PREPARING TO SERVE AS A GODPARENT
It is a rule of the Orthodox Faith that every person, child or adult,
should have a Godparent at Baptism. To serve as a Godparent is both
a special honor and imposes responsibilities which last a lifetime.
It is an honor because God is using you to lead a soul into the sphere
of redemption. Christ tells us: "Whosoever believeth and is baptized
shall be saved" (Mk. 16:16). Through Baptism we receive a full
forgiveness of all sin, whether original or actual; we "put on
Christ," becoming members of His Body, the Church. The Godparent,
along with the parents and guided by the Church, should assist the
newly baptized child through the walk of life. Just as natural
parents have serious obligations for the care and nuture of their
child, so Godparents have important duties in regard to their
Godchild, in particular to see to it that the child receives a
Before one says "Yes," to assuming the role of Godparent, he or she
should make certain that the commitment to the baptized child will be
honored. Every Godparent becomes accountable to God as to whether or
not he has discharged his duties to the child which he has baptized.
Mindful of the sacred task of the Godparent, this information has been
parent to provide every Orthodox Christian parent helpful hints in
selecting the right person for the new infant and to make the intended
Godparent acutely aware of his or her task.
When It All Began
The early Church faced the problem that the majority of those who
wanted to become her members came from pagan families and therefore
lacked even an elementary Christian education and knowledge of the new
faith. To remedy this, the Church undertook the task of educating
them before their baptism. The systematic instruction, which was a
preparatory stage for baptism was called "catechism." During
catechism one learned the simple elements of the Christian faith and
morals and later in the fourth century one was also given an education
of the more profound Christian mysteries, as is made clear in the 4th
Prebaptismal Catechesis of Cyril of Jerusalem. The candidate had to
be introduced by one of the faithful, called "anadochos," and be
examined by the "doctors" who were in charge of the catechumens, to
ensure that clear spiritual motives led him to enter the Church. The
"anadochos" which means one who receives, was responsible for the
candidate and played a very important role during the process of his
catechesis and even after the candidate had been baptized.
Eventually, infant baptism become the norm rather than the exception
in the Church and the "anadochos" or Godparent was called upon to be
the spokesperson for the infant.
The Role of The Godparent During Baptism
The Godparent is the representative of the infant who is being
admitted into the Church of Christ. He speaks for the infant and vows
that he will do all he can to assure that the child will be a true
soldier of Christ and a devoted member of His Church. He accepts the
sacred responsibility of guiding the child into the understanding and
practice of the teachings of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
The Godparent makes a public profession of the Nicene Creed during the
Baptism. Every Godparent should try to have the Creed committed to
memory prior to the Baptism. His renunciation of the devil is made on
behalf of the candidate for Baptism. The Godparent implicitly pledges
himself to aid his Godchild in whatever necessities that may arise,
but most especially in the giving of good Orthodox Christian example
to the Godchild.
Choosing the Godparent
Parents must exercise the greatest care in the selection of Godparents
for their children. Certainly they will never select atheists or
agnostics, or persons who are lukewarm toward the Church. The
Godparent must bring godliness and holiness to the child. Godparents
are parents representing God or parents on God's behalf. Jesus loved
to have children come to Him. The Gospels tell of one such incident:
"Some people brought their babies to have Jesus place His hands on
them. The disciples saw them and scolded them for doing so. Jesus
called the Children to Him and said, `Let the children come to me! Do
not forbid them, because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these"
The faith of the Godparent is significant.
The person who confesses Jesus Christ as His Lord cannot ignore and
violate in word and deed this faith. How can he promise God that he
will make certain that the child will grow to be true follower of
Christ, when he himself lives a life of unbelief and disobedience!
It goes without saying that the Godparent cannot b e a non-Orthodox
person. How could someone who is not Orthodox provide the proper
religious education, example and inspiration to his Godchild? It
should be noted that an Orthodox who has not had his marriage blessed
in the Orthodox Church is also excluded from exercising the privilege
of serving as a sponsor. The Church also cautions us to select a
person who has reached the age of reason and moral responsibility (at
least 12 years of age).
