Joyful Baptismal Celebration on the Feast of the Dormition of the Birth-Giver of God at the Spiritual Center of the Church
Joyful Baptismal Celebration on the Feast of the Dormition of the Birth-Giver of God at the Spiritual Center of the Church

Охрещуючи мале немовля, Митрополія Церкви відсвяткувала Свято Успіння Пресвятої Богородиці

The gold crosses of the St. Andrew Memorial Church in South Bound Brook, New Jersey, sparkled in the morning sun, beneath the delicate clear blue of the sky above.  The lazy Saturday morning, of August 28th, started like any other summer day, except that today was not just any day. 

The Canadian Geese that were peacefully grazing on the front lawn, paused and looked up as the stillness was suddenly broken by the soft cooing of a young infant that was being carefully carried up the steps.

On this day the Orthodox Church was celebrating the Feast Day of the Dormition of the Mother of God, and in her honor the faithful of the Church began arriving for Divine Liturgy, all wearing various shades of blue.

Before the commencement of the Divine Liturgy, those who were gathered were witnesses to a most joyful event in the life of the Church, the illumination of a new soul through the Holy Sacrament of Baptism and Chrismation.  On this day the Church would be blessed with a new member, tiny infant Sophia, the daughter of newly ordained Father Mykola, and Dobrodijka Mariia Zomchak.

As the child’s godparents prepared themselves for this great responsibility, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, wearing beautiful vestments, embroidered in light blue, emerged from the Altar to greet them in the narthex of the church.  The little girl’s godmother, Dobrodijka Olha Bobko, gently rocked the child in her arms, as she listened to the Archbishop’s words of advice to the godparents, reminding them of the huge responsibility they were are undertaking.  The child’s godfather, Fr. Sviatoslav Hot, nodded his acceptance at the responsibility of raising the child in the Church, and teaching her to love Christ.

Turning the godparents to face forward towards the Altar, Archbishop Daniel read a prayer, calling upon the Holy Spirit to expel Satan and all his angels from the child. He prayed that the spirits of evil not lay hold of her either by temptation or any other torment. Next, His Eminence blew upon the child, crosswise three times, his breath symbolizing the exorcising power of the Holy Spirit.

Then holding the child, the godparents turned to the West, facing away from the Altar and renounced Satan on behalf of little Sophia, spitting three times upon him to symbolize the renouncement, and then they turned back towards the Altar, towards God, and three times pronounced their acceptance of Christ.  To cement the acceptance, they recited the Nicene Creed.

I believe in one God, Father Almighty, Creator 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 created, of one essence with the Father through 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 became man.

He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried;

And He rose on the third day, according to the Scriptures.

He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father;

And He will come again with glory to judge the living and dead. His kingdom shall have no end.

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Creator of life, 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 confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.

Amen.

His Eminence now led the godparents to the center of the church, near the font of water.  Here Dobrodijka Olha carefully loosened Sophia’s outer garments, exposing her body for the Archbishop to anoint.

Having prayed over the oil, Vladyka anointed Sophia, making the sign of the Cross on her chest – for healing of soul and body; her ears – for hearing the Faith; her hands – the Lord’s hands have made and fashioned her, and her feet – that they may walk in the way of God’s Commandments.  Having done this, Archbishop Daniel anointed the baby with the Oil of Gladness, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  This is done to strengthen and prepare the little girl to live a good Christian life and lead a strong spiritual life.

Vladyka now turned towards the font and prepared the water for baptism.  Water, which is used to clean things, in baptism, expresses the fact that through this Holy Sacrament, Christ cleanses us from sin. His Eminence blessed the water in the baptismal font making the sign of the Cross three times over it and then anointed it with blessed olive oil. The fruit of the olive oil tree has been a symbol of peace and reconciliation between God and mankind, since a dove brought an olive branch to Noah at the great flood described in the Old Testament.

As the godparents undressed the child, Vladyka Daniel invited all the children present in the parish to come and stand around the font, so they could see the baptism up close.  For these children, the baptism of little Sophia would always remain a vivid memory, and a seed of faith planted in their souls that would sprout in their adulthood.

Taking the tiny baby from her Godparents, Vladyka turned towards the font of water, holding the child high as he prayed.  He stepped up to the font and gently, but, quickly, immersed little Sophia in the blessed water, proclaiming that she was being baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Emerging from the water, little Sophia glanced around, uncertain of what was transpiring.  She did not have long to ponder, before His Eminence dipped her again in the water, and then a third time.  By then the little girl had decided she was not happy with the treatment and began to whimper softly while looking around for her mother.

The immersion in water symbolizes death, death to this world, and everlasting life in Christ. The baptized person rises out of the font promising to surrender their life to Christ the Savior. The triple immersion symbolizes the three days spent by Christ in the tomb as well as the Holy Trinity.

Having baptized the child, His Eminence returned the newly baptized infant back to her godparents, who now dressed her in a new white garment – the Garment of Righteousness symbolizing the new life in Christ.

Having dried the baby, and wrapped her in a white cloth, Sophia was now prepared for her Chrismation.  The Orthodox Church maintains the ancient practice of confirming the newly baptized Christian immediately after her baptism. Just as baptism is a personal “Pascha” (Easter) for each of us, Chrismation, makes us partakers in Christ’s personal Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit descends upon us, confirming us as full members of the Church. Chrismation is the ordination of laity. By this Sacrament we are made Christians and are ambassadors for Christ in this world.

