Sunday, August 08, 2010

Faith, Hope, Love, and Baptism

This summer we had our baby baptized! Baptism is a big day in the Armenian Church. It is the day that you become a full member of the church. Before I really learned anything at all about the Armenian Church, I knew that I had been baptized, but didn't understand it when my mom told my sister that she couldn't go through the confirmation class/process at the Methodist church my sister and I attended regularly at the time because she had already been confirmed when she was baptized.

Already confirmed? What? To me, confirmation was something that you do in the 3rd or 4th grade, as many of my friends who attended Episcopal or Catholic (or in this case, Methodist) churches did. Confirmation was separate from baptism, something that was set aside for people who were old enough to make the decision to join the church. And those churches who didn't do confirmation didn't have infant baptism anyway, and you only got baptized when you made the decision to get baptized (as my dad did when he was an adult in a Baptist church), so you didn't need a separate confirmation. How could the Armenian Church do it to babies?

When I did more research, I realized that confirmation (called "chrismation" in the Armenian Church) is a separate sacrament, but done at the same time. Chrismation is when the priest marks you with Holy Muron and you are officially a member of the Armenian Church. You also have your first communion when you are baptized (again, a separate sacrament, but done at the same time). This three-in-one ceremony ended up being very very convenient for me, as the last time I attended Badarak before the time I went when I was 22 was when I was in the third grade. Although I didn't know a thing when I started going to Armenian Church, I was already a full-fledged member!

I came to the conclusion that this lack of a separate confirmation ceremony was probably born out of necessity. Or if not as a direct consequence, it sure helped the Armenians maintain their identity through thousands of years. When you are constantly persecuted or under attack, as Armenians have often been in their history, anything that makes membership in a group or organization easier is going to help that organization or community survive. Maybe you didn't have a church near you. Maybe you were forbidden to go, or the church was outlawed. Maybe you had been displaced from your home. All these situations are ones that Armenians have faced in the last century, but they are nothing new.

Just think, though- if you could manage to get to a church, or have a priest secretly visit you, you were home free! And even if you could not get to a church for many years (if ever, if your situation was really bad), you were still a part of something bigger than yourself, part of a greater communion of Armenians.

And this is why I am grateful that I was able to have my daughter baptized into the Armenian Church, but perhaps even more grateful that my 17 month old niece, who lives in the city where I grew up (where there is no Armenian Church parish), was also able to be baptized at the same time. She is, like her mother before her, her grandmother before her, her great-grandmother before her, and back for countless generations, a member of the Armenian Church for life, no matter where she goes or what she does.