Giving Birth in the Church
The Church is the center of our being, and life in the Church wonderfully influences every part of our short lives from the womb to the tomb, leaving no single aspect of our earthly journeys untouched by the gracious hands of our Lord Jesus. He brings His life and light into every aspect of our existence through the Church.
The Holy Scriptures explain that women find salvation in and around childbirth. "But women shall be saved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." (1 Timothy 2:15) It is not surprising then, that such an important part of a woman's life as giving birth to a child would involve many special ceremonies, prayers, and acknowledgements that help constitute childbirth as a unique and profitable spiritual time for Christian women. If you were not raised as an Orthodox Christian, you will not be familiar with the in-depth spiritual involvement of both the Church and the priest in the process of birth-giving, and your time giving birth perhaps formed something of a parenthesis in your spiritual life; a time when you were by physical necessity removed from your usual religious practices for a short time until you were "quickly up on your feet again".
Special Prayer Services that Accompany Giving Birth
In the Orthodox Christian Tradition, there are three special prayer services that accompany the first days after giving birth.
The Service of Prayer for a Woman on the First Day After Childbirth
On the day of birth, the priest will visit the new mother to bless and pray for her and her new child. It is important to notify the priest that you are going into labor so that he can pray for you and be prepared to visit you after the birth. If you leave your priest in the dark, he will not know to come and pray for you on the day of your delivery!
In the appointed prayers to be read by the priest over the mother and newly-born child, the priest recalls Jesus' birth from the Virgin Mary, and prays for the mother's forgiveness and healing and asks that she might be "surrounded with joyous angels of light." The priest also prays that the child might be protected from all sickness during this most vulnerable period. It is important to note that the priest does not pray for the child by name. The giving of the name to the child is designed to take place in a separate prayer service designed for this very purpose, which takes place on the eighth day. Lastly, the priest prays that both the mother and child would in due time be received back into the church where they may adore God in His Holy Temple. The priest will bring with him holy water, which he will give the mother to drink for healing of her soul and her weary body. He will give her three sips saying, "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." To have holy water go through her body after such a physically taxing and painful bodily experience is a great comfort.
The Service of Prayer at the Naming of a Child When He Receiveth His Name, On the Eighth Day after His Birth
On the eighth day after birth, the child is given his Christian name. Why does this significant event wait until the eighth day? There are several important reasons. First, God revealed the eighth day as the day of naming in the Old Testament. Thus, our Lord Jesus Himself received His Name "Jesus" on the eighth day. "And when eight days were completed before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb." (St. Luke 2:21) This service of prayer on the 8th day also highlights the great importance of names and the process of naming in the Christian Faith. It is not the parents alone who give the child a name, but Christ Himself, acting through His priest, in the Naming Service. From this moment on, the child's name will always be associated with the Church, with a particular saint, and with a sense of belonging to God. It would be most appropriate that the child should be addressed and prayed for by name only after the priest has named the child on the eighth day. Typically, most hospitals in America ask for the child's name for paperwork prior to the mother leaving the hospital. The hospital can wait eight days, and staff members are usually cordial in accommodating the new mother (the information can later be telephoned into the hospital for the birth record). It is important to note that in the Orthodox Tradition the godparents and the priest are intimately involved in naming the child. The prerogative of naming the child does not belong solely to the parents. Traditionally, the godparents who hold the child during the naming service on the eighth day announce the child's Christian name to the priest, by whose actions of naming on earth, the child is named in heaven.
Additionally, the service of naming highlights the fact that our children are not born Christians ("Behold, I was born in iniquity, and in sins my mother conceived me..." Psalm 50:5), but become Christians through the grace of God through their baptisms into Christ. The eighth day naming is in essence the enrollment of the child as a catechumen of the Church in preparation for holy baptism. The actual prayer service consists of the Trisagion prayers after which the priest may sing/say the troparion for the day or the patron saint of the church. Then the priest will make the sign of the cross upon the forehead, lips, and breast of the infant, offering prayer in which he names the child and asks that the Cross may be engraved internally in the child's heart and thoughts, that God's Name itself might be unrejected forever by the child, and that the child might live a life according to God's commandments and inherit eternal life. Following the prayer, the priest, standing in the exo-narthex, will take the child into his arms and with him make the sign of the cross before the doors of the temple (if the service is done at church) or before an icon of the holy Theotokos (if the service is done at home) saying, "Hail" to the Theotokos and "Rejoice" to St. Simeon the God-receiver.
You should contact the office upon the birth and naming of your child so that he/she can be added to the parish records.
The Service of Churching a Mother and Her Child on the Fortieth Day after Childbirth
After giving birth, the mother and child remain outside of the temple for 40 days. Churching is an ancient and venerable tradition of the Church, being instituted in the Mosaic Law. It is practiced for several reasons. Women remain outside of the temple and the normal routine of the Church's sacramental life for 40 days in imitation of the Mother of God. When the Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus she, even though she was completely holy and did not experience the pain and difficulty of normal childbirth, remained out of the temple for forty days until her purification. On the 40th day after giving birth the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph the Betrothed, and the Christ child went up to the temple where they fulfilled the rite of purification by presenting Jesus to the priest and by offering a sacrifice. This is why we celebrate the "Meeting of the Lord in the Temple/ The Purification of the Virgin Mary" on February 2nd- 40 days after the birth of Christ on December 25th.
