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Frequently Asked Questions about Baptism

Subject:  Which Faith Group's Baptism is Acceptable?

Question:  "My fiancee is beginning study towards baptism in a Christian religion so that we may be married in the Greek Orthodox Church.  Since he has little formerly established religion from his youth he is doing what anyone else is doing in this millennia: surfing the internet for a church he feels comfortable with. But I have to believe that there are churches whose baptism the GOA will accept, and there are probably many that they will not.  Whereas I would like him to find his faith where ever it may be, it would at least be helpful if he considered churches that would allow us to marry in the Orthodox faith. Do you have any guidelines for this, or (however tactless it may be to ask) an approved Christian church list?"

Answer: Before I provide you with some information, I'm compelled to ask the following question: What's wrong with Greek Orthodoxy?

My research clearly indicates that couples who pray together stay together. However, this is more difficult to do when two people are from different faith backgrounds. Children also benefit when couples are able to be part of both a single church marriage and family. That's not to suggest that intermarried couples can't find happiness, because most do. It's only to suggest that when couples and families are single church couples and families, an entire layer of potential challenges is eliminated. So, here's my advice. Advocate for Orthodoxy in a respectful manner. Should your efforts facilitate some meaningful curiosity, have your fiancee write me if he has follow-up questions. With that stated, here's a partial listing that should prove helpful. For a comprehensive listing, consult the Chancellor in your Metropolis.

Generally speaking, the Sacrament of Marriage may be celebrated in the Orthodox Church if one of the partners is a member of one of the following Christian faith groups:

I hope this begins to help.

  • African Methodist Episcopal
  • Armenian Orthodox
  • Assembly of God
  • Baptist
  • Church of the Brethren
  • Coptic Orthodox Church
  • Disciples of Christ
  • Dutch Reformed
  • Episcopalian
  • Ethiopian Orthodox
  • Lutheran
  • Malankara Syrian Orthodox
  • Mennonite
  • Methodist
  • Moravian
  • Presbyterian
  • Roman Catholic
  • Syrian Orthodox of Antioch

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Subject:  Re-baptism and Changing Godparents

Question:  "I’m not happy with my son’s godmother. She’s absolutely impossible to warm up to. Can we re-baptize him and select another godparent?"

Answer: No, I'm afraid there is no way that your son can be re-baptized. From an Orthodox perspective, baptism is often compared to a spiritual birth. As such, just as we cannot reenter our mother's womb and be reborn, we can't be re-baptized.

As a result, here's what I would suggest. Rather than look at what you've described as an impossible challenge, ask God to help you begin seeing it as an opportunity. What do I mean by "an opportunity?" If God called you to choose this person, then He must have had His reasons. It is up to you to discover what His reasons might be. I offer the following suggestions which may help you discover those reasons.

I would seek to enhance and cultivate a relationship with your son's present Nouna. Ask her out for coffee. Get to know her better. Develop some trust between the two of you. Moreover, when you meet, after a few encounters, begin sending her messages like the following few: "Now that you've become my son's Godparent, I consider you an important part of my family now ..., my hope and prayer is that you will always be an important part of my son's life ..., you will always have a special place in our family." In other words, do what you can to make her more a part of your life, your son's life and your family's life. Should these suggestions help and, I suspect they will, then the needs you've articulated above should begin to be met.

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Subject:  Interfaith Couple Married Outside of the Orthodox Church

Question: "If an interfaith couple (Greek Orthodox to a non-Christian) is married outside of the Greek Orthodox church, can their children be baptized in the Greek Orthodox church assuming that the godparent is in good standing with the church?"

Answer: Most priests will seek to understand how an interreligious couple - where neither parent is in good standing with the Orthodox Church - will be able to help their children develop a Christian/Orthodox religious orientation. If the couple can help the priest understand how they will raise and nurture their children in the Orthodox Church many priests will agree to baptize them.

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Subject:  Godparents

Question: "Can my non-Orthodox friend be my son’s godparent?"

Answer: Only Greek Orthodox Christians who are in good standing with their church are permitted to participate in the sacraments. As such, your friend would not be allowed to assume the role of Godparent during the Sacrament of Baptism in the Orthodox Church. With the officiating priest's permission, your non-Orthodox friend might be given permission to stand beside an Orthodox Godparent during the sacrament to assist, but would not be considered the official sponsor/godparent.

In addition, it should also be noted that in the Orthodox Church, only one person is needed to fulfill this role. As such, in cases where the sponsor/Godparent is married, the other spouse is often affectionately referred to as a godparent by the baby's parent's.

