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Question 62

Hi, Father Christopher,  a relative of mine decided to marry someone who was non Orthodox. However, their local priest asked her mother to baptize her fiancé as he then was. They then married after a while. However, this would mean that in reality, she married her God-brother which is forbidden by our Church!! What happens in such a situation?  Above all what happens when they have children?   



Answer to Question 62


With infant Baptisms the sponsor [or the Godfather as he is more commonly called] has an important role to play, not only during the ritual service, but also for the rest of the child’s life. By tradition he is obliged to buy for the child his baptismal Cross and the baptismal garments, and because in Orthodoxy everything is done in threes [symbolic of the Trinitarian God] he also buys other garments for the child in threes e.g. 3 pairs of socks, 3 vests etc. He is also obliged to bring to the Church everything that will be needed for the service. During the service he is the child’s representative and confesses the faith on behalf of the child, and it is he that is responsible for bathing the child on the third day. But his responsibilities do not stop here for as the child grows he is responsible and obliged, together with the child’s parents, to educate and rear the child in a Christian manner. The Church recognizing the sponsor as the child’s spiritual father enters his name on the Baptism certificate and in the Church’s register. As the child grows, he develops a special relationship with his Godparent. Of course this is mainly due to the fact that he receives presents from his Godparent on his birthday and other important dates, but when the child reaches an age of understanding, he respects him for what he is; a second father.


In theory adults do not need a sponsor for they can speak for themselves and so confess the faith by themselves. In practice though adults also have sponsors so what is their role in Baptism? The Greek word for sponsor is ‘Ανάδοχος’ and means someone who receives. The word also designates someone who takes upon himself a burden, sureties or guarantor. With this meaning in mind, St John Chrysostom has the following to say about sponsors:


“Do you wish me to address a word to those who are sponsoring you that they may know what recompense they deserve if they have shown great care for you, and what condemnation follows if they are careless? Consider, beloved, how those who go surety for someone in a matter of money set up for themselves a greater risk that the one who borrows the money and is liable for it. If the borrower be well disposed, he lightens the burden for his surety; if the dispositions of his soul be ill, he makes the risk a steeper one. Wherefore, the wise man counsels us saying: If thou be surety, think as if thou wert to pay it. If, then, those who go surety for others in a matter of money make themselves liable for the whole sum, those who go surety for others in matters of the spirit and on an account which involves virtue should be much more alert. They ought to show their paternal love by encouraging, counselling, and correcting those for whom they go surety.


Let them not think that what takes place is a trifling thing, but let them see clearly that they share in the credit if by their admonition they lead those entrusted to them to the path of virtue. Again, if those they sponsor become careless, the sponsors themselves will suffer great punishment. That is why it is customary to call the sponsors “spiritual fathers,” that they may learn by this very action how great an affection they must show to those they sponsor in the matter of spiritual instruction. If it is a noble thing to lead to a zeal for virtue those who are in no way related to us, much more should we fulfil this precept in the case of the one whom we receive as a spiritual son. You, the sponsors, have learned that no slight danger hangs over your heads if you are remiss.”


In spite of the fact that the role of a Godparents is different for a child and for an adult, in both cases the sponsor is considered the spiritual father of mother and according to the canons they are related to each other in the first degree and with any children of the sponsor in the second degree and as such marriage between them is forbidden. The only person who can be held responsible for such a marriage is the priest because he knew the relationship between them and knowing the baptism of the man was solely for them to get married in the Church, he should have advised them to use a sponsor who was unrelated. 


What country did this take place? I’m sure the bishop’s office that issued the marriage license did not know of the relationship so they cannot be held responsible. If someone was to complain to the bishop I’m sure they would look into the matter, and maybe even have the marriage annulled. As for children from that marriage, the parents are spiritual brother and sister and not related by blood.