The practice of a woman's remaining outside the Church Temple for 40 days acknowledges the fact that, during these days the mother does not participate in the normal ascetic discipline of the Church considered basic and necessary to the reception of the holy eucharist. During the days following birth-giving the mother does not fast and mortify her bodily members in applying herself to the ascetic life of the Church like she does normally, and this abstinence of the mother is blessed by the Church canonically (for the mother's body has already been humbled without the assistance of fasting). Once she has recovered her physical and spiritual equilibrium (40 days), she is graciously reintegrated into the eucharistic life of the Church.
The practice of churching is in obedience to the Word of God found in the Mosaic Law, in relation to childbirth (Leviticus 12:1-8). The Church acknowledges in her prayers for the mother and child on the 1st, 8th, and 40th days after birth-giving, that childbirth has involved uncleanness and sin in certain ways. Thus, the priest prays for purification and forgiveness.
The uncleanness of childbirth might be understood in several ways. First, the pains of childbirth and the bloodletting accompanying it, which are so intense, are not part of God's original plan for women. These pains are part of the curse of Eve after the fall. To Eve, after her fall, God said, "In pain you shall bring forth children..." In giving birth, a woman is powerfully reminded that she is a daughter of Eve and in experiencing the curse, is united to Eve, as participant in sinful humanity. She is united to the curse of Eve in ways she has never been prior to childbirth. Her spiritual composure is put to the test by the many physical and spiritual difficulties surrounding carrying the child to term and through labor. This can be a time of tremendous spiritual growth and inner illumination. A woman can discover many things about herself during these days, and can further bring them into the light and transform herself through the mystery of confession.
St. John Chrysostom describes the uncleanness of childbirth in this way:
“The woman in child-bed is unclean. Yet God made child-birth, and the seed of copulation. Why then is the woman unclean, unless something further was intimated? And what was this? He intended to produce piety in the soul, and to deter it from fornication. For if she is unclean who has borne a child, much more she who has committed fornication. If to approach his own wife is not altogether pure, much less to have intercourse with the wife of another.”
On the other hand, in giving birth a woman shares the joy of the Theotokos, the New Eve and Lifegiver, as she co-operates with God in that marvel of feminine accomplishments: the bringing forth of new life. The mother becomes a co-creator with God of an immortal being. Thus, in birth, a mother can draw near to God Himself. Coming this close to He Who is the Light of the World is always a humbling experience. It was upon drawing near to God that the Holy Prophet Isaiah exclaimed, "Woe is me, for I am ruined. Because I am a man of unclean lips, and live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts." A woman having just given birth knows something of Isaiah's woe! To draw that near to the Light is bound to make us spiritually squint. When thought of this way, it makes perfect sense why a woman should gather herself physically and spiritually with her child for 40 days outside of the normal life of the Church, and purify herself upon re-entering the temple. A new mother would do well to meditate upon St. Paul's words: "But women shall be saved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint."
The days after giving birth are very special both in the mother's relationship with God and in her relationship with her child. They should be quiet, peaceful, and secluded days of intimate bonding and memories. They are a time in which the father can assume additional responsibilities in the home, and truly serve his family, providing a peaceful beginning of life for the child and a time of renewal for the mother. All would be wise to take advantage of the guidance of the Church, and make the most of these important days.
The actual churching service consists in the mother bringing the child with the child's sponsor to the narthex of the church. There she will meet the priest before Liturgy begins. He will make the sign of the cross over the infant, and place his hand on the baby’s head while offering prayers, that God might purify and forgive the mother and allow her to partake, uncondemned, of the Holy Mysteries, and for the sanctification of the child. Then the priest will church the child, taking the infant into his arms and making the sign of the cross with the child in the doors of the temple. The priest will then proceed to the center of the temple, and to the front of the royal doors. Following this procession, the priest will give the child into the hands of the Godparent, who makes three metanias and receives the child.
Holy Baptism for Your Child
Baptizing ones’ child is a commitment on the part of parents and godparents that the child will be raised as a faithful Orthodox Christian. When contacting the priest about the churching (a rite which takes place 40 days after birth), be prepared to discuss setting a date for the baptism.
Baptisms should be done soon at the 40 day churching of the mother or shortly thereafter. If, for some reason, the baptism is delayed until the child is 18 months or older, parents should bring him to church, show him the font, “practice” in the bath at home, and explain what will happen reassuringly to the child to whatever extent possible.
At St. Andrew Church we do infant baptisms after Great Vespers on Saturday.
It is expected that the child will be brought for Holy Communion by his Godparents for the three consecutive Sundays following his baptism. They will come forward as the first to be communed on those Sundays.
