My wife and I recently made enquiry concerning having our new born son baptized. When we enquired as to whether my wife’s cousin, who believes in Jesus Christ but is not a member of the Orthodox—or any—Church, could serve as a baptismal sponsor, we were informed that this would not be possible. This may cause problems within our family as we had hoped to honor her cousin in this capacity. Why must a baptismal sponsor be of the Orthodox Christian faith?
As clearly implied by the term itself, a “baptismal sponsor” is a pious, practicing Orthodox Christian who would be “sponsoring,” in this case, your infant son as he is initiated into the life of the Church through the sacraments of Baptism, Chrismation and the Eucharist. As such, the sponsor “sponsors” the child into a reality—the worshipping faith community, the very Body of Christ—that the sponsor himself or herself already embraces in its fullness. Hence, the sponsor, at the outset of the Rite of Baptism, speaks on behalf of the child in denouncing Satan, professing the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, and acknowledging belief in and acceptance of Jesus Christ “as King and God.” Properly speaking, then, one cannot “sponsor” someone into “something” that one does not fully acknowledge and embrace himself or herself.
The focus in selecting a baptismal sponsor must always be on ensuring the spiritual growth and formation of the child, who surely will benefit from the example of a pious sponsor as he or she grows in “life, faith and spiritual understanding.” When choosing a baptismal sponsor, “honoring” a family member or close friend should never be a determining factor. What is crucial is selecting a sponsor who can stand as a model with regard to living a faithful Orthodox Christian life, not only in word, but also by example.
Hope this helps!