by Protodeacon Rodney Torbic
Now is the time to devote particular attention to the relationship established between the God-child and the God-parents. This relationship is formed at Holy Baptism and lasts throughout life. Eternal life is the goal of the relationship.
Holy Baptism is a life transforming event. The person's identity is changed forever. At Holy Baptism, the person becomes known as a "Christian". This new identity will define the person's being and will serve as a constant point of reference.
During the Holy Sacrament, Satan is renounced and faith is professed in Jesus Christ as King and as God. Then newly baptized person "puts on Christ. "The newly baptized dies with Christ and rises with Him (Rom. 6,3-11).
Fr. Anthony Conairis, the noted Orthodox writer, states the Orthodox Church baptizes infants as an expression of God's love. It shows God loves us and accepts us before we can ever know Him or love Him. According to Fr. Conairis, infants are baptized not because they believe, but in order that they might believe (Conairis, These are the Sacraments, p. 26).
One Sponsor is required at Baptism but the customary practice is to have two, a God-father and a God-mother. The Kum and Kuma as they are known in the Serbian Orthodox Church are called upon to answer the questions regarding the rejection of Satan and the acceptance of Christ. They read the Profession of Faith - The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.
The duties of the Kumovi during the celebration of the Sacrament emphasize the importance of the God-parents being practicing Orthodox Christians. One authority puts it this way: "How can a non-Orthodox person confess the Creed of the Church which he does not belong or promise to sponsor someone into a Church of which he is not a member?" (Ibid.)
Fr. Vojislav Dosenovich, the beloved Serbian Orthodox priest whose writings are widely acclaimed, notes that Baptism is the beginning of the spiritual life as birth is the beginning of the physical life. According to Fr. Dosenovich, the relationship formed between Kum and Kumce is a spiritual relationship as valid as the blood relationship (Dosenovich, Spiritual Reminder, Kumstvo-God-parenthood).
The Kumovi assume an obligation to educate the Kumce in the Orthodox Faith. They are to lead the child in the spiritual life. Being Kum and Kuma is not limited to the brief and honorable participation in the Holy Sacrament. The Sacrament is the important beginning. Fr. Dosenovich illustrates the continuing important role of the Kumovi in the child's spiritual development by reciting the Serbian saying: "God in heaven and Kum on earth."
When an individual or married couple accept the honor which comes from being chosen as Kum and Kuma, time must be devoted to considering the spiritual well-being of the child as he or she progresses in life. The Kumovi must ask themselves what they can do to enhance the spiritual growth and participation of the child in the Orthodox way of life. The Kumovi should always remember the newly baptized child in prayer.
Parents need to exercise serious thought when approaching the would be Kum and Kuma. The impact of the choice is far-reaching. In Serbian Orthodox families, Kumovi relationships often can be traced through generations. The selection can affect and exclude the availability of certain individuals as marriage partners in the future.
Children, as they grow in the Faith, can benefit immensely from Kumovi who enjoy a warm and loving relationship with the family of the child. The newly baptized child can sense the importance of worship if he or she sees the Kum and Kuma in church on a regular basis. The newly baptized infant will sense the value of prayer and Christian living if they are experienced in on-going contact with the Kumovi.
Parents can view the Kumovi as strong allies and sources of strength in this difficult world in which children must be raised. Parents and Kumovi can be united with each other and with the Church in praying for the well-being of the child throughout life.
Kumovi and parents must take the long view when considering Baptism. The commitment made is lifelong. The child enters the road to eternal life. The Kingdom of God is central in the Baptismal experience.
At each Baptism, as at each Divine Liturgy and each Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, the priest intones "Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. " The newly baptized is called to the Kingdom of God. The "call" is ever renewed!
Renowned theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote that the post-baptismal procession, the circular procession around the baptismal fount, is to be viewed as a "passover" from "this world" into the Kingdom of God. It is a procession toward the day without evening of God's eternity" (Schmemann, Of Water and Spirit, p. 115).
The Kumovi, the parents and the Kumce come together at the baptismal fount for a brief period of time. They do not stand alone and they are not out of context. They are with a priest whose ordination is traced through the centuries by the laying of hands to the Apostles chosen by Christ. The Baptism occurs in a church which is part of One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The Orthodox Church has practiced infant baptism for centuries (Ibid.). The presence of the saints form a cloud of witnesses joining with the joyful on-lookers to welcome the new Christian into the life of the Church.
Parents and Kumovi come to the baptismal fount with only the best of intentions for the child. These intentions should be held dearly as the child moves from infancy toward adulthood and the trials and tribulations of life are encountered.
As we ponder our role as parents and as God-parents, is helpful to turn to the words of Christ preserved in the Holy Gospel of St. Matthew: Jesus said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for such is the kingdom of heaven" (Mat thew 19,14).
Let us resolve to do all that we can with God's help to keep our children and God-children in the presence of Christ all of their days.