Items Needed for the Baptism
The Godparents should bring the following items to the baptism service.
- A new, never used, large white towel to receive the child from the font.
- A complete set of new white clothes or a baptismal gown, including a white t-shirt or slip to be put on the child after being blessed by the priest after the baptism.
- A baptismal neck-cross and chain.
- A decorated baptismal candle.
- An icon of the child’s patron saint
Godparents and parents should discuss the selection of these things, being sensitive to the wishes of the parents and the financial means of the Godparents. For example, the parents may want to help select the baptismal garment, cross and icon. If the parents want a particularly expensive cross or a hand painted icon, then they may offer to pay for these themselves. In other instances, the parents may leave selection and procurement of all of these things completely to the Godparents. It is good if there is an understanding between all parties of how this will be done.
Forms, Fees and Honorariums
Baptismal Form and Fee
At St. Andrew, the church office must provide a baptism form and fee of $10 to the Archdiocese. If writing a check, it should be made out to the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of N.A. Upon receipt of the form and fee, the Archdiocese files a record of the Baptism and sends an official Baptismal Certificate (a recognized legal document), signed and sealed by the Metropolitan directly to the child’s parents.
The child’s parents must provide the church office with the baptism form and $10 fee BEFORE the baptism is confirmed on the church calendar. See the end of this booklet for a Baptism Form. The form can also be emailed to you by the church office.
If the child’s parents are pledging members of the parish, only the filing fee is required. If they are not pledge members, a minimum $100 donation to the parish is required in addition to the filing fee. This is to cover the expense of filling and emptying the font and cleaning up inside of the temple after the service.
It is traditional to make a thank offering to the priest and to the chanter. The amount of the donation is at the discretion of the offeror.
Families may choose to have a reception for the baptism of their child following the baptism. In some parishes a reception can be held in the parish hall or on the terrace outside the church. Some families choose to have a reception at their home or another location. All of these choices are up to the family.
If a baptism is performed during a fasting season, food at any reception must be Lenten.
At St. Andrew families may set out tables on the temple terrace and provide a simple reception for their child. They can set out the food and drink of choice and people attending the baptism are welcome to partake. It is expected that they will clean up the area after the reception. If the family wants to use the parish hall for a reception, they must arrange this advance by contacting the parish office.
Selecting Godparents for your Child
Godparents should be selected and approved by the priest before your child is born. This way the child can be celebrated upon birth by the Godparents, they can participate in the naming of the child and the churching service – all services that take place before the baptism of the child.
Your baby’s Godparents must be faithful, practicing, Orthodox Christians. You child must have at least one Godparent, and this person must be the same sex as the child. Another person can stand with the child (spouse or other person of the opposite sex) as well.
Godparents who are not members of the parish must provide a letter of introduction from their parish priest stating that they are in good canonical standing with the Orthodox Church. Parents must get the approval of the priest for any Godparents they desire for their child.
Special care should be taken in selecting Godparents. Elder Cleopa of Sihastria writes:
“Godparents should be chosen from among the most serious and pious of Orthodox Christians, regardless of what their social standing may be, for the Godparents are the spiritual guides for the Godchildren and have a greater responsibility than the biological parents. A Godparent must be a moderate person, of good moral character, gentle, and a good example in the society in which one dwells. He should know the Orthodox faith well, be faithful to the Creed, knowledgeable of Orthodox catechism and Holy Scripture and should attend church regularly.”
If a non-Orthodox person of the opposite sex of the child is asked to stand with the child during the baptism, he may stand as a witness but will not be registered as a Godparent. In no case may a non-Christian stand with the child during the baptism.
If a potential godparent has not received the sacraments within the last 12 months, he must receive confession and communion before the baptismal service.
Short List - What to Do
First: Select Godparents before birth of the child
With the approval of your priest, select Godparents for your child
Second: Let the Priest know you are in labor
The priest will prepare to come and say the first day prayers for you and the child
Third: Call the Priest as soon as the child is born
The Priest will come and say The Service of Prayer on the First Day after Childbirth
Fourth: Arrange for 8th day Naming Prayers
The Service of Prayer at the Naming of a Child When He Receiveth His Name, On the Eighth Day after His Birth. The Godparents should be present at the naming. This is done at the front doors of the temple.
Fifth: Schedule the 40 day Churching of mother and child
Parents and Godparents arrive at church before the start of Liturgy and wait at the Narthex doors for the Priest to come and perform the Service of Churching for mother and child
Sixth: Discuss the scheduling of the child’s baptism
When scheduling the 40 day churching, also discuss scheduling the baptism of the child with the Priest.
Seventh: Work with Godparents to prepare for the baptism of the child
Make sure to get the necessary items for the baptism, and if desired prepare for the reception following the baptism
Eighth: The baptism of the child
A joyous occasion! Make sure to invite family and friends.
Ninth: Communing of child
The child will be communed the first Sunday following the baptism, and should come forward, first in the communion line, with Godparents for three consecutive Sundays thereafter.