The Service Of the Holy Baptism

A simple orthodox guide of the service like a FAQ.

Thinking of baptizing your child? Know an adult who wants to become a member of the Orthodox Church?

We will support you and your family and help you make the right choices. Read our Baptism FAQ-it should answer most of your questions and help you prepare for your family baptism.

What should we bring to the baptism?

There are quite a lot of things needed for a baptism. Some are essential, others optional. The church can usually provide most things, but it is better if you come prepared.

What you should bring

  1. A set of new, clean, white clothes to put on the baby after the baptism. The baby should not wear these before the baptism. Bring the baby to church in his or her ordinary, colourful clothes, which you will take off when the baby is baptized.

    After the baptism you can dress the child in its special, new, white clothes. The priest will tell you when to do this. We call these new clothes the "garments of light" or "garments of incorruption." They symbolize the new person that we become after baptism-we are now members of Christ's body. These clothes should be all white.

  2. Two clean white towels. A large white towel is needed to wrap and dry the baby after the baptism and a smaller white towel is needed to hang on the side of the font. This smaller towel is for the priest to dry his hands.

  3. A small bottle of extra virgin olive oil. You can get this from any shop or supermarket.

  4. A bar of soap.

  5. A baptismal candle. This needs to be a large white candle, usually decorated with ribbons. The baptized person should keep this candle for his or her whole life.

  6. A small cross on a chain, preferably of gold or silver. These can usually be bought from the church. If you buy one from a jewellers, it is a good idea to check with the priest whether it is suitable or not.

  7. It is traditional in some Orthodox churches to give out sugared almonds (koufeta) to the guests at the baptism. These should be put in little gauze bags tied with ribbons, and an odd number of almonds should be put into each bag. These are not essential, but are customary in some places.

  8. A pack of baby wipes.

  9. Proof of the godparents' membership of the Orthodox Church, usually a baptismal certificate. The parents of the child should also bring their baptismal certificates and the baby's birth certificate.

What name can we give to the baby?

When we are baptized, we take the name of an Orthodox saint. That saint then becomes our protector and intercessor-our patron saint. If your family are from a traditional Orthodox country, the chances are that the name you choose will be fine. If you are not sure, please consult the priest. Many (though not all) names used in the UK are in fact Orthodox saints' names. Some Orthodox in the West will have two names, their Orthodox baptismal name and another name which they use outside the church. Remember to check whether the name is suitable before you come to the church. We are happy to advise you on this.

How much will it cost?

We do not charge for baptisms. However, the church is self financing, and we rely on people's generosity to help with our costs. It is usual to make a donation to the church to cover our expenses. The amount is up to you. Of course we understand that some people are able to give more than others. Any donation is welcome, however small.

If you want to buy crosses, candles or icons from the church these are individually priced.

Are adults baptized the same way as babies?

More or less. Of course most adults will not fit into the font, so we usually arrange something like a plastic bath for the baptism of adults. Also, do not worry, you are not expected to stand naked in the church! At adult baptisms one way is to get a one-piece swimming costume, one without patterns or decorations, preferably plain white. Sometimes candidates will wear a long white cotton shirt or shift on top of this. It is always a good idea to discuss these issues with the priest well in advance of the service.

What should we do after the baptism?

The person baptized should come to the church as often as possible to receive Holy Communion. This can be done in any Orthodox Church. It is required that the person receive Holy Communion at least on the first three Sundays following the baptism. It is the godparent's responsibility to ensure this happens. In the UK this may not be possible if you live very far from a church. In that case, do what you can.

Also it is traditional to avoid washing the baby for the first week after the baptism. It is up to you whether or not you follow this ancient custom. One thing you should not do, is wash the baptism clothes in the washing machine. Wash them in a bowl or bucket, and pour the water onto earth or soil afterwards. This is because the baby and therefore the clothes are covered in blessed oil and water. The water you wash the baby in the first time after baptism should also be poured onto earth, not down the plug hole.

Will the baptism be dangerous or make my baby sick?

When we put the baby in the water we first make sure the water is warm but not too hot. The dipping in water takes just a few seconds and then we dry the baby in a towel. Soon after this the baby is dressed again, so there should be no problems at all. If your baby has special health problems, talk to the priest and we can sometimes be flexible in serious cases.

