Father Joseph Rahal
Why Do We Church Newborn Children in the Orthodox Church?
There is a rich meaning behind everything we do in the Orthodox Church and everything we do is pointing us to Christ. Very often, on Sunday mornings, you will see the Priest walking to the back of the church and returning to the solea (platform of the Royal Doors and Iconostasis) with a baby in his arms and parents following during the Liturgy. We carry the baby, speaking the words of the Psalms as we go and venerate the holy icons and the holy altar. It is an ancient and Biblical tradition for every child to be presented to the Lord in the temple of worship. By continuing this practice in the Church, we follow after Christ Himself and His Mother, each of whom were presented in the temple. The Orthodox Church celebrates these as feasts days on February 2 and November 21 respectively.
In the Orthodox Church, it is customary for the mother and her child to come to the church temple on the fortieth day after birth for a prayer service to reunite the mother and unite the child to their faith community. A long time ago, it took nearly six weeks for a mother to recover from childbirth and the time immediately following birth was spent bonding with the newborn child and ensuring his or her health and nourishment. Mother and child did not leave the home until both were strong enough and when they were, the first place they went was to the temple (or the church).
Orthodox Christians present our offspring “in the temple” in order to point out the gift of new life which God has given to us, to incorporate that new life which has come into our church family, and to present this wondrous gift of new life back to God, who is our true Guardian and Protector, in thanksgiving. Practically speaking, women and their newborn children also need to be nurtured and cared for, physically and emotionally, by the members of their church family—the body of Christ.
In the Book of Genesis, we read that God made man—both women and men—in His image and likeness. He created male and female, blessed them, and commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). From this we know that childbearing is holy and blessed by God and that every child--every human being—is created in the image and likeness of God. This means that each one is created for communion with God.
Orthodox Christians believe that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the Holy Trinity—one in essence and undivided. God Himself exists in a community, we know that we are created to exist as persons who are part of a family. Orthodox Christians have our biological families and the family of God which is the body of Christ—the Church. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” (Psalm 127:3) The foundation and goal of our life together in our families is a life in Christ. When you walk into our church and look to the left side of the altar, the third icon to the left of the icon of the Theotokos is called the Icon of the Holy Family. When the priest meets the couple at the entrance of the church, he gives thanks to God for the recovery of the mother and the gift of this new child to the parents and to our Church family.
In the Gospel of Saint Luke, we read that Mary and Joseph took their Child, Jesus, to present him in the temple according to the law. They encountered an elderly man there by the name of Simeon. By the Holy Spirit, Simeon was promised that he would not see death before he saw the redemption of his people (Luke 2:25ff). When he saw the Child Jesus, he said, “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace” because he knew that he had witnessed, with his own eyes, the fulfillment of the promise. The holy prophetess Anna was present also, confirming its fulfillment (Luke 2:36-38).
Every time we present a child in church, we remember and present also the One who is our Lord, God, and Savior—Jesus Christ. We remember that the promise of salvation is still true and fulfilled today in Him who was born, crucified, and risen for our salvation—our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.
The story of the Presentation of our Lord from the Gospel of Saint Luke 2:22-38:
“Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. As it is written in the law of the Lord,
‘Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’, and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, ‘A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.’
And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it has been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace. According to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel.”
And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother,
“Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against, (yes a sword will pierce through your own soul also) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of great age and had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.”
SAINT GEORGE ANTIOCHIAN ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHURCH
كنيسة القديس جاورجيوس الأنطاكية الأرثوذكسية المسيحية
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