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A Baptism’s True Magic

Baptism in Moldova

Before coming to Moldova, my only exposure to “godparenthood” was a cartoon series called Fairly Odd Parents...

Baptism ceremony in Moldova
Scott’s godson, Mișa, being immersed in holy water by a priest.

...which really didn’t help set any expectations for what was to come when I was asked to become a godparent to the child of my adult host sister from my pre-service training family.

At that point, I had no idea what being a godparent entailed, especially a Moldovan godparent. Apparently, on top of having to grant wishes and magically turn people into inanimate objects, as were my expectations, as a Moldovan godparent I had to take on an even bigger role, one that would last a lifetime.

Moldovans put huge importance on a child’s baptism and godparents play a key role in this deeply-rooted Orthodox tradition. Growing up in a Christian household, I have seen my fair share of baptisms, but nothing as lavish as the Moldovan Orthodox baptisms.

The preparation proved to be very specific. I had a list of things to buy for the baptism. Each item served a specific purpose for the ceremony. After seeking the advice of multiple people, I realized it was essential I buy every single item.  

Baptism in Moldova
Some of the godparents during the baptism ceremony with ceremonial candles and bundles of basil wrapped in baptismal towels.

On the morning of the baptism, I arrived at a house full of people. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my host mother’s house as crowded as it was that day. The family of my host sister’s husband’s had arrived, and everyone was running around the house. It was like a scene from Cheaper by the Dozen.

It looked like a mess, but it was an organized mess since everyone had a job to do. Some were preparing food for the huge masa (feast) scheduled for after the baptism. Others were organizing the props for the ceremony. Some women were putting on their makeup in one room, while the men were socializing in another. There I stood, confused, in the middle of all of it. 

Safe to say, I found my refuge in watching over my godson. As an uncle of two and an avid burrito-wrapper, my baby-swaddling skills were unmatched, leaving the impeccably swaddled baby sleeping peacefully while his parents and relatives ran around the house.

After everyone was ready, we took the pilgrimage to the church, which was located on a hill about ten minutes away. When we arrived, we were ushered into a building located next to the church.

The initial plan was to conduct the ceremony inside the church. Since the heating wasn’t working, we packed ourselves into a tiny room — all 15 of us godparents. Interestingly, only the godparents were allowed inside during the ceremony; the parents waited outside.

I observed the entire ceremony in awe. There we were, 15 godparents, each holding a candle and a bundle of dried basil wrapped in a towel. We listened to the priest read passages in a dimly-lit, but well-heated room.  

Baptism ceremony
Mișa’s father, Mikhail, kissing Scott’s hand as part of the post-baptism ceremony.

Eventually, it was time for the baby to be baptized. Holy water was poured into the baptismal font and the baby was immersed in it three times. Then he was given to one of the godparents, who used a white towel to dry him. The priest blessed the baby with holy oils, then cut three locks of hair from his head in the form of a cross.

By the end of the 45-minute ceremony, my candle had burnt out and I had sweated through my clothes, but the baby was finally baptized. After a brief photo-shoot inside the church, we headed back home.

Once we arrived at the house, one of the relatives collected the bundles of basil, dipped them in water and splashed us three times. Another relative collected all of the burning candles and marked the sign of the cross underneath one of the doorways in the house. The parents went around and kissed the hands of every single godparent three times. We then feasted throughout the night.  

Despite all the chaos and confusion, I felt right at home. Moldovans truly value family more than anything. Coming from a Filipino-American household, this is something that is very familiar to me. In only seven months, these people have become family to me. Looking past all of our differences, I realized we really are connected by the people we love — and that surpasses any barriers I can think of.

As a godfather, I am technically in charge of looking after this child for the rest of his life. And as big of a responsibility that is, I am looking forward to granting all his wishes, although the whole magically turning-people-into-inanimate-objects part might take a little bit of practice.

Baptism in Moldova
Scott and another Peace Corps Volunteer, Ellen, with their impeccably swaddled godson, Mișa.