Monday, May 2, 2011

Serbian Orthodox Baptism

My host sisters' cousin's son's (host nephew?) baptism was the first I'd ever attended so I don't have much to compare it with. It's a very important event for the whole family and their friends so many are invited to the baptism itself and the kafana celebration after. The small Orthodox church was packed with about fifty friends and family members. My host sister who lives in Belgrade came to Nis for the baptism because it's so significant for the baby boy baptized and his parents.

The Godparents held the baby for most of the ceremony and they are not allowed to be blood-related. The priest walked in a circle around the altar sprinkling water on each of us and the boy's Godparents, Mother, and Father walked behind him holding candles. My host dad said normally everyone walks in this circle but there wasn't enough space so we observed.

This icon of Mary and Jesus is very significant in the Orthodox church. It's difficult to see in this picture but at the bottom towards the left there is a third hand. Dating back to the 8th century, the hand is said to be one of St. John of Damascus, a defender of holy icons. The emporer punished St. John and ordered him to cut his hand off and put it on the city square. After cutting off his hand he prayed and dreamt of the Virgin Mary healing his hand because he held his faith above all. To express his gratitude to Mary he put a silver copy of his cut hand in this icon called Three Handed Virgin.

Again I don't know what other baptism proceedings are like but the part of this day that seemed the most unique was the kafana celebration afterwards. The baptism party drove to one of Nis's most famous and popular kafanas and we ate, sang, and danced for six hours!

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