So, a good friend or a family member has just had a child and you now have an invitation to their Christening. Whether you are a Greek who needs to brush up on the protocol or a non-Greek who might be unfamiliar with the tradition, you will need a clear sense of what to expect during the day, and the etiquette that goes along with attending a Greek Orthodox Christening. Here is some advice that can help:
Make Sure to RSVP
Greek Orthodox christenings tend to be fairly formal affairs. It isn’t uncommon for the family to hold a reception afterwards in the church hall, restaurant, a home, or even at a formal banquet hall. If you receive an invitation that has an RSVP date on it, be sure you respond either yes or no by the date provided. If an RSVP date exists, chances are pretty good the family needs you to respond so that they can get an accurate count for the food they will be serving.
Follow Church Customs
When you enter the church, take the lead of some of the Orthodox Christians you might see. Typically, when you walk into a Greek Orthodox church, you will take a moment to leave a donation in the collection basket, light a candle, and venerate an icon before getting seated.
Make a point of being there on time. While you may hear the phrase ‘We run on Greek time’ used liberally, church services usually run on a strict schedule, and once the christening starts, there are only certain moments in the ceremony in which you will be able to go inside the nave to find a seat without causing an obvious disruption. Usually, someone will be there acting as an usher to direct you towards an open seat.
Dress in Nice Clothes
If you are attending a Greek church, you will need to put on your best “church clothes”. Dresses are the preferred choices for women, and suits or a nice pair of slacks and a shirt is the best bet for men. The reason for this is that Orthodox Christian Churches in the United States are fairly formal, and it is considered poor etiquette to attend church dressed in clothes that are too casual.
Bring a Gift
In many Greek families, it isn’t typical to hold a baby shower. Instead, people wait to give gifts directly to the child during the Christening. It isn’t uncommon to receive nice cash gifts, gold coins, or savings bonds as a gift during the Christening. You should follow the tradition and do the same thing, and give a generous gift of cash or something that the child might need, during this time. Typically, the families use the money to begin a savings account for the child to help get them started in life. You can also gift the child a religious item such as an icon or a cross.
Remember that while the Greek Christening is a festive celebration, it is still a religious event. The Chrismation ceremony marks the beginning of a child’s life in the Orthodox Church, and while everybody loves the reception that comes afterwards, the true celebration is what takes place at church.
It is an honor to be invited to an event like this, and you should take measures to make sure those who invited you know that you appreciate the importance of the day to them, and that you want to celebrate their child’s chrismation as much as they do. Taking measures to make sure you’ve aware of traditions and how to behave is a perfect way to show them that you respect their culture, religion, and heritage.