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Subject:  Premarital Concerns

Question: "I'm Greek Orthodox and my Future wife is Roman Catholic. Getting married in the Greek Orthodox church is not a problem and we are looking forward to it. Baptizing and raising our children is a different story. She wants to raise them Catholic and I want to raise them Greek Orthodox. Is it possible to baptize the children in the Orthodox church and still have them participate in the Roman Catholic Traditions?  Will the Roman Catholic Church acknowledge them? We both want to honor and share our traditions and I hope there is some way that we can come to a compromise. Thanks for your help."

Answer: I am pleased that you’re both discussing your religious differences before you have children. I believe that if your discussions are prayerful and respectful, a Christ centered solution will eventually emerge. As you discuss this issue together, here are some additional factors you should consider.

Helping your children gain a respect for each parent's faith tradition is one thing. Trying to raise them in both partner’s faith traditions is an entirely other matter. My research suggests the latter approach simply does not work well.

Children require consistency and a specific religious structure if they are to develop a religious identity. If you seek to bring them up in both faith traditions, I am afraid that the probability is lower that they will bond to either spouse’s faith tradition. Expecting them to adjust to a different way of worship and new people from one Sunday to the next simply does not work well. Teaching them respect for both the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church, familiarizing them with the differences and similarities is a better and healthier approach.

With regard to your other questions, here is some additional information that should prove helpful to you in your efforts to reach some mutually satisfying decisions regarding you’re your future children’s religious and spiritual development.

The Orthodox Church does not permit its faithful to participate in non-Orthodox sacraments. The implications of this pastoral guideline as it applies to your other questions are twofold. First, if you choose to baptize your children Orthodox, they will not be permitted to receive the sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church. Second, if you choose to raise and nurture your children in the Catholic Church, this decision might have an adverse impact on your relationship with your Church. For example, you might not be permitted to assume a leadership position in your community in the future. This last observation should be discussed more carefully with your parish priest.

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Subject:  Baptism in Both Spouses Churches

Question: "My husband strongly desires to baptize our second child in the Catholic church.  I am adamant on baptizing the child in the Greek Orthodox church. Is it possible to have the child baptized Catholic in South Carolina were his parents live, and Greek Orthodox in New Jersey where my parents are? I know that wars are fought over religion and I certainly don't want one in my household."

Answer: I appreciate your concerns and pray you will both reach some mutually satisfying resolutions. They have been echoed by a number of intermarried couples like yourselves.

Unfortunately, it is not possible for you to proceed as you have described above. The reason is because the Orthodox Church does not re-baptize people who have previously been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity and in water.

I am sorry you find yourselves in this predicament. Please consider reviewing the following article in the Interfaith Marriage Web site entitled:  In Which Church Will the Children be Baptized. I hope the information in this article can help you both make some mutually satisfying decisions as you seek to cultivate a Christian home environment.

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Subject:  Getting Re-baptized

Question: "My fiancee has been baptized in the Episcopalian Church. Does he need to get re-baptized if we want to get married in the Orthodox Church?"

Answer: In a word, no. As long as your fiancee has been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity and in water, and he can provide evidence of this baptism in the form of an official baptismal certificate, he will not have to be re-baptized in the Orthodox Church before you get married in the Orthodox Church.

With that stated, if you both haven’t discussed the pros and cons of becoming a single church couple as opposed to remaining an Inter-Christian couple, I would urge you to do so. My extensive work with intermarried couples has taught me that whenever it is possible, the optimal way of worshiping God is as a single church couple where both partners are members of the same Christian faith group. If there are no good reasons precluding you both from becoming a single church couple, I would suggest you prayerfully consider this option. For example, if your partner chooses to convert, such a choice would permit you both to fully participate in the Liturgy and sacramental life of the Orthodox Church. This choice would also serve to enhance your efforts to cultivate marital satisfaction and oneness.

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Subject:  Concern about Language

Question: “My wife converted to Greek Orthodox just before our wedding. Since then, we have participated in the Greek Church on holidays and weddings. Since most of the liturgy is done in Greek, my wife does not understand anything that is being said and neither do I. Our priest and others have tried to help, but their advice has not been helpful.

We now have a 9 month old baby and my wife feels as if she is in the dark about our religion. She has many questions I can’t answer. This makes this worse. She is now talking about going back to her church and baptizing the baby there. At this point I feel like I am desperate and just wish someone could help. I want my wife to feel confident about being Greek Orthodox. Any suggestions?”

Answer: I am not exactly certain what your questions are. So, I am hoping what I share will begin to prove helpful. If it doesn't, contact me again. When you contact me again, please identify what your specific questions are.

I can't say I blame your wife. You've described her as a believer and at this point in time she is not being fed because of the great emphasis on culture and language in your community. Moreover, it doesn't make it any easier for her when you can't help her understand. This can certainly be disillusioning and frustrating for the faithful. As a result, here are a few suggestions that may or may not seem appropriate for you. However, when choosing a path to follow, try to keep your wife and family's needs in focus and not simply your own.

