keep it at the right temperature during the Liturgy.

At our wedding, we had food trays in the shape of crosses. This can be replicated with many foods, and a beautiful way to link the socializing to what we’re celebrating.

On TheByzantineLife Pinterest page we have a board with several baptismal/chrismation reception ideas. Check it out here! 

In Other News

It’s already the pre-Lenten season! Can you believe it? On Sunday, at church, I told my husband it couldn’t be pre-Lent just yesterday we were celebrating Christmas still! (Nativity scenes stay up in church through the Presentation). Then he reminded me it was pre-Lent because Christmas was over. Sigh. It still comes all too quickly. At least St. Valentine’s Day is before meatfare and cheesefare this year. Anyhow, you can look forward to some pre-Lenten articles!

Don’t forget to like this article, share it on Facebook and Pinterest, and to follow us on other social media! If you have any other great ideas about celebrating children’s baptisms let me know in the comments!


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