Here is my attempt at recreating what I talked about today in church. Hopefully I don’t leave too much out:
This time of the year we always have a bunch of services with John the Baptist as a major character – the Sundays before and after Epiphany, the two services of Epiphany itself and on Jan. 7 the feast day proper of John. John is of course a major figure in Orthodoxy, and he seems to run an impressive third in importance after Christ and Mary – his birthday, along with theirs, is one of the only three we celebrate on the calendar, to give just one example. There is a lot to talk about concerning John, but one thing that interests me about him is that he is the patron saint of godparents. Makes sense- he baptized Christ himself. Godparents have been on my radar screen these past couple of years because of the birth of our children – we had to think about and choose good people for our own kids, and in the meantime Prez and I have become godparents to some truly wonderful babies and toddlers.
What is the purpose of a godparent? They are there as a sponsor for baptism, but ultimately their purpose is to make sure the godchild is being brought up in the faith. That means if your godchild doesn’t go to church or live the life of a Christian, you need to get involved and do your best to make this happen. Our criteria for choosing a godparent is often to honor a friend or a sibling, rather than choosing someone who will keep an eye on the religious upbringing. The Church considers the godparent-godchild relationship to be even more important than a blood one – that is why you cannot marry the godchild of your own parent, for example. Technically, you are not supposed to even have relatives as godparents but I imagine this practice came about in small villages, where you would not be able to marry anyone if the small number of families there all had godparent connections.
It is convenient that the barrage of days involving John the Baptist comes at the beginning of the year because this is when, as Fr. Dean pointed out, people make the dreaded new year’s resolutions. Such things have become almost points of ridicule because few people actually follow through on resolutions to lose weight, get the taxes done by the end of January (that one was me last year, and I failed miserably) and other things. But resolutions have a good side because at the least they raise our self-awareness and make us think about our lives. We all have godparents, many of us have godchildren, and some of us may have to pick godparents for our children now or in the future.
So, I will not ask you to make a resolution, but I think in the spirit of John the Baptist we can challenge ourselves. Reach out to your godchild if he does not go to church or if you have not been in contact in a while. Don’t browbeat him, but invite him to church and then lunch afterwars one Sunday. If you have lost touch with your own godparent, get in contact and do the same. If you are having a baby or planning to baptize a child, or even if you are getting married, choose the sponsor with care. Remember, you are not doing it to honor someone – you are doing it for the well-being of your child.
These challenges are very doable, and in the first two cases require nothing more than a phone call and a calendar. Reach out and/or choose wisely, whatever the case may be, and make this a priority in the new year.