Святі Тайни Хрещення та Миропомазання в Українській Православній Парафії св. Петра і Павла в Линдорі, Пенсильванія
Pennsylvania in February is cold and windy. This year proved no different. On the 6th of February, the snow was flying, and the wind was blowing. However, as the storm howled and blustered through the hills and valleys, warmth and love was found in the quiet town of Lyndora, at Sts Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Parish.
On this day, the snowy weather could not deter people from arriving to celebrate one of the most blessed events that occur within the life of the Church – the Baptism and Chrismation of a soul, as it enters the ranks of the faithful, and becomes a follower of Christ, and a member of His Body, the Church.
On this day, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel, Ruling Hierarch of the Western Eparchy, traveled over 7 hours, along with the seminarians of the St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary (STSUOTS), from South Bound Brook, New Jersey to officiate at the baptism of little Ethan Yurii Bobko, the son of parish pastor Fr. Yurii, a former seminarian of STSUOTS himself, and Dobrodijka Olha Bobko.
Bundled up against the cold wind, clergy and faithful began to arrive and fill the church. With uplifted spirits, laughing and giggling, everyone was excited to be a part of this momentous event, the baptism of the first child of their much-loved pastor and dobrodijka.
Soon the melodic sound of water could be heard, as it was gently poured into the font situated in the middle of the nave. The water tinkled as it swirled around and gently flowed, filling the vessel, in preparation of receiving the young child. The Mystery of Baptism is the door into the Church, the Kingdom of grace. It is with Baptism that Christian life begins. Holy Baptism “is the frontier that separates the members of Christ’s Body from those who are outside it.”
Visiting clergy, vested in gold lined the middle aisle of the church, awaiting the commencement of the celebration. Having traveled through the snow, were Protopresbyter William Diakiw - Butler, PA; Very Rev. Fr. Mykola Andrushkiv - St. Luke UOC in Warners, NY; Rev. Fr. Mark Swindel - Arnold, PA; Rev. Fr. Vasyl Dovgan - St. Nicholas UOC - Troy, NY; Rev. Fr. Vasyl Shak - St. Panteleimon UOC - Brooklyn, NY; Rev. Fr. Sviatoslav Hot - Holy Ascension UOC - Maplewood, NJ; Rev. Fr. John Charest - Sts Peter and Paul - Carnegie, PA; and Deacon Myroslav Mykytyuk - St. Sophia Seminary - South Bound Brook, NJ.
Eyes crinkled in smiles as the church echoed with the joyful gurgles of little Ethan, who dressed in white was lovingly held in the arms of his godfather, Subdeacon Mykola Zomchak, as his godmother, Dobrodijka Ilona Dovgan, fussed over him, making sure he was warm and happy.
His Eminence Archbishop Daniel approached the little group, who were standing expectantly in the Narthex, and the service began.
In the Baptismal service of the Orthodox Church, we find the following order: 1. Repentance and renunciation of the devil and all his works 2. Baptism for the remission of sins 3. Receiving the seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit in Chrismation. We find this very same order in the book of Acts: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the Apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts. 2.37-39).
At this first step of the baptism, Archbishop read a prayer, calling upon the Holy Spirit to expel Satan and all his angels from the presence of the candidate for baptism. He prayed that the spirits of evil not lay hold of him by temptation or any other torment. At this Archbishop Daniel blew upon the child, crosswise three times to symbolize the exorcising power of the Holy Spirit.
Then holding the child, the godparents turned to the West, away from the Altar and renounced Satan on behalf of little Ethan, spitting three times to symbolize the renouncement, and then they turned back towards the Altar, towards God, and three times pronounced their acceptance of Christ. To cement the acceptance, they recited the Creed.
His Eminence now led the godparents to the center of the church, near the font of water. Here Dobrodijka Ilona carefully removed Ethan’s outer garments, exposing his hands, legs, for the Archbishop to anoint.
Taking the oil, Vladyka anointed Ethan, making the sign of the Cross on Ethan’s chest – for healing of soul and body; his ears – for hearing the Faith; his hands – the Lord’s hands have made and fashioned him, and his feet – that they may walk in the way of God’s Commandments. Doing this Archbishop Daniel anointed the baby with the Oil of Gladness, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This is done to strengthen and prepare the little boy to live a good Christian life and lead a strong spiritual life.
Vladyka now turned towards the font and prepared the water for baptism. Water is used in cleansing. In baptism, it expresses the fact that through this Holy Sacrament, Christ cleanses us from sin. The Archbishop blessed the water in the baptismal font making the sign of the Cross three times over it and then anointed it with blessed olive oil. The fruit of the olive oil tree has been a symbol of peace and reconciliation between God and humans, since a dove brought an olive branch to Noah at the great flood described in the Old Testament.
As the godparents undressed the child, Vladyka Daniel invited all the children present in the parish to come and stand around the font, so they could see the baptism up close. For these older children, the baptism of little Ethan would always remain a memory, and another seed of faith planted in their souls that would sprout in their adulthood.
Taking the confused baby from his Godparents, Vladyka turned towards the font of water, holding the child high.
The immersion in water symbolizes death, death to this world, and everlasting life in Christ. The baptized person rises out of the font promising to surrender their life to Christ the Savior. The triple immersion symbolizes the three days spent by Christ in the tomb as well as the Holy Trinity.
Proclaiming, “The servant of God, Ethan, is baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”, Vladyka immersed the baby three times in the font, and then raising him high he returned the newly baptized infant back to his godparents, who now enveloped him in a new white garment – the Garment of Righteousness symbolizing the new life in Christ.
