Honoring The Role Of Godparent In Your Parish With A Godparent Sunday Celebration
By Eleni Kallaur
“Those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ… Alleluia.”
The role of the Godparent in the Orthodox Church is an important one. Along with the parents, the Godparent is charged with the responsibility of assisting in the spiritual development of the child. In some cultures the Godparent is addressed by a special name ( an example is nouno/nouna in Greek.) Whether a blood relative or not, the Godparent is now embraced as part of the “spiritual family” of that child.
Although great care and many prayers are put forth by the parents in choosing the Godparent for their child, sometimes after the baptism the relationship does not grow. Other than the occasional birthday and Christmas gifts, some Godchildren and Godparents rarely see or talk to each other. As with any relationship, this spiritual one needs to be fostered and cared for in order for it to develop. The best way for this relationship to grow is through prayer. Pray for your Godchild and his or her parents, and the parents should encourage their child to pray for the Godparents. By doing this you are encouraging a relationship and giving it the spiritual basis on which to mature.
Other practical ideas for maintaining a relationship with your Godchild are to celebrate the anniversary of the baptism with a card or a telephone call. Along with learning about the child’s patron saint, learn about the saint whose feast day is celebrated on the date of his or her baptism and share the story of that saint’s life with your Godchild.
Model your faith through your actions. Understand the sacraments as well as the teachings of the church so that you will be able to answer questions that your Godchild may have.
Encourage the faith life through the types of gifts that you give your Godchild. Some examples of gifts are a bible, prayer book, books on the lives of saints, prayer rope, etc. By doing this you are giving tools to help your Godchild grow in the faith, and are helping him/her to start a personal library of Orthodox teachings.
If you live in close proximity to your Godchild make yourself available to spend time with him or her. Find out when school activities and sports events are scheduled and try to go to a few. Plan a special time, whether for lunch or a trip to the zoo, to be with your Godchild. These times together will only help to make your relationship closer.
If you live far away, call, write, or email your Godchild. Send a letter at the beginning of a church season (Advent, Lent, etc.) to let him or her know that you will be praying for him. If possible, plan visits to see your Godchild.
Godparent / Godchild Sunday
One way that your church can play a significant role in honoring and fostering this relationship is by hosting a Godparent/Godchild Sunday. By doing this, the church as a community calls to mind the importance of this bond in Christ, and encourages the development of the relationship. The following description of Godparent/Godchild Sunday is taken from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, and may be altered to suite the needs of each individual parish. It is the customary practice in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese to celebrate Godparent Sunday on the Sunday after the Feast of the Presentation of Christ. However, the time and celebration of this event may vary according to local custom.
Our parish chooses a date for Godparent Sunday, and announces it in advance. An announcement giving the date and time is printed in the weekly church bulletin, the church newsletter (which is sent to each parishioner’s home), and is announced as well by the priest. A flier is placed on the church bulletin board, and each Sunday School student is given an individual flier to take home to their family. Printed in the flier, along with the date and time, is the suggestion that Godparents and Godchildren should personally invite their Godparents/Godchild to attend church with them that morning. Even if they belong to different parishes this is an opportunity for the Godparents and Godchild to pray and spend the day together.
In preparation, the younger Sunday School classes can work on a special written invitation. This allows the opportunity for the Sunday School teachers to present a lesson on the sacrament of baptism, and the role of a Godparent. It also encourages the students to make contact with their Godparents, and promotes a deepening of their relationship. If the class does not wish to create its own invitations, a prepared invitation can be passed out to the students to send to their Godparents (See sample in Appendix 2.)
In some cases the Godparent may live far away. If this is the case, in order for no one to be excluded, the Sunday School child is encouraged to ask a close family friend or favorite aunt or uncle to “stand in” for them and attend the service. I was asked to “stand in” as Godparent to a child one year. Far from taking the place of the Godparent, it was an honor to pray with that child and renew my own baptismal vows with her.
An important part of the day is that the Godparents and Godchild receive Holy Communion together. The Godparents and Godchild sit together during the Divine Liturgy and throughout the Reconfirmation Service. During the Divine Liturgy, following the hymn “Praise the Lord from the Heavens”, the priest comes out of the Royal Gates and asks those in the congregation to reconfirm their baptismal vows (See Appendix 1.) After the Reconfirmation Service, the Godparents and Godchild receive Holy Communion together.
