As a non-Greek/non-church-going/by-marriage-only kind of Greek person, it was an incredible honour to be asked to be one of four Godmothers to the Griwi twins in a traditional Greek Orthodox ceremony.
I have also quite enjoyed lording it up over the Greek God(zilla) for the past few months.
‘The Griwi GODMOTHERS are going for dinner and karaoke, can you babysit?’
‘All the other Griwi GODMOTHERS are buying new outfits for the CHRISTENING’
‘I am off out to get my hair done now FOR THE CHRISTENING’
‘Can you get up with Zachy in the morning as I am to be GODMOTHER and need to
put my face on spiritually prepare myself for the THE CHRISTENING.’
And my personal favourite… ‘See how much I have embraced your culture and thrown myself into the Greek family way of life and you can’t even make me a cup of tea/let me watch The X-Factor/pass the wine?’
But with great power comes great responsibility and in the Greek Orthodox church, it is not as simple as buying a new frock, rocking up to the church on the day with a card and posing for photographs holding a really cute baby in a really cute christening gown.
Although the Greek God(zilla), Godfather to 4, would have you believe that it is.
So, first things first. Choosing the Godparents.
At least one of the Godparents has to be of Greek Orthodox faith, so BB and Anna ticked that box beautifully. Although we suspect it will be Carolyn, who will be providing the most spiritual guidance to the twins.
Then, the parents just sit back until the big day. I would add with their feet up but this is unlikely with two 10-month old boys to chase around the sofa.
The Godparents must take the following items to church with them:
- 1 small white or ivory towel (to be used by the priest and godparents to wipe their hands after the baptism)
- 1 large white or ivory towel (to wrap the baby in)
- 1 large white or ivory oil sheet (used with the towel to wrap the baby)
- 1 set of baptismal undergarments – These garments are brought by the godparents to dress the infant immediately after the immersion in Baptism. In Orthodoxy, these garments are considered sacred and must be kept safely.
All of the above are called Ladopana
- 1 small bottle of olive oil (for the priest to pour into the baptismal water)
- 1 bar of soap (for the priest and godparents to wash their hands with after the baptism)
- 3 white candles (which they light after the baptism when they walk around the baptismal font) – 1 large candle and 2 smaller matching ones
- A baptismal outfit, shoes and socks
- A gold cross on a chain (for the baby to wear after Chrismation)
- A baptismal box to put all of the above inside and carry them to the Church.
The candles and crosses were sourced while on holiday in Crete this Summer, the outfits from Emile et Rose, Ladopana from Anna’s Christening Centre in North London and the 100% Greek olive oil from Waitrose.
The sacrament begins in the Church Narthex where the parents hand the child over to the godparents. At that point, the godparent speaks on behalf of the child and denounces Satan and recites the Creed. Only Anna recited the Creed, in Greek, and we all thanked her for it.
Then, the priest and the godparents walk towards the front of the church and take the baby to undress and wrap in a large towel. For super efficiency we assigned two Godmothers to each baby for undress/dressing duty. I was Team Otus with BB. Anna and Carolyn were Team Leo.
The priest blesses the water in the baptismal font, and adds to it the oil that the godmothers brought. Then he takes the baby and rubs him with the oil and water. Then he immerses the baby in the font three times symbolizing the three days that Christ spent in his tomb.
Little Leo did not even flinch.
Team Otus had a slightly harder time.
While immersing the baby in the font, the priest is pronouncing the baby’s name along with the name of the Trinity, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The priest then takes the baby out of the water and gives him to the (Greek) godmother who is holding the white sheet and towel.
Us non-Greek/non-church-going/by-marriage-only kind of Greeks were not permitted to hold the baby during the important bits. BB got offended on our behalf but I did not mind, Otus is one heavy baby….
What follows is the sacrament of Chrismation where the priest anoints the baby with “myrrh” (oil that has been blessed by the Patriarch) and cuts three locks from the baby’s hair.
The priest also blesses the baby’s clothes and then the Godmothers dress the baby in the Christening outfit.
After that, the priest places the gold cross and chain on the baby and the godparent takes the baby and lights the big candle and the small candles. The small candles are usually given to kids to hold.
We all then walked around the font three times symbolizing the dance of joy. The babies then received the Holy Communion for the first time.
When the ceremony is over, the mother kisses the hand of the godparents and receives her babies and all relatives and friends wish them “Na sas zisi” which means “life to him/her“.
Otus sank into Eva’s arms and sobbed, relieved it was over and he was back with his mummy. Leo continued to look happily around completely nonplussed by it all.
The duties of the godparent after the ceremony do not stop there. The godmother must offer to her godchild every Easter an Easter Candle and offer a gift on his Name Day. In Greece, it is customary also for the godparent on every Easter to buy a new pair of shoes for the child. But above all of these the godparent has a spiritual responsibility.