Godparents – Why are they necessary?
In most countries of the world, to immigrate to another country and become a permanent resident, you will require a sponsor. A sponsor has to be someone who is already a citizen or a permanent resident in that country to which you wish to emigrate and who is willing to vouch for you, look after you, help you get ‘on your feet’, find a job, find a place to live, learn the rule of the country and adopt the local way of life. Can you imagine if the new migrant did not have a sponsor? Imagine how hard life would be with nobody to show them the way. Many migrants would fall into despair and fail in their new country. Quite possibly, they would eventually leave and go back to their old country.
In the Church the same principles apply. When welcoming a new person (a catechumen), it is a rule of the Church that they are assigned a sponsor. The sponsor is often given the name ‘Godparent’, especially when the catechumen is a child. The sponsor must be a baptised member of the Church and in good standing with the Church. In the early Church, the Bishop had to approve people to be allowed to sponsor others into the Church. Church literature of the second century suggests that sponsors of the first centuries were usually deacons, deaconesses, hermits, virgins, and in general, persons dedicated to the service of the Church and thus capable of teaching the newly-baptised in the truths of the Christian Faith. According to the “Apostolic Canons” (3, 16), a male Christian was obliged to take one deacon, and a woman one deaconess, as sponsor. This practice has been maintained in the Church ever since, i.e., a person baptised is required to be sponsored by one person of the same sex. According to the Canons of the Church (Rudder ch 50, pt 2), the person baptised “when he leaves the saving bath, must be received by one faithful person”.
People can be baptised at any age. Usually if they are born into an Orthodox Christian family, they are baptised as soon as possible. However, other people learn about God later in life and may choose to be baptised as teenagers or adults. If one is baptised as a baby, then the Godparent takes on the responsibility of promising, on behalf of the child, to keep the Faith. If the catechumen is of age when baptised, then the sponsor is more of a coach or guide for the catechumen who must take personal responsibility for their own decision to become a Christian. So as you can see, to serve as a Godparent is both a special honour and imposes responsibilities.
If you are a Godparent, you are responsible to God and your Godchild to:
- Model your Faith through your actions. Understand the Sacraments as well as the teachings of the Church so that you will be able to answer questions that your Godchild may have.
- Encourage the Faith life through the types of gifts you give your Godchild. Some examples are a Bible, prayer book, lives of Saints, prayer rope, etc. By doing this you are giving tools to help your Godchild grow in the Faith.
- Ask what your Godchild is learning in Sunday school… Discuss the lesson of the week.
- Make your Godchild “one of the family”. Include your Godchild, and his or her parents and siblings, in your own family’s “social” events: reunions, picnics, camping trips, and outings.
† Fr N. S.
Source: August-September 2014 Lychnos Edition