1. Have you ever thought about trying another Greek Orthodox Church that uses considerably more English? This is hard for cradle Greek Orthodox to hear because the church they are attending is a family church and they have many strong emotional attachments to their church. This option has worked for many couples like yourselves.

2. Consider reviewing the following resource together. This is a good source of information that will benefit you, your wife and future children.

Rouvelas, M. (2002).  A guide to Greek traditions and customs in America: Second Edition. Bethesda, MD:  Nea Attiki Press.

3. Do not permit these challenges to go unattended. If they are ignored, they will have an adverse affect on your marriage's well-being and family stability. They could also negatively affect your children's growing perspective of religion and God.

4. Finally, with regard to what you've written, your wife has sacrificed a lot for you and your family. I believe you must acknowledge this and do all you can to help her understand how grateful you are to her for her many sacrifices. You must then both follow Christ, asking Him to guide you both to some mutually satisfying resolutions. This may be a painful process, but it will lead you both toward God's restorative hope, love and increased oneness.

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Subjects:  Godparents

Question

I’m writing to ask a question regarding Baptism. Several years ago I baptized my best friend’s son, I recently had a son myself and asked my friend if she would be the godmother. She happily accepted, however when I’ve told people that she will be the godmother the response is usually “I didn’t think that was allowed, since you baptized her son?”. Is there a restriction in our faith that prohibits my friend from baptizing my son since I am the nouna of her son? Your advice is appreciated.

Answer

To my knowledge, the only persons who are not permitted to assume a godparent's role are as follows:

Non-Orthodox/non-Christians

Parents of the child

Orthodox who are not in good standing with the Church

Mentally challenged persons

Monks

Clergy

Minors

Immoral persons

One final thought. When parents attempt to select a godparent, it is often suggested that we look beyond our immediate family and present relationships. This strategy permits us to expand our relationships within the Body of Christ while also permitting new relationships to form. That stated, I could not find a canonical prohibition precluding what you have inquired about.

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Catholic Married in the Orthodox Church Desires to Become Catholic Godparent

Question: I was asked by a dear friend to be the Godmother of her child (Roman Catholic).  I was baptized Roman Catholic and received the Sacraments in my parents' Catholic Church.  I married my husband in a Greek Orthodox Church in July 2010.  I did not convert to Greek Orthodoxy though we have chosen to raise our (future) children Greek Orthodox. Will I be able to baptize my friend's child even though I received the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony in a Greek Orthodox Church? If so, what steps will I need to take to successfully baptize the child? My husband and I are currently members of a Greek Orthodox Church.

Answer: Based on the information that follows, your decision to marry and baptize your children in the Orthodox Church should NOT preclude you from becoming this child's godmother. However, before accepting this honor and responsibility, you should validate what follows with a Roman Catholic priest.

"...the dialogue between Catholics and Eastern Orthodox in the United States has recommended that all weddings between their faithful take place in an Eastern Orthodox ceremony, since this is the only way the Orthodox party can remain in good standing in his or her church."

"The Catholic party should know that if - given the circumstances of the marriage - the children are brought up Orthodox, his or her relationship to the Catholic Church will not be jeopardized. Since Catholics and Orthodox share the same sacraments, the spiritual formation of children in authentic Christian doctrine and ways of Christian living would, for the most part, be similar in either church."

The above quotes were taken from:  Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (2008). When a Catholic Marries an Orthodox Christian: From the Walking Together Series. [Brochure].

Finally, regarding your question related to the steps you must take, if I were you, both you and your friend should schedule an appointment with the Catholic priest who will be doing the baptism to discuss what will be needed.

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Godparents

Question: I have a question that I hope you can answer.  I am of Greek Orthodox faith and was asked by my Catholic friends to baptize their son.  Will the Greek Orthodox church allow me to perform this sacrament in the Catholic Church?

Answer: At present, the Greek Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church do not share their sacraments. For this reason, the Orthodox Church would instruct you to respectfully thank your friend and decline the invitation. Beyond the theological reasons that preclude sacramental participation between Orthodox and Catholics, the following practical concern is also worth mentioning:  This role you've inquired about is not simply an honorary role. Along with this child's parents, the godparent should be prepared to assume charge of this child's religious development. Since you are not Catholic, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for you to fulfill this role.

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Subject:  Non-Orthodox Baptisms

Question: I am Greek Orthodox and my fiancee is not, however he was baptized in a non-denominational church...does this qualify as a baptism that is recognized by the Orthodox Church?  I cannot seem to find a straight answer on this topic.  Thank you in advance for your time and consideration!

Answer: There are literally thousands of faith groups in existence that refer to themselves as Christian, and this list continues to grow. It is thus almost impossible to keep a comprehensive list of all faith groups whose baptism is acceptable. However, the following guidelines are generally helpful determine if the non-Orthodox partner's baptism is acceptable:

The non-Orthodox partner must have been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity and in water.