Having dried the baby, and wrapped him in the white cloth, Ethan was now prepared for his Chrismation. The Orthodox Church maintains the ancient practice of confirming the newly baptized Christian immediately after his baptism. Just as baptism is a personal “Pascha” (Easter) for each of us, Chrismation, makes us partakers in Christ’s personal Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit descends upon us, confirming us as full members of the Church. Chrismation is the ordination of laity. By this Sacrament we are made Christians and are ambassadors for Christ in this world.
Having recited the Prayer of Confirmation over Ethan, Archbishop Daniel proceeded to chrismate him, making the Sign of the Cross with the Holy Chrism on his forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth, ears, breast, hands and feet. At each anointing he proclaimed “The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
Ethan, now clothed in a new white garment (reminiscent of the shining robe in which Christ appeared at the Transfiguration) the choir sang, “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Alleluia...” three times, the “whole man” is now a temple of God. Father Yurii lead the child, held by the godparents, on his first steps as a Christian, as they processed around the baptismal font three times. At this very moment the angels in heaven express their joy and join in the singing, exuberant that a new soul is registered in the Book of Life.
Tradition teaches that it is at this point that God assigns a Guardian Angel to stay with the newly baptized person for the remainder of their earthly life.
Having read the Gospel, Archbishop Daniel turned to Ethan and blessed him. “You are justified. You are illumined. You have been sanctified. You are washed: in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God.”
He then wiped the Chrism from Ethan, saying: “You are baptized. You are illuminated. You are anointed with Chrism. You are sanctified. You are washed, in the Name of Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
His Eminence picked up a small pair of scissors in order to tonsure Ethan. However, he first told those present how when he was secretly baptized in Ukraine, during the Soviet persecution, the priest had given his mother a few strands of his hair that were cut, and she saved them, telling him of the story when he was an adult.
In order to continue the touching tradition, Vladyka took the first cuttings of hair and handed them to the baby’s mother for safekeeping. He continued to cut locks of hair from the child’s head, in the shape of the cross. This is an expression of gratitude from the child, who, having received an abundance of blessings through the sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation and having nothing to give God in return, offers part of its hair, which is symbolic of strength and dedication. Hair, in the Biblical story of Samson is equated with strength; thus the hair offered stands for all the person’s strength and potentials given over to God. Through this gift the newly baptized individual promises to serve God with all their strength and dedication. The cut hair is burned in the flame of a candle, symbolizing the first-offering from the Ethan to God.
At this point Ethan was getting tired and hungry. He began to whimper and cry, expressing his unhappiness at all this fuss and commotion. However, there was yet one more step to be completed. His Churching.
Archbishop Daniel took the crying baby gently in his arms and carried him to the back of the church. The cries turned to mere whimpers as His Eminence lifted him up and making the Sign of the Cross with the child before the doors of the church, said, “The servant of God Ethan is churched: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
He then carried the now quiet Ethan into the center of the Nave, and once again raised him high declaring, “I will go into Thy House. I will worship toward Thy Holy Temple in fear of Thee.”
Vladyka then brought him up to the Royal Gates and declared, “The servant of God, Ethan, is church, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Taking the child inside the Altar, His Eminence took him around the Altar table, stopping four times to gently touch Ethan’s head to each of the four corners of the Holy Table. This whole time Ethan did not make a sound, but, with eyes wide opened, quietly, and calmly looked around, taking in what he was seeing in complete silence.
Almost as a lullaby, His Eminence began to softly sing the Prayer of St. Simeon, as he returned Ethan from the heavenly world, back to the earthly, and laid him down upon the solea, to wait for his godparents to retrieve him.
“Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word: for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all people, a light of revelation to the gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel.”
And thus concluded the Baptism Service of little Ethan Yurii Bobko. As the heavens rejoiced and the angels sang, and the scribes entered his name in the Book of Life, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel gave final words of advice to the godparents of the newly illumined Child of God. He reminded them of their grave responsibility before God for the salvation and upbringing of Ethan. While gifts are fine, their main responsibility lies in ensuring that Ethan is raised to be a good Christian, filled with faith, brimming with good works, and eager to serve the Lord.
Turning to the camera, His Eminence greeted the family of Fr. Yurii and Dobrodijkra Olha Bobko who were watching in Ukraine. He congratulated them on the baptism of their grandson and assured them that they would all be praying for the little boy.
Turning to the congregation, Archbishop Daniel asked that everyone who had joined in the celebration, continue to celebrate the life of Ethan, and remember him in their daily prayers.
Ethan’s father, and parish pastor, Fr. Yurii Bobko concluded the day by himself thanking His Eminence for not fearing the inclement weather, and traveling all this way to baptize his son. He thanked his family back home and especially, with tears in his eyes, he thanked his wife for completing him, and giving him the gift of a child.
Introducing and thanking all the clergy who had traveled through the snow to join in the celebration, Fr. Yurii invited everyone to join him in the parish hall for refreshments, and a continuation of the celebration.
Outside the wind continued to blow, as cold icy snow pellets hit the windows, but, inside the church the candles glowed warmly, and souls of those present shown brightly. Having witnessed the baptism of Ethan, they each recollected their own baptisms, and hearing the deep prayers, were reminded of their own responsibilities before God.
While one child was baptized this day, dozens had renewed their baptismal convictions and with new energy and resolution, walked out of the church refreshed and renewed, shining brightly in the cloudy and dark world beyond.
May God grant newly illumined servant of God, Ethan Yurii, many happy, healthy, and blessed years! Mnohaya Lita!