The role of the Godparent in the Orthodox Church
“Those who have been baptized into Christ
have put on Christ… Alleluia.”
The role of the Godparent in the Orthodox Church is an important one. Along with the parents, the Godparent is charged with the responsibility of assisting in the spiritual development of the child. In some cultures, the Godparent is addressed by a special name ( an example is nonos/nona in Greek.) Whether a blood relative or not, the Godparent is now embraced as part of the “spiritual family” of that child.
While it is an honour to be asked to be a godparent, one should make sure that the potential sponsor will be committed to the responsibility. The role must be honoured and not taken lightly. Every godparent will be accountable to God as to whether or not he or she has fulfilled their duties. Prospective godparents must know their faith, or at least be in the process of learning their faith and be committed to a life in Christ. One problem today is that people who are called upon to be godparents do not know their faith and are not regular participants in the life of the Church. This is also true for some parents. Consequently, a child who is baptized may never know anything about Jesus Christ and the Church
In the early Church heavy emphasis was placed on the educating of the faithful and those who desired to come into the Christian faith. As Christianity spread in a pagan world, the need to teach individuals before their baptisms became crucial. The systematic instruction, which was a preparatory stage for baptism was and is called "catechism."
During catechism one learned the basic elements of the Christian faith and moral life. We see the importance of these teachings and the teachings themselves in the 4th Prebaptismal Catechesis of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. The candidate had to be introduced by one of the faithful, called anadochos, (the godparent to be) and be examined by the "doctors" (the Bishops) who were in charge of the catechumens, to ensure that clear spiritual motives led him to enter the Church. Other than in cases of urgency, baptism was not something that was rushed. Not only did the candidate need to understand the teachings of Christ and the Church, but he also had to be living by them.
The anadochos which means one who receives (the person out of the font), was responsible for the candidate and played a very important role during the process of his Catechesis and even after the candidate had been baptized. This obviously took place primarily with adult candidates or young people. However, as the faith spread and as entire families were coming into the Body of Christ, infant baptism became more the norm rather than the exception. With the emergence and common practice of infant baptism, the anadochos was called upon to be the spokesperson for the infant at their baptism.
Although great care and many prayers are put forth by the parents in choosing the Godparent for their child, sometimes after the baptism the relationship does not grow. Other than the occasional birthday and Christmas gifts, some Godchildren and Godparents rarely see or talk to each other. As with any relationship, this spiritual one needs to be fostered and cared for in order for it to develop. The best way for this relationship to grow is through prayer. Pray for your Godchild and his or her parents, and the parents should encourage their child to pray for the Godparents. By doing this you are encouraging a relationship and giving it the spiritual basis on which to mature.
Other practical ideas for maintaining a relationship with your Godchild are to celebrate the anniversary of the baptism with a card or a telephone call. Along with learning about the child’s patron saint, learn about the saint whose feast day is celebrated on the date of his or her baptism and share the story of that saint’s life with your Godchild.
Model your faith through your actions. Understand the sacraments as well as the teachings of the church so that you will be able to answer questions that your Godchild may have.
Encourage the faith life through the types of gifts that you give your Godchild. Some examples of gifts are a bible, prayer book, books on the lives of saints, prayer rope, etc. By doing this you are giving tools to help your Godchild grow in the faith and are helping him/her to start a personal library of Orthodox teachings.
If you live in close proximity to your Godchild make yourself available to spend time with him or her. Find out when school activities and sports events are scheduled and try to go to a few. Plan a special time, whether for lunch or a trip to the zoo, to be with your Godchild. These times together will only help to make your relationship closer.
If you live far away, call, write, or email your Godchild. Send a letter at the beginning of a church season (Advent, Lent, etc.) to let him or her know that you will be praying for him. If possible, plan visits to see your Godchild.