S/he must be able to provide a copy of his/her official baptismal record or evidence of his/her baptism on church stationary. In most cases, one of these documents will suffice.

In addition, the hierarch (bishop) decides which baptisms are acceptable and which are not. If you have any doubts about your fiancee's baptism, you should consult your priest. He will either provide a definitive answer or consult the Metropolis/Metropolitan for an answer.

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Subject: Re-Baptism

Commentary and Questions: If my girlfriend and I want to marry, but she is Orthodox and I am a non-Orthodox Bible-believing Christian, what is the process we need to follow? If I was baptized once, do I have to be baptized again? If yes, for what? It is said that it is one baptism in Christ, in the name on the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so why should I do it again if I was conscious of my sins the first time? I've read that I have to recognize that I am a heretic and a schismatic, but can someone tell me why? What did I do wrong? All my life I tried to get closer to God and to follow him and respect his warnings, counsel, orders and laws. Thank you for your answer and for the time.

 

Answer: There are literally thousands of groups around the world that call themselves Christians. As a way to differentiate between these groups and deal all this complexity and diversity, the Orthodox church has established the following simple guideline to assist its leaders in discerning which mixed-religious couples qualify for marriage and which do not.  The Orthodox Church only administers the Sacrament of Marriage to baptized Christians where one partner is Orthodox, and in good standing with the Orthodox Church, and the other partner has been baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity and in water.

 

As a result, in order for you to marry in the Orthodox Church you must be baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity and in water. Further, you must provide written proof of your baptism on official stationary.  If you cannot provide proof, then you will likely have to be baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity and in water before you can get married.

 

Finally, please do not misunderstand the Orthodox Church’s guidelines. You did not do anything wrong. As I stated above, this minimal requirement has been established to help its leaders discern who is a Christian and who is not a Christian.

 

I hope this helps answer most of your questions. Write me back if you have follow-up questions.

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Subject: Adult Baptism

 

Commentary and Question: I don't know the rules. I would like to know if I can be baptized in the church if I have never been baptized? My grandfather is Greek Orthodox and has always felt strongly about his religion. In my case, since I married a man that has no faith in anything, I didn't practice my faith until now!  My family means the world to me and I allowed my children to explore to find their own beliefs. However, today I encountered a big question. My youngest asked me why I believe and am not baptized! I would like to be baptized, so can you please tell me the steps I need to take to have this done?

 

Answer: Yes, it's never too late to be baptized. If I were you, I would consult a Greek Orthodox priest in your area with your questions. He will provide more guidance.

 

Generally, before your baptism, you he will provide an overview of the Orthodox faith and map out a plan to help you receive the Sacrament of Baptism. If you have problems during this process, you may contact me and I will do what I can to be of further assistance.

 

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you.

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Subject: Becoming a Godparent

Commentary and Question: I am of Greek Orthodox faith and my husband is not Greek Orthodox and not very religious. We were married in the Greek Church and agreed to raise our family in the Greek Church because he was never big into his own religion.  We had our first son four months ago, and he recently received his 40 day blessing. It’s getting close to the time that we would have to baptize the baby, but we’ve run into the following problem: I don’t have family in the state where we live and none of my friends are Greek Orthodox. I know the godparents are supposed to be Greek Orthodox so my husband’s brother has decided to convert to be the godfather.  How would we go about having that done? Or is it possible for him to baptize my son without having to convert?

 

Answer: Congratulations! I pray your son grows into a faith in Christ and acquires a strong love of God.

 

You are correct, only Greek Orthodox Christians who are in good standing with the church are permitted to participate in the sacraments. As such, your husband's brother would not be permitted to assume the role of Godparent during the Sacrament of Baptism in the Orthodox Church unless he converts.

 

The conversion process is as follows:

 

After reviewing this information, you should contact a Greek Orthodox priest who is located in your area to confirm what I've written. The priest who eventually guides him through the process of conversion will be in the best position to answer all your specific questions and concerns. Here are some typical things that priests do to prepare baptized non-Greek Orthodox Christians for conversion.

1. Your brother-in-law can expect to do some reading about the Greek Orthodox Church.

2. He will likely meet with the priest for a minimum of 3 - 6 times. These meetings may take place in a group setting or be one-on-one meetings. During these meetings the priest will provide him with an overview of the Greek Orthodox Church's history, faith and worship. (I suggest you consider attending these meetings. I find that parents often benefit from the information that's shared as much as the prospective convert. Talk to the priest about this option.)

3. This process usually takes between 2-6 months.

4. At the end of the preparation process, he will be received into the Orthodox Church through the Sacrament of Chrismation. The priest who takes him through this process will explain the significance of this Sacrament, as well as answer any and all of your other questions/concerns.

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