Why do we baptize people?

Our Lord Jesus Christ was baptized by his cousin, John the Forerunner. Since the very beginning of Christianity, people have joined the church through baptism. In the Gospel Jesus Christ commands the disciples to go and baptize others in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The word BAPTIZE means to DIP, and the most important part of the baptism ceremony is the dipping of the person in the water 3 times.

But what does this dipping in water really mean?

Firstly, it is a washing of the person from sin. Sin are all those things we do which go against God's will. Just as when we take a shower we wash our bodies, baptism is a washing of the whole person, body and soul.

Secondly, when we join the Church we are joined to Jesus Christ. That means we share in his life. Christ died, was buried, and rose again to new life. When we are dipped in the water at baptism, it symbolizes our death and burial with Christ, and when we are lifted out of the water, it symbolizes our resurrection, our rising to new life, with Christ. We put on new white clothes to show that we have become a new kind of person.

The baptized person then becomes a member of the Church. No one can be a member of the Church until they are baptized. Just because your parents or family are Orthodox does not mean that you are Orthodox. You can become Orthodox, a member of the church, only through baptism.

Are only babies baptized?

No. You can be baptized at any age. We do not normally baptize babies younger than four months old, although we can, especially if there is an emergency, (for example if the baby is very ill). You can be baptized as an adult, as a child, or at any age. However, you can only be baptized once in your life. It is not possible to be re-baptized. It is usual to baptize babies between the ages of 4 and 12 months, but there is no time limit. St. Constantine was baptized on his death bed! Baptism of adults is done in much the same way as for babies.

So if baptism cleans us from sin, how come we baptize little babies who have not committed any sins?

When we are born we are born with something called "original sin." This is a difficult thing to understand. You could think of it this way: if a baby is born to a mother and father who are both great musicians, then the chances are, their baby will turn out to be good at music too.

With original sin, it means that, since the very first (original) sin was committed by the first (original) man (Adam) and since we are all in some way descended from him, we have a tendency, inherited from him, to commit sins. It is this original sin which we believe to be the cause of death.

Baptism washes away all sins, both original and actual. When we are born we are joined to Adam, and joined to his sinfulness and his death. Baptism joins us to Christ, so that we are joined to Christ's resurrection and life.

Don't worry too much if you do not quite understand this now.

So if baptism washes away our sin, how is it that people who are baptized go on to commit sins later in life?

Because we are still human, we are always surrounded by temptations, and our whole life is a struggle against those temptations. Even when baptized we may fall into sin and do things that we know are wrong. In the Church we have Confession and Holy Communion which help us in this struggle. Baptism is the first step on a long journey through life.

How can we prepare for a baptism? What do we need to do?

First you must choose a godparent for the person who is to be baptized. Normally we have a man as godparent for a boy or a woman for a girl, although this is not a strict rule. In the Orthodox Church we need only one Godparent for the ceremony of baptism, although there may be two.

Who can be a godparent?

The godparent must be a baptized Orthodox Christian in one of the recognized Orthodox Churches. This is essential. It is better to consult with the priest if you are not sure whether someone is qualified to be a godparent.

I was baptized as a Christian in another church, and now I want to become Orthodox. What should I do?

Christians from other churches such as the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church sometimes want to become Orthodox. This can be for many reasons: maybe you have married an Orthodox Christian, maybe you are dissatisfied with the church to which you belong, or perhaps you have come to know and love the Orthodox Church. Whatever the reason, you should take some time to really find out as much as you can about the church, what it believes, and what it does. Take your time, and make your decision carefully. It is a decision which will affect your whole life.

f you have decided to become Orthodox, and you were baptized in a Christian church in the name of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) then it is usual to receive you into the Orthodox Church by chrismation (see the outline of the service below.)

If, however, you belong to a church which does not believe in the Trinity, you will need to receive a full Orthodox baptism. If you are not sure about this, consult the priest. (Also you should be aware that the rules about this do vary somewhat from place to place, with some Orthodox Churches insisting on full baptism in every case.)

What actually happens in the church?

The service takes about 30 minutes. The main part of the service is the dipping of the baby into the water. But there are many other prayers and actions which take place. If you have not been to an Orthodox Baptism before, you may find our Baptism Guide helpful.

:: document maintained by Martin Almond.