Following the Divine Liturgy, a luncheon is prepared in honor of the day. The last two years the luncheon was prepared by the teen group at Holy Cross. The food was donated, a nominal fee was charged, and the luncheon was used as a fundraiser for the group. We also have an opportunity for the Godparents and Godchild to have their picture taken together to commemorate the day. A Polaroid camera is used so that the picture can be taken home with them. A small fee is charged to cover the cost of film. At Holy Cross the picture is taken with the Godparents and Godchild holding an icon of Christ.
The Godparent Sunday Celebration at Holy Cross has become an event that the parishioners at Holy Cross look forward to every year. It is made even more special to the Godchildren when their Godparents, who are not members of Holy Cross, make the extra effort to come to church and pray with them. By celebrating as a church community to honor Godparents, the Godchildren begin to learn the importance and significance that the church gives to this relationship. This in turn encourages the growth of the relationship with their own Godparents, and may even plant in their hearts the desire to one day become Godparents themselves.
Immediately following the Communion Hymn (Koinonikon), the Priest asks the congregation to face the back of the church and to reconfirm their baptismal vows, saying:
PRIEST: Do you renounce Satan? and all his angels? and all his works? and all his service? And all his pride? (3x)
ALL: We do.
The Priest then asks the congregation to face the altar.
PRIEST: Have you renounced Satan? (3x)
ALL: We have.
PRIEST: Do you unite yourselves unto Christ?
ALL: We do.
PRIEST: Have you united yourselves unto Christ?
ALL: We have.
PRIEST: Do you believe in Him?
ALL: We believe in Him as King, our Lord and God.
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light; true God of true God, begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man. And was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried. And rose on the third day according to the Scriptures. And ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father. And is coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Life-Creator, Who proceeds from the Father, Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke through the prophets. In one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. I await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come. Amen.
PRIEST: Have you united yourselves unto Christ?
ALL: We have.
PRIEST: Bow down also before Him.
ALL: We bow before the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Trinity One in essence, and undivided.
PRIEST: Blessed is God, Who wants all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of truth, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.
A PRAYER OF RECONFIRMATION
PRIEST: Let us pray to the Lord.
ALL: Lord have mercy!
PRIEST: Blessed are You, O Lord Almighty, Source of all good things, Sun of Righteousness, Who sheds forth upon those who were in darkness the light of salvation, through the manifestation of Your Only Begotten Son, our God: and Who have given unto us, unworthy though we be, blessed purification through hallowed water, and divine sanctification, through life-creating Chrismation; Who have been graciously pleased to regenerate these Your servants through the only One Baptism by water and the Spirit, granting unto them remission of sins, whether voluntary or involuntary, and granting also unto them the seal of the gift of Your Holy, Almighty and adorable Spirit, and participation in the Holy Body and the precious Blood of Your Christ. Keep them in Your sanctification; reconfirm them in the Orthodox faith; deliver them from the Evil One and from his evil snares. And preserve them in purity and uprightness, through the saving fear of You. That they may please You in every one of their deeds and words, and may prove themselves to be children and heirs of Your heavenly Kingdom. For you are our God, the God of mercy and salvation, and unto You we ascribe glory; to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.
ALL: I believe and confess, Lord, that you are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this is truly your pure Body and that this is truly your precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And make me worthy without condemnation to partake of your pure Mysteries for the forgiveness of sins and for life eternal. Amen. How shall I, who am unworthy, enter into the splendor of your saints? If I dare to enter into the bridal chamber, my clothing will accuse me, since it is not a wedding garment; and being bound up, I shall be cast out by the angels. In Your love, Lord, cleanse my soul and save me.
Loving Master, Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let not these Holy Gifts be to my condemnation because of my unworthiness, but for the cleansing and sanctification of soul and body and the pledge of future life and kingdom. It is good for me to cling to God and to place in Him the hope of my salvation.
Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not reveal Your mystery to Your adversaries, nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to You: Lord, remember me in Your kingdom.
Behold, I approach Christ, our immortal King and God.
PRIEST: With the fear of God….