Dear Father Christopher,
I am sorry to disturb you again with a question concerning the making of
catechumens and baptism/myron-anointing. I will soon baptize a Greek
I usually follow the ritual according to the Russian typikon. A major
difference is that we do not anoint the whole body before baptism, but
only forehead, ears, breast, hands/feet, and we proceed to baptize.
On your website you have published the complete text, to be found in
official euchologia. However, I have looked at many videos of baptisms
performed by Greek priests, and noticed that the ritual was consistently
shortened, and many prayers were skipped. For example: after the
baptism, chrismation and tonsure followed immediately, without any
prayer (or ablutions, before tonsure) in between.
What is the general practice ? Which prayers are usually skipped in
Greece or Cyprus?
I feel that the complete service is long and it may be very tiresome for
the baby and for the family. Plus, they are Greeks, and may be expecting
a service "à la Grecque" !
Thank you, and sorry for taking your time.
With Love in Our Lord,
Answer to Question 28.
Dear Fr. P,
Christ is in our midst.
Please do not feel that you are disturbing me at any time. You second
email said to forget the first email, but and I think a detailed answer
on how baptisms are generally performed in Cyprus and Greece would
benefit many Priests, especially in the west, who like you have many
questions regarding the order of modern day baptisms.
The main problem is the prayers of Ablution and Tonsure which are not
said in the order as found in the Small Euchologion. In the Great
Euchologion, these prayers are found separate from the service of
baptism because in older times, when adult baptisms was still the norm,
they were not said during the baptism service, but constituted a
separate service performed on the eighth day after baptism. When infant
baptisms prevailed, the two services were merged for convenience, but
this merging of the two services clearly couldn't be executed in
practice. But rather than not say the prayers at all, they are said
silently by the priest (in anticipation of when the child will be washed
on the third day) during the drying and dressing of the child.
Understandable the order of the Small Euchologion can be very confusing
and today the service of baptism is probably the only Church service
that has such diversity among Priests and you will rarely find two
priests that perform it exactly the same.
I will describe how most Priests perform the service in Cyprus, but keep
in mind that there will be differences from priest to priest and from
area to area.
Starting from the Catechism, some priests begin with the opening
"Blesses is our God..." but this is not found in the Euchologion because
the Catechism is not an actual service. The proper way to begin is to
blow upon the child three times and sealing with the sign of the Cross
to say "In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy
Spirit. Amen" and straightway begin the first prayer. The Catechism is
fairly straightforward and the only differences between priests during
this part of the service is with the Creed and how many times it is
said. The Euchologion says three times, but for many priests today, only
once will suffice. Those who insist on three times sometimes do it in
stages. In other words they begin with the first at the doors of the
narthex, for the second reciting they move a little down the nave and
for the third time near to the centre of the nave. After the creed and
the last prayer the priest should not actually say a dismissal because
there was no opening blessing. The service found on my website does have
a opening blessing and dismissal, but this is wrong and I will need to
delete this very soon.
The actual baptism service is again very straightforward until the
anointing with the Exorcised Oil. Practices differ on how the oil is
applied and who does the anointing. In Cyprus we follow the custom
similar to your Russian Typikon. We anoint just the forehead, the chest,
ears, hands and feet. In Greece it is customary after the anointing by
the priest, as he holds the infant above the font, for the Godparent to
pour oil onto his/her hands and to cover the whole body with the oil.
Covering a child’s whole body with oil can be very dangerous. I remember
once during my early and enthusiastic years that I decided to be
overzealous and perform a baptism to the letter. I covered this child’s
body completely with oil then lifted him to place him into the font. The
child began to slip out of my hands and I only just made it to the font
where he slipped into the water. When I tried to lift him up I just
couldn’t and had to wipe away the oil from under his arms. As you can
imagine I have never tried that again. In our parish we do the
following: the oil is placed in a glass and then we dip our three
fingers (many use cotton wool, but we prefer our fingers) into it and
anoint the forehead, the chest, the ears, feet and hands as mentioned in
the euchologion and also anoint the back saying “whosever will come
after me let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me”. We then
invite the Godparent to also dip his or her fingers into the oil and
anoint crosswise wherever they want. They usually follow a similar
pattern as the Priest. We purposely ask them to put oil on the child as
that makes them feel that they have taken part is the baptismal ceremony
and helps them understand that being a Godparent is a serious matter.
The child is then baptised in the font three times. Here again we find
differences depending on how big the infant is, how big the font is and
how much water is in the font. Some priests insist on emerging the
infant completely under the water but most fonts will not allow for
this. In general the infant is dipped into the water and then with our
hands we take water from the font and pour it over his head and body
that cannot be covered by the depth of the water in the font. We had an
occasion when a priest emerged the infant completely (head first),
but the child drowned and had to be immediately rushed to hospital.
After the baptism it is time for the Holy Myron to be applied. Most
priests anoint with the Myron and then say the prayer after while the
child is being dressed. Our bishop once insisted that we should say the
prayer before the application. This is the correct order, but sometimes
it is impossible to put into practice as he himself found out when he
baptised a child who screamed and kicked continuously. Most infants cry
during baptism and it is impossible for the priest to concentrate on the
prayer. In such situations the first thing on the priest's mind is to
quickly finish with the baby in the hope that it will stop its wailing.
If the baby is peaceful then by all means say the prayer before the
application of Myron, but if the child is inconsolable you will find in
practice that it is better to skip the prayer until after. The baby
can't understand the prayer and with all the noise, no one can hear it
and you certainly won't be able to concentrate your mind to read it
without making many mistakes.
Next we perform the tonsure. As already said, in older times this was
performed on the eighth day after baptism, but nowadays we do it during
the baptism service in anticipation. The Euchologion has the tonsure
towards the end of the service, but whether towards the end or now makes
no difference to the order of the service because in neither place is it
its rightful place. For convenience it is much easier to do it
immediately after the Myron as the child is still held by the Godparent.
The child is then dried and dressed and during this time the priest has
time to say all the prayers. If there is a chanter to sing the
Katavasias of the Cross then the prayers will be said silently but if
there is no chanter the priest can say the prayers slightly audible so
that there is a continuance to the service.
After the child is dressed we ask the Godparent and whoever helped in
the dressing of the child to wash their hands above the font as someone
helps them by pouring clean water. We then take the Baptismal Cross and
securing it around the child's neck we say: "The Lord said unto his
disciples: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take
up his cross, and follow me."
After the singing of "As many of you as have been baptized into
Christ..." follows the reading of the Apostle and Gospel. In our parish,
during the reading of the Apostle, we move away from the font which is
in the centre of the church and prepare for the reading of the Gospel
from the Holy Doors. The Godparent and child are asked to face the
priest at the steps of the Solea and we ask the father and mother to
also stand one on each side of the Godparent. After the Gospel we say
the short petitions and I like to leave the second prayer "O Lord, our
God, who through the fulfilment of the baptismal font" of the tonsure
for this moment. After the dismissal and Holy Communion it is customary
for the priest to take the child and give it to the mother saying:
"Receive, O mother thy child, who hath been baptized, chrismated and
sanctified, to which bear witness the angels in heaven and men on earth,
whom do thou guard as the pupil of your eye until it reaches the legal
age of consent." And taking the candle he will give it to the father
saying: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good
works, and glorify your Father, which is in heaven."
Hope this has helped to clear up some of the many differences that are
observed among priests as regards to the service of baptism. Clearly the
Euchologion needs to be updated and we have long been asking for our
Holy Synod to print a new Baptism Service or give guidelines that can be
practically applied by all priests in uniformity.
With love in Christ