The Tradition and Role of the Nouna and Nouno (Godparents)
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In the most common practice today, we find Godparents who are simply like an added extra aunt or uncle (if they are not already aunt or uncle to the child). The role of the Godparent started as something much more, and if we try to remember this we can reestablish the higher practice of the Godparent.
Before the legalization of Christianity in 313AD, Christianity was being spread and practiced though essentially being illegal in the Roman world. Christians were persecuted, tortured, and even killed in an attempt to force the Christians to renounce their beliefs and return to the pagan worship of the Roman Empire. For 300 years, Christianity had to be practiced secretly, which is where the earliest roots of the Godparents began. When someone wanted to become a Christian, they needed to have someone who would vouch for them, letting the Church know that their intentions were true and that they were prepared to go through the process of becoming educated about the Church. Once the empire made Christianity legal and the official religion of the empire, fewer adult baptisms were performed, and the Church switched to having more infants baptized. With the infant baptism, the need for vouching that the infant was ready to become Christian was obviously less important, as that the new “convert” was going to grow up in an Orthodox surrounding.
It is here that we find the tradition of Godparents being more of like a “spiritual father,” a guide toward the Truth of the Greek Orthodox Church. Hence, godparents are called to be spiritually sound for the sake of their godchild. We should really try to take this more seriously. I’m not calling every godparent to have a seminary degree, but each one should be on the journey to salvation, as to set the example for his or her godchildren. There is also tradition of candidates asking the parents of the child to be the godparent, which I personally find almost offensive. Personally I think it shows that you think you are the greatest thing since pita bread. Instead, try to be humble and if you are the right person for the job, the parents will already know that.
If the only person the parents know journeying toward salvation is their sibling, by all means, that is the right person, but in most cases we have an opportunity to open our families up and welcome those from the outside. Yes, we should be hospitable to outsider of the family and bring them in like a brother or sister and treat them with the same respect. Godparents, be hospitable back, love the child as your own, be willing to be there for the child when they are a teenager and confused with life, become part of this beautiful support system the Greek Orthodox Church set up. It is true that god-siblings cannot get married to each other, so if you want to play it on the cautionary side, once you baptize one gender stick to that gender, but seriously what are the odds that your children or two of your godchildren will fall in love. But you never know!
About Andrew Athanasiou
Andrew is a student of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, located in Brookline, Massachusetts. Andrew is a Masters of Divinity Student who is also a Seminarian. Andrew is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his knowledge comes from five major sources: Greek Orthodox Seminary; Greek Orthodox Summer Camp; both being taught and teaching in Greek Orthodox Sunday School; and finally further readings and interests in other theological areas.
Categorized in: Greek Orthodox Religious Information
This post was written by Andrew Athanasiou