I have decided to write about this topic for two reasons.
First motive: the largest number of questions on my web page is related to the matters of godfathership.
Second inspiration for this text is of a different nature and I will talk about that one first.
Recently, my friend told me that he came upon my name in a book. I could not help but wonder how I, an ordinary Serbian priest, could have ended up being part of a piece of literature. That friend of mine got the book for me to read. The book is a biography of a local man, not to say a small local man. It describes his life path from a small farm in Serbia to the bright lights of Hollywood. When you read about “life and adventures” of this character you could see all the stars of Hollywood, who he had met and with whom he had photographed as a token of remembrance, dim compared to his greatness. The author truly did an amazing job: she has proven that you can make a good pie out of any ingredients.
I wonder what she would make of my obscure biography of a priest
So, here is how I, like Pilate in Creed, came to be in this book: Some Portuguese guy asked our character to be his godfather at his baptism. That guy, coming from a devoted Roman Catholic environment, and among many options, chose to take Orthodox Christianity. Magnificent event. Exceptionally good intentions, honourable, but unfortunately, a poor choice of a godfather. Because this Hollywood “giant” made a mockery of such honourable intentions and a wonderful affirmation of Orthodox Christianity. His thoughts on everything and anything are present throughout the book, and it seems obvious that this man is an atheist and that, to him, this extraordinary honour was just a brief and insignificant role in a show which he could not completely understand.
Hence the initial idea of this text: when choosing a godfather consider thoroughly all the possibilities, and after a thorough contemplation carefully decide who to ask to be your godfather. Nun Makrina (Majstorovic) wrote down wise words of the elder Gavrilo who said that people used to: “make sure that the godfather was coming from a trustworthy, religious family, and that he was an honest man.
There should not be any borrowing or lending money or anything else, from or to a godfather, or best man, to avoid any hard feelings. One should never make a godfather/best man angry and there should not be any quarrels or altercations with a godfather/best man. Also, marriages with godfather’s close family or any blood relatives were not permitted, and people used to make sure to inquire thoroughly. A girl was not asked in marriage if she was from a godfather’s village just to be certain that she was not related to the godfather. One was not permitted to, on their own will, take another godfather/best man as long as the godfather had heirs. A godfather/best man was usually from another village and preferably one that was far away and not nearby so that visits were rare to avoid any possible quarrels. A godfather was invited only for a child baptism, young couple’s wedding or another special occasion important for the family. When visiting a godfather, one would bring treats, a bottle of rakija or wine, and a modest gift according to the family’s status.”
Father Simon Turkic, in an absolutely beautiful way, suggested a heavenly relation to a godfather. He said that we, the Serbs, are a unique nation that through family slava have saints as godfathers. A godfather is the best friend of all people, says Father Simon, and a godfather is a spiritual relative that we respect more than our blood relatives. In Serbian tradition one stands godfather on two occasions: at a baptism, and at a wedding. And one does not choose just anyone to stand godfather, but someone who is known to be a righteous Christian, who will appreciate being chosen as a godfather. Someone who will fulfill his obligations towards God and his godchildren. That is why there is a saying: “God in heaven, godfather on earth.” This wise saying tells us that God is our best friend of all and godfather is our best friend on earth, among people. When Serbs, during the rule of knez Mutimir (mid 9th century), accepted Orthodox Christianity, they accepted the idea of a godfather, and their godfathers were saints and archangels from the Heavenly Kingdom. When they were baptized “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” some chose St. Nicholas to be their godfather forever – protector of their family and their family name, others chose St. John the Baptist, some St. George/Demetrius; some Archangel Michael/Gabriel and so on.
That is how the Serbs from the very beginning of their Christianity created a tight relationship with heavenly church and heavenly forces, the saints. And since then, to this day, and forever, we, the descendants of our ancestors, remain spiritually related to our godfathers from the Heavenly Kingdom, and we celebrate the day of that godfathership and we call it slava.
One takes of their hat before a godfather, one falls on their knees before a godfather, one kisses the soil before a godfather, one kisses the chest of a godfather, one raises a glass to a godfather at slava.
Many have asked me various questions related to the topic of godfathership. One woman asked me if it is a sin to be romantically involved with her brother’s best man because, as she said, if they got married, she would be an aunt and a godmother to the children of her brother. One man that visited my web page said he was not baptized even though his family was Roman Catholic. A friend asked him to be a godfather at a baptism in Orthodox Christian Church. He asked me: “is there a chance that I get baptized in Orthodox Christian faith and then change later to Roman Catholic?
These are just a couple of randomly picked questions, and there are many. To all these questions I have answered the best I could. And I will take this opportunity to advise everyone to call the priest to inquire thoroughly regarding any questions or dilemmas related to the topic of godfathership, and before any decisions are made regarding the choice of a godfather/best man.
Being a godfather/best man is an important role, but it is, above all, a big responsibility and obligation. A godfather is a spiritual father, and as we understand it, he is more important than any other person. Through the mystery of baptism, by the intervention of the godfather we are set on a path of salvation. If one was not born for salvation one better had not been born.
Most common misunderstandings originate from weak faith and unfamiliarity with the basic truths of the Orthodox Christianity. Young people hang out, go out and have fun together; they meet at bars, pubs, restaurants and who knows what other places, and when they decide to get baptized, they choose their friends to be their godfathers. They do not check or ask if that friend is even religious; or whether he knows what being a godfather means or if he appreciates his role of a godfather; what kind of life he leads and whether he will care for the spiritual growth of his godchild. Then we watch, surprised, many political, business, celebrity, or other similar type of godfatherships developed. They develop quickly, they never last, and they are broken up even quicker to shame and disgrace.
During my life and my long service as a priest, I have been a godfather many times. Someone recently asked me if I remembered the names of all my godchildren. Due to circumstances, I have not been performing my duty of a godfather thoroughly, but I get together with my godchildren very often. Every time I serve the Divine Liturgy, I pray for each of them by their names, and in such way, at least for a little bit, I calm my godfatherly conscience.
I cited beautiful thoughts by Father Simon Turkic regarding our relationship with heavenly saints who are our godfathers. Our ancestor, monk Gavril Stefanovic Venclovic, almost three hundred years ago, while teaching his herd scattered in the immense Hungarian land, suggested that God Himself was our godfather when he said: “Christ baptized us with the Holy Spirit. He is our father in Heaven, and he is our godfather here on earth. There, our Father, with His evangelical science, bringing us to His Heavenly Kingdom; on the Cross, with His blood, He saved us from the diabolic punishment, intensely persecuted.
Do not jest, you earthly godfathers, about their Heavenly Father. It is your responsibility to feed your godchildren with good doctrine and dress them in fear of God, leading them on a journey to Heaven, until they learn well on their own. Because you will answer before God if they become evil and corrupt as a result of your neglect, you will suffer at the final judgement if they earn eternal suffering here, in their childhood, and if they died doing evil swearing, stealing, lying, altercating with family and with neighbours or any other evil doing.” (Slova izbrana prazdnikom, page 491
Let it be known.