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Vaptismata and other weekend doings

Frank, my Greek teacher at IU, invited me to the baptism of his nephew, Panagiotis. (Well, Panagiotis Phillipos, but I’ll get to that.) As usual, the complication was me getting from point A to point B, since Frank’s in-laws live in Kifisia; originally the plan (as I understood it) had been to pick me up, then to pick me up at Kifisia Station, and then I wound up taking a taxi all the way to their house.

The baptism was at St. George, a small chapel in Kifisia. Frank explained that for a family that doesn’t really go to church much, it can be difficult to get one of the nicer churches for a baptism or a wedding; you have to plan about a year in advance. Thus, it seems that infants tend to get baptized at around one or two years old rather than at a few weeks or months old.

The service in most of the particulars were very much the same as what I’ve seen in the States, with a few interesting differences. The biggest difference is that the social circle that has the most say in determining the context of the baptism is the family, not the parish. As such, this baptism in particular did not occur in the context of an already scheduled service (at All Saints we often do them during Orthros, for example), but was a more-or-less private family affair.

As an event with familial significance beyond just the practice of the faith, it is a big, rowdy occurrence, with people moving around everywhere and talking and often not paying much attention to the service itself. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and need not be indicative of much more than the practice of baptism being very tightly woven into the culture. That said, clergy here seem to have less compunction here about telling the congregation that they need to be quiet when it is necessary to do so. Here, part of what contributed to the tenor of the crowd was that it was outside, and when the liturgical action moved into the chapel for First Communion, really only the parents and godparents could go in.

There were a few liturgical differences I saw; for example, as opposed to Antiochian practice where oil is pretty much just dotted in the necessary spots, this kid was absolutely slathered everywhere, like a plucked turkey getting basted. The chrismation portion is done, but no particular emphasis is put on it; in other words, the crowd pretty much stops paying attention at that point. This helps to explain why, sometimes, when cradle Orthodox find out converts get received by chrismation in some circles, they get a quizzical look on their face and ask what that is. It goes by really fast, and can just seem like the last step of the baptism before First Communion. I’d be curious to see a baptism in a country like Lebanon to see if it’s the same way. Finally, since the baptism doesn’t occur in the context of a service, First Communion is part of the baptism. One small difference was that, instead of the hair from the tonsuring being burned, it was thrown into the baptismal font (pictured).

Panagiotis Phillipos is the child’s baptismal name; there was some confusion that made certain people unhappy because the priest only said “Panagiotis” at the actual baptism (“Phillipos” being a family name of significance), but the baptismal certificate will be correct. Panagiotis is the masculine form of “Panagia,” one of the terms for the Virgin Mary (Anna, my Greek teacher at the Athens Centre, is always saying “Panaghia mou!” which is roughly the equivalent of “My God” as an outburst, except referring to the Theotokos).

The reception following the baptism was much like a wedding reception in the States; it was a sit-down meal with wine and a catered buffet lunch, and everything was absolutely delicious. I got to meet many of Frank’s in-laws, although mostly I stuck with him and Vasiliki. He mentioned that down the road, I should think about applying for a Fulbright to come here; as a Byzantinist with facility in Modern Greek, particularly with the American School of Classical Studies here, he thinks it would be very a worthwhile possibility. He himself spent a year here on a Fulbright about thirteen years ago, so he knows something about the process. We’ll see.

After going home, I eventually wandered out to try to go to Vespers. I initially went to St. George nearby; as I walked in, I realized there was a baptism going on rather than Vespers. It was towards the end and the priest was giving a homily in English; I stuck around, thinking that perhaps Vespers might be going on after the baptism. However, as this family left, another family came in for another baptism. So, I struck out for St. Nicholas a few blocks down the road (gotta love being someplace where you can just walk about five minutes to get to another Orthodox parish, as opposed to driving at least an hour). Entering the church, there was — you guessed it — another baptism. It was evidently Baptism Day in Athens; that said, I don’t believe in coincidences, so I’m also musing on what I was supposed to see and what was intended to have been underscored for me by showing it to me three times in one day.