Having recited the Prayer of Confirmation over Sophia as she rested peacefully in the protective arms of her godfather, Archbishop Daniel proceeded to chrismate her, making the Sign of the Cross with the Holy Chrism on her forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth, ears, chest, hands and feet.  At each anointing he proclaimed “The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

Little Sophia, now clothed in a new white garment (reminiscent of the shining robe in which Christ appeared at the Transfiguration) nestled safely in Fr. Svyatoslav’s arms, was carried around the tetrapod, as the choir sang, “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Alleluia...” In the process, the body is now a temple of God. Carried by her Godfather, alongside her Godmother, led by clergy on her first steps as a Christian, as they processed around the baptismal font three times. At this very moment the angels in heaven express their joy and join in the singing, exuberant that a new soul is registered in the Book of Life.

Tradition teaches that it is at this point that God assigns a Guardian Angel to stay with the newly baptized child for the remainder of their earthly life.

Having read the Gospel, Archbishop Daniel turned to Sophia and blessed her.  He then wiped the Chrism from Sophia, saying: “You are baptized. You are illuminated. You are anointed with Chrism. You are sanctified. You are washed, in the Name of Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

His Eminence picked up a small pair of scissors to tonsure Sophia, cutting locks of her hair in the shape of the cross. This is an expression of gratitude from the child, who, having received an abundance of blessings through the sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation and having nothing to give God in return, offers part of its hair, which is symbolic of strength and dedication. Hair, in the Biblical story of Samson is equated with strength; thus the hair offered stands for all the person’s strength and potentials given over to God. Through this gift the newly baptized individual promises to serve God with all their strength and dedication. The cut hair is burned in the flame of a candle, symbolizing the first-offering from the child to God.

At this point Sophia was getting tired and began to whimper and cry, expressing her unhappiness at all this fuss and commotion.  However, there was yet one more step to be completed.  Her Churching.

Archbishop Daniel took the crying baby gently in his arms and carried her to the back of the church.  The cries turned to mere whimpers as His Eminence lifted her up and making the Sign of the Cross with the child before the doors of the church, said, “The servant of God Sophia is churched: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

He then carried the now quiet baby to the center of the Nave, and once again raised her high declaring, “I will go into Thy House. I will worship toward Thy Holy Temple in fear of Thee.”

Vladyka then brought her up to the Royal Gates and declared, “The servant of God, Sophia, is churched, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Almost as a lullaby, His Eminence began to softly sing the Prayer of St. Simeon, as he returned little Sophia from the heavenly world, back to the earthly, and laid her down upon the solea, to wait for her godparents to retrieve her.

“Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word: for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all people, a light of revelation to the gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel.”

And thus concluded the Baptism Service of little Sophia Zomchak.  As the heavens rejoiced and the angels sang, and the scribes entered her name in the Book of Life, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel gave final words of advice to the godparents of the newly illumined Child of God.  He reminded them of their grave responsibility before God for the salvation and upbringing of Sophia.

Immediately following the Baptism, began the Divine Liturgy.  Flanked by two rows of clergy, vested in blue, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, with the blessing of Metropolitan Antony who was present in the Altar, began the service.    Standing in the nave, before the tetrapod upon which lay the shroud of the Mother of God, marking her Dormition, one was moved not only by the majesty of the clergy standing around the bier of the Virgin, as the Apostles once stood, but the sweetness and softness of the beautiful flowers arranged lovingly by the parish Sisterhood.

The Liturgy ebbed and flowed, as the choir sang angelically, the icons twinkled in the sunlight, and earnest prayers were raised for the well-being of all and peace in the world.  Everyone intently listened to the Gospel Reading about the sisters Martha and Mary.  Martha complained that Mary was not helping her in the kitchen, but Christ defended her, stating she chose the better path, which was to sit and listen to Him teach.  In his sermon, Archbishop Daniel, explained that we all need to be both Martha and Mary.  After all, if we all serving others, preparing lunch, is an act of love towards our neighbor, and we all need to eat.  However, we ought not get so tied up in our daily necessities of life that we forget about God.  We all need to find the time each day, to come before the Lord, sit at His feet, and give Him our attention.  In honor of her Dormition, Vladyka made mention that the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ, herself cooked and cleaned and did housework, and all the things necessary to daily life.  However, she always had put God first, and in all her works He was at the forefront of her mind.  She dedicated her entire being to God, graciously accepting the path He had chosen for her.  After Pentecost, as the Apostles began their missions, she too worked at supporting and growing the Church.  For her faithfulness and selflessness, she is the Queen of Heaven, and to this day intercedes before her Son on our behalf. 

As everyone contemplated these words, the Liturgy continued, and soon everyone lined up to partake of the Holy Eucharist.  First in line was the newest member of the Church, little Sophiyka, who held in her mother’s arms, partook for the very first time of the Body and Blood of Christ, offered to her by her own father, Fr. Mykola Zomchak.  The little one looked lovingly at her father and smacked her lips loudly in pleasure at the sweetness of the Eucharist.

And so this extraordinary morning concluded.  As the godparents and parents of Sophiyka posed for photos to commemorate this glorious day, the faithful began to make their way to the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary to enjoy a light lunch in celebration of the child’s baptism.

The geese took wing and circled the dome of the church before flying off in search of shade, as the joyous sounds of laughter and conversation drifted up from the seminary.

May the Lord bless newly illumined child of God Sophia, and her family, with many happy and healthy years!  Mnohaya Lita!

Joyful Baptismal Celebration on the Feast of the Dormition of the Birth-Giver of God at the Spiritual Center of the Church

Photos by Subdeacon Yaroslav Bilohan

(53 images)


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