Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Staying True to Roots - A Challenge?! Or a Given?!

Or “A rose by any other name…”

More from The Diaper Club’s Journals

One of the many reasons for which I love my faith is the many rituals, and traditions we have associated with it. Nothing is ever done randomly, nothing is ever an accident. Everything has a purpose, and a significance, and to me that makes the Orthodox tradition so rich. Whether you truly believe in these things, or not, it matters little to me. Just the rite of it all gives purpose to each service, and curiosity to what’s next.

One of the downsides to these rites, superstitions, and more-or-less layman’s believes associated with the church is that every church, every village, every county, every family has slightly different rituals and slightly different understandings of these “add-ons”…

And nothing is more confusing, I found, than trying to respect or align all these into a church that’s thousands of miles away from home…

I christened my nephew this weekend, and the service was held in a Romanian Orthodox church called “Inaltarea Domnului” or “The Ascension” in Montreal. I am not sure where the priest is from, originally, what part of Romania that is, but judging by his accent he’s not from the far North East where we’re from. That right there is a first sign that what he believes and what we believe will be different, in terms of ritual, not faith proper. Then, there will be the Canadian imposed “rules”, which surely have changed since the church has moved in North America, several years ago …

Before the Christening, I was completely confused: some of my sister’s friends, who have baptized their children in various Romanian churches here, in Canada, were advising me of certain rituals that I am supposed to attend to, as a Godmother; my own mother was advising me of others, and everyone was butting heads, as none of what we knew or thought we knew matched what everyone around us was telling us:

I was supposed to come to church not only with the baby, but a candle, and ribbon (the longer the ribbon, the longer my nephew’s life), but also a towel for Patrick, my nephew, a towel for the priest, an Orthodox icon to be blessed, or was it a cross according to some?, or a Bible, according to others?, wine, and flour (for wine and bread, Jesus’s blood and body), or was it wine and oil (for wine and myrrh) … soap for the priest …

Others were advising that we need also money, but no one agreed on the amount and who would be responsible for giving it and to whom? Is it the mother and dad that pay to have the child christened? Or the Godmother? Is it $150 or $250? Does the priest take it all, or are the altar boys and the choir entitled to some?

And so forth …

And so we called the priest and played dumb! And the list from the priest was as follows: candle, white or blue (he’s a boy) ribbon (“1 meter long”, the priest said – I guess the priest figured a 1 meter worth of life would be long enough – I brought him 1.5m just to make sure), soap, towel for priest, white towel or cotton sheet for baby, new clothes, olive oil (none of that vegetable, canola crap: after all, in Israel back when Jesus walked the earth there surely was none of that!!) , red sweet wine (when we take communion in my church we don’t fuss around with grape juice, thank you very much; Jesus said wine at the Last Supper, we have wine, by Goodness! And I guess it must be sweet so kids can enjoy it too), a cross on a chain, to be blessed, so the baby will have something to protect him for life, and $150 for the christening charge. As you can imagine: all the “gratuities” were not included.

I was responsible to buy and bring all of the above, except for the gratuities. Since we’re in the family, we split the responsibilities, and my sister and brother in law came up with those.

And we thought we were set! We had the list complete, the baby ready, fed, rested and well … and we headed to church. We never even thought of that the most important thing, um… the name of the baby, would be cause of controversy as well! We never thought twice that what his parents chose for months, what was in all his official papers, from hospital discharge papers to birth certificate and social security card, was going to be an issue!

As the Godmother, I held the baby throughout the service, and every page the priest turned with his reading, he would bow to me and ask: “Are you sure we’re staying JUST with the name ‘Patrick’??” – “Yes, Father!” was my answer. “Just ONE name?” – “Yes, Father!” – “And it is ‘Patrick’??” – he’d add in awe and somewhat disbelief like he didn’t like it … And my relentless “Yes, Father!” would follow.

As you can imagine “Patrick” is not a Romanian name. My sister picked a name that would be OK in Romanian but also would be perfectly easy and convenient for the part of the world where he’d be raised and go to school. They have a very odd and hard to spell and pronounce family name, so she thought a more Western (French and English) first name would be in order. Plus, Patrick is a strong, full of tradition and history, Catholic, Irish name and she loves and respects that culture as well, so it was perfect!

When the priest saw that he had no luck with me, he turned to the parents. He told them point blank that they must pick a “more Romanian name, something to be associated with a Saint, and something to remind Patrick of his true origins”. He assured them the ‘Romanian’ name would be for religious and baptismal purposes only, it will never go to his paperwork, and that will be a name given to him in front of God, it would be sort of a blessed, holy name.

My brother in law laughed, politely, and said: “His name is Patrick, Father!”. My sister’s the impressionable one, and whispered to her husband: “Honey, what about Stefan?” – which is “Stephen” in Romanian. My brother in law sent daggers out of his eyes and said to her : “Absolutely NOT!”. She tried further: “But it won’t be in papers”…. The priest waited with his back towards us, as I was holding the sleeping angel Patrick in between the feuding parents and the awaiting priest, while my brother in law turned to my sister for the last time: “NO!”. The priest turned, question in his eyes: “Well??” – I said: “ One name, Father. Patrick”. And the service went on.

And Patrick it will be. Mom was annoyed as well, as she reminded us that the Romanian Orthodox calendar mentions Saint Patrichie, which is the Romanian for “Patrick” of course, on May 19th, and that should be his guardian saint and “church” name. That was also the day Patrick was brought home for the first time from the NICU, so that is so fitting.

The following day, after the Sunday service, I took the new Christian to have his first communion and to be taken into the Altar (a privilege only boys have in my faith) by the priest. After the lengthy service (that Sunday we celebrated another feast, of St. Pantelimon, the Healer) the priest came to the podium and along with a long list of demands from the crowd he went into a 10 minute rant about how beautiful the story of St. Pantelimon is, and what an honor for those who have that name, and also how he doesn’t understand how immigrant parents in Canada are already forgetting their roots, and not naming children by Romanian saint names, like tradition orders. And how un-holy of us, immigrant parents, to encourage the children to forget their roots.

My brother in law, who is known for his sarcasm and ability to turn anything into a big joke, now calls his son Patrick-Stefan-Pantelimon, to make the priest, his mother and all the Archangels happy!

Of course, you can argue this in 1000 different ways! But I have a firm belief that we’re all God’s children. And as Patrick will come to God, in pure thought, prayer and with humility, things which only we as parents and family can teach and encourage, he will receive God’s blessing whether his name will be Patrick, or Jimmy, or Bottleneck! It doesn’t matter … I think …

And trust me, with two Romanian speaking parents, 40 Romanian speaking friends of the family and two Romanian families, it does not matter where he’ll live: as long as he has all of that around him, he will never forget he’s Romanian. I can make sure of that!

For God’s sake, this child will be raised on borsch and mamaliga, on sarmale and mici, while his pals at school will eat burgers and hotdogs – you REALLY think he won’t know where his roots are??? Doubtful!

God bless you, my love, and I know you’ll make that name proud!

Pictures here:

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