This morning, Anna and I went to St. Irene for Divine Liturgy. Arvanitis is also at St. Irene, and we had agreed to set up another lesson time there. What I might say about Divine Liturgy at St. Irene is that if you have heard the Lycourgos Angelopoulos recording The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, then you have an idea of what they do at St. Irene. They follow the Typikon very strictly, according to Arvanitis, and there are certain variations that, while being common practice in many parishes, technically depend on the presence of multiple clergy. For example, this is why “O gladsome light” was not sung at Great Vespers last Saturday — according to the Typikon, it is sung by the clergy, not by the choir, and then only when there are multiple clergy. Along similar lines, the dynamis of the Trisagion is only done when there are multiple priests, according to a strict reading of the Typikon. Besides those differences, they did the Typika instead of the stational antiphons, much like the recording, and in general did most of the same settings as found on that CD. They apparently sing the Trisagion and other hymns in the mode of the day rather than just singing one setting, so we heard a first mode Trisagion instead of the second mode version on the CD — I’d expect to hear that next Sunday. I’ll also note that they have an ambo (along one of the pillars, however, rather than being in the middle of the church), and they use it for the Epistle reading. Anyway, to put it bluntly, the Liturgy was gorgeous, prayerful, contemplative, and was so much of exactly what I wish we Americans were more comfortable with when it comes to liturgical practice, and was so much of exactly what I think many Americans fear when it comes to liturgical practice. It placed itself firmly within the received tradition without feeling the need to add its own tweaks. Say the black, do the red, and do all of both.

Receiving Holy Communion, I’m happy to say, has been more of a non-issue here in Greece than I’ve found it to be in Greek churches outside of Greece. I’ve written about this elsewhere, but in Krefeld, Germany, for example, Fr. Irodion was happy to receive us at the chalice, but he was very specific about taking the letters we had brought from Fr. Peter, and there were, um, interesting looks on people’s faces when we actually communed. At St. Nicholas last week and St. Irene today, there was no issue (and I remembered to hold the cloth this time! Yay!). I gave my name as “Rihardhos,” and all was well.

Following Liturgy, Anna and I had coffee with Arvanitis at a café right behind St. Irene. I was tickled to find that the brand of coffee they were serving was “Café Barretti,” which along with the “Rihardhos Mousikos Oikos” makes Athens a city that just has my name all over it.

Arvanitis made a comment about Middle Byzantine notation that caused my ears to perk up — that at least some of the signs appear come from Palestine. Palestine? This is a possible avenue for linking this stuff to what my formal research interests are — we will see.

I am writing this while procrastinating from doing my Greek homework and ironing some shirts for the coming week, but here are a few general thoughts and observations:

I have never seen so many people roll their own cigarettes as I see here in Greece. I am told that it is because it is cheaper, but since when do smokers care about what cigarettes cost? The more compelling explanation that Frank gave me is that everything has to be done with some amount of ritual here in Greece, and rolling one’s own cigarettes lends itself to that very well. As well, there is distrust by many Greeks of American conglomerates, and with cigarettes in particular they don’t trust the additives and whatnot that go into the mass-produced smokes. I smoked one as a gesture of accepting hospitality a few days ago; this had the twofold benefit of a) reminding me that I don’t like cigarettes, handrolled or otherwise, and b) relieving me of the responsibility of having to smoke another one.

A question that has come up a few times — what is Greece? Is it Western Europe? Eastern Europe? The Middle East? In terms of the culture, religion, and geography, it seems to be the center of a Venn diagram where all of those overlap. Technically it is considered Western Europe, but then I’ve been told that “Greece is the end of the West and the beginning of the East.” Still, I could see just the opposite being argued, too.

Travel tip for people with laptops, particularly Macs: you will want a chill pad for your notebook traveling in this part of the world. My MacBook crashed twice before I realized what was wrong. Luckily, they are very readily available in virtually every electronics store here, and a decent one can be had for around 23 Euros. I have the Akasa Gemini, which is USB-powered and also has an additional USB port to replace the one it uses on the notebook itself.

Okay — homework beckons. More later.

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2 Responses to “<i>Vaptismata</i> and other weekend doings”


  1. 1 Your wife 22 June 2009 at 2:00 am

    Honey, you are ironing shirts?

    • 2 Richard Barrett 22 June 2009 at 8:25 am

      Well, um, no, not yet. That’s a bit of a story in and of itself. There are lots of stories to tell right now that probably won’t make it to the blog…


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