The Rev. Stanley S. Harakas is a priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and is Archbishop lakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology Emeritus in the field of Orthodox Christian Ethics at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA. Fr. Harakas is the author of five pamphlets and fifteen books, both scholarly and popular, and over one hundred thirty published scholarly articles and book contributions. For twenty-one years (1980-2000), he was a weekly columnist in the national Greek-American newspaper, The Hellenic Chronicle. He is a beloved teacher to generations of Greek Orthodox Christians in America, thanks to his many years as a professor and his prolific writings.
On February 2, our Orthodox Church celebrates a beautiful moment in the life of Christ – The Presentation of Christ at the Temple. According to the Jewish practice at that time, the first-born son of a family was to be brought forty days after his birth to the Temple in Jerusalem for sacrifices to be made. Since the coming Messiah was expected to be a first-born son, it was done in anticipation of the Messiah’s coming.
In the case of Jesus, an old prophet, Symeon and an old prophetess, Anna, were in the Temple when Mary and Joseph brought the little Jesus to the Temple for the prescribed sacrifices. Symeon recognized that, indeed, this little boy was the Messiah. The Bible describes the event: “He took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘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 peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel’.”
On the basis of this event, the Church invites parents to bring their newly born children for a “churching” service, but it includes both boys and girls, and not only the first-born. Around the fortieth day, the Priest meets the parents and their child at the Church entrance. The Priest begins by offering prayers whose themes are God’s work of creation and thanksgiving for the preservation of the life of the mother.
The priest also prays for the newborn child, in anticipation of the child’s baptism: “Bless this child which has been born of her; increase it, sanctify it, give it understanding and a prudent and virtuous mind; for You alone have brought it into being . . . so that he (she) might . . . be numbered with Your holy Flock.”
Then, the Priest takes the child in his hands and enters the sanctuary. The rubrics read: “Taking up the child, the Priest lifts it up in the sign of the Cross before the Gates of the Temple, saying: ‘The servant of God (Name) is churched, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit.’ Amen.” This is repeated in the middle of the church and once more at the front of the sanctuary. The repetition of the words of Symeon takes place, and then a male child is taken around the Altar, while girls are brought up to the Iconostasis.
The Priest then invites the parents forward to receive their child, now “presented to the Lord and his Church.” This rite has clear parallels to the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. It serves to initiate the child into the Christian community, even before Baptism. So, if you were baptized as a child in the Orthodox Church, you were probably “churched,” meaning that you were dedicated to God and His service during the first days of your life.
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