The biggest Melkite baptism in recent memory

Jeff and I woke up early on Mother’s Day. Breakfast in bed was out of the question. We needed to load all eight of us in the van by 8:00, almost two hours earlier than normal. On May 12, we were the stars of the biggest Melkite baptism the presiding priest remembered.

Nicki the Nervous

The Melkite church is part of the Catholic Church–we’re still on the same path that I talked about in April–but it’s a bit different than the Latin Rite. I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen. A Melkite baptism is full immersion and I knew we should wear something white at some point. I wasn’t clear when we needed to wear white, for how long, how modest it needed to be, if it needed to be completely white, or if it needed to be really white or if off-white is good enough.

Jeff always told me in grad school that incomplete guidelines drive diligent people nuts. He’s right. I spent weeks leading up to the baptism searching for pure white clothes that covered shoulders and at least to our knees. Baptism happens once in a lifetime and I didn’t want to mess up anything.

Slowly I compromised with myself. Almost-white shorts and white polo shirts for the boys, white onesies for the babies, and sleeveless white dresses for the girls with ruffles on their shoulders. I had a sleeveless white swimsuit cover-up to put on over my water leotard. It’d have to be sufficient.

Last minute arrangements

The Thursday before our massive Melkite baptism I received a text from one of the godparents, the sweetest lady ever who is like the one-person social committee for the church. “How are you doing on the baptism prep?”

Um… I have white clothes, white towels, swim suits, and swim diapers.

“Do you have candles?”

What? No one mentioned candles! I have a bunch of tealight candles, some of which are pumpkin scented, but that’s about it. I don’t think those are baptism appropriate. Do I need to go find candles quick?

“I’ll get candles for you.”

Whew! Dodged that one.

“You’re all set then.”

Oh, good. Now I just have to make sure we don’t forget anything at home.

That morning

Our Melkite church

This was before we arrived (courtesy of one of my uncles). Obviously more people attended the baptism.

We had to leave our house by 8:00 to arrive with time to change all the kids and be in the sanctuary by 9:30. Usually we run 15-30 minutes late to the 10:30 Divine Liturgy.

Jeff and I set an alarm for 6 a.m. We laid out breakfast shakes and clothes for everyone. Our church suitcase–yes, we take a rolling suitcase weekly–held swim suits, swim diapers, backup diapers, seven white outfits, and seven white towels in addition to our usual luggage. The diaper bag bulged with diapers, wipes, and bottles for six or seven hours in the car and at church. I threw in our usual church clothes since I recently heard we were supposed to put the white clothes on over our wet swim suits. Time to decamp to church.

But first we had to pick up my mother in law. I’m glad Jeff’s oldest son was there to help get her situated at the church so we could focus on getting our lots of littles ready.

On time (ish)

We arrived at church around 9:20, ten minutes before we were supposed to be ready and standing in the sanctuary. Would we make it?

Eh, probably not. I’m glad the Melkite church is on the relaxed side for Catholics. I’m also glad we had a small army of godparents helping.

I changed some kids and handed off others to Jeff and godparents. Then I stuffed myself into my swimsuit as quickly as I could in some random bathroom in the rectory.

I imagine we were quite the procession rushing unceremoniously up the aisle in the sanctuary. Besides our family, three other people were being chrismated (i.e. confirmed) into the church and one of them was also being baptized.

In the eastern Catholic church, infants are baptized *and* chrismated, so they can receive communion from that point forward. If they are too young to chew bread, they get a drop of wine on their lips. I think it’s kind of neat that children are fully included in the church that way. If receiving communion is supposed to bring people closer to Jesus, why not have allow children to participate? Maybe this betrays my very limited understanding of Catholicism.

Into the holy horse trough

The priest was a little nervous about keeping all the kids straight. We figured I’d just prompt him with names.

The baptismal trough looked surprisingly nice. It may once have been stainless steel, but someone had painted it with what looked like Rustoleum hammered finish copper or brass spray paint.

I was baptized first. I climbed into the very warm water and knelt on the bottom of the horse trough. Someone told me later that they filled the tub with straight hot water first thing in the morning and they weren’t sure how much it had cooled off. I was the test subject to make sure it was safe for the kids.

The water rose to the top edge of the trough.

The priest asked me to sit a little lower. Full immersion really means full immersion for a Melkite baptism. I sank onto my heels and leaned forward as water cascaded onto the tile floor. The assisting priest looked a little concerned as he flung towels all over.

The priest spoke and poured water over my head three times. Then I stood up, carefully stepped onto a towel, and donned my white dress. Who’s next?

Controlled chaos

“Do you want the screamers or non-screamers?” I asked.

“Let’s do screamers first,” he replied with a smile.

Rory first! I tried to lift him into the trough and it was clear he wasn’t having it. So much for my dry white dress. I climbed into the trough with him despite his protests. “Gregory Daniel,” I told the priest. The priest quickly baptized Rory and I handed the dripping, screaming three year old to someone with a towel.

Liam next. He wanted to stay with mom, so back into the water I went.

“William Henry.”

Fortunately the godparents reminded me of my kids’ full names after Liam because I had name soup in my head while handing kids back and forth.

At that point I didn’t bother getting out until the last baby had been baptized. I sat in the trough for all seven Melkite baptisms. Of course my white dress dripped all over the tile floor, adding to the initial cascade of water.

“Welcome to the chaos that is the Eastern Catholic Church,” said the priest with a smile.

The priest proceeded with all eleven chrismations while I stood on a pile of towels. The eleven of us plus a few godparents and Gramma June took three very careful laps through the puddles around the baptism trough.

Puddles on tile, lit candles, and lots of small children. What could go wrong?

So many things could have and none of them did. All eight of us were officially Melkites, baptized and chrismated.

Time to get ready for the normal 90-minute church service with six hungry, exhausted, wet children.

“Welcome to the chaos that is the Eastern Catholic Church,” said the priest with a smile.

2 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Mann

    I love your story – thank you for sharing God bless you all. I live in England so I’ve never heard of this particular Church.Good luck with your little family – beautiful kids.x

    Reply
    1. Nicole (Post author)

      Thank you! I hadn’t heard of Eastern Catholicism, much less the Melkite church, until about a year ago.

      Reply

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