Choosing a Name
Nowadays one of the commonest ways of naming a child is just to give
the child a name you happen to like. More often than it is the name
of some actor or actress. St. John Chrysostom has an interesting
suggestion in this matter. He writes: "Let us afford our children
from the first and incentive to goodness from the name that we give
them. Let none of us hasten to call his children after his forebears,
his father and mother and grandfather and grandmother, but rather
after the righteous - martyrs, bishops, apostles. Let one be called
Peter, another John, another bear the name of one of the saints. Let
the names of the saints enter our homes through the naming of our
It is St. Chrysostom's idea that the child should be given a great
name; that he should be repeatedly told the story of the great bearer
of the name; and that thus he should be motivated to make himself like
the great owner of the name which he bears.
What Is Expected of the Godparents
It is a gross misunderstanding to think that the only duty of the
Godparent is to buy a new outfit for the infant. Certainly this a
beautiful tradition, when possible, but the emphasis must not be on
the material but rather the spiritual. The Godparent should make a
faithful commitment of love and that he will join the struggle with
the parents, guided b y the Church, to bring the infant carefully and
prayerfully along the difficult road to heaven.
The essential articles of the Baptism include:
a) Cross to be worn around the neck of the child
b) Olive Oil
c) Two small hand towels
d) One bath towel
e) A large linen sheet
f) Bar of Soap
g) Three candles
The new white clothing for the child can be provided by the Godparent
but it is not absolutely necessary.
After The Baptism
Your task as Godparent is about to begin. At the close of the
service the sponsor solemnly delivers the child into the arms of the
mother in front of the congregation. As she receives her child, now
baptized, sealed, and illuminated, she kisses the hand of the
Godparent as a token of the spiritual relationship that is established
between the Godparent the family. This is a Christian expression of
gratitude and respect.
The Church encourages the Godparent to bring the child regularly for
Holy Communion, following the Baptism. The Godparent should also
prepare to receive Holy Communion. He will hold each time, the
lighted baptismal candle which he carries with him at the conclusion
of the Baptismal service.
A faithful Godparent will be a friend in Christ and maintain close
contact with his Godchild. The focus at all times is to progress the
child in the knowledge and practice of the Orthodox Faith. He should
at all times model a Christ-like example. The relationship between
the Godparent and the baptized is so important and so close that the
Church forbids marriage between the Godparent and Godchild.
Godparents are encouraged to call the remembrance the sacred and
joyous moment of Baptism.
This may be done by participating in "Godparents' Sunday" a National
Observance by the Orthodox Church in America, remembering the Godchild
on the date of Baptism along with birthday anniversaries, Christmas,
etc. Significant gift-giving honoring these special occasions could
include such objects as icons, medallions, a Bible, and religious
books which will be helpful in building up the spiritual life of the
By now you have to come to realize that the most important quality for
the Godparent is to live a Christ-filled life and that he demonstrate
his faith as a light-bearer, devoted to receiving salvation for
himself and his Godchild. The Godparent is called upon to accept the
Divine Commandment read from the Holy Gospel at the service of
Baptism, "Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo,
I am with you always, to the close of the age."
What Must I Consider?
If you hope to be a Godparent some day, it would be well to consider
carefully the chief conditions which the Church prescribes in the way
1) When you are approached and asked to baptize a child, do not
answer immediately. Reflect and ask yourself if you could be true to
the Baptismal vow.
2) The Godparent must be an Orthodox Christian, of good moral
character, regular and faithful in attendance at Liturgy and the
reception of the Sacraments, and with a sound knowledge of the basic
teachings of the Orthodox Church.
3) Study the Creed and be prepared to recite it when the Priest calls
upon you. The custom of having the Chanter recite it is incorrect.
Knowledge of the Creed and familiarity with it constitutes the basic
prerequisite for becoming a Godparent.
4) A Godparent should be neither excessively young (under 12) or
advanced in years nor in poor health. There must be at least a fair
possibility that the Godparent will live long enough to carry out the
5) The Church recommends one Godparent. Consult with your Priest in
advance of the day of the Baptism so that you will be prepared to
answer correctly the questions asked during the Service of the
Catechumens, the first part of the Sacrament of Baptism.
(by Rev. William S. Chiganos, in "Light and Life" Publication Company,
Minneapolis, MN 1986).
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