About the 40-Day Churching
Web-Editor Note! Readers of the 40-Day Churching Service on the Archdiocese website will note that included in the beginning of the service is an insertion that states "Be it known that if the mother has come alone because the child is no longer living, the Priest ends the Prayer here with the Ekphonesis". Father Michael Bird was asked to explain the reasons for the woman's presentation as the child had died. His explanation is as follows.
The "Churching" is a very ancient ritual . . . pre-Christian. In the ancient world, I should say in ancient Judaism, the practice was predominant among women/mothers. Since there were no hospitals in the past, midwives were common practice and children were born at the home. The mother actually stayed in the house with the child for 40-days because 1) it took that long for the woman to heal properly and to bond with the child, and 2) after 40-days, the menstrual cycle returns to normalcy for the woman and when this occurred the woman's first order of business was to go the ritual baths for purification. Since the first "Christians" were Jews, the ritual purification was slowly replaced with the pilgrimage back to the Church, and of course, the bringing of the child to offer to God . . . So both the woman and the child received the blessing of the Church.
Now, all of this still pertains to the woman if she happened to lose the child . . . she would take the necessary 40-days to recover and then present herself to the Church to be blessed and to be received into the community again . . . the Service becomes a healing, a restoration prayer for the woman and not some sort of punishment for losing the child. The Church has always been concerned for total well-being of the person and that person's restoration back into the community.
40 Day Blessing for the Newborn
A reprint of an article from:
St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church
129 North Halifax Ave Daytona Beach, Fl 32118
40 Day Blessing for the Newborn
On the fortieth day after birth, the parents brings the child to church where the priest conducts the service of "40-Day Blessing" or "Sarantismos" for the mother and child.
"The ritual of the 'churching' of women after childbirth has its origin in the early Middle Ages. This was the time when the liturgical life of the Church was beginning to expand and develop in imitation of the Biblical patterns. The "Church" must not be understood in an antiquated way (from the Old Testament) in the sense of a legalistic practice. (For further Old Testament knowledge, read the Book of Leviticus, Chapter 12). Rather, the ceremony of churching marks the time when the mother, having recovered physically and emotionally from the birth of her child, and having re-ordered her life around the child's care, will resume her life in the community of the Church again. She comes to the church with her child (and accompanied by her husband) to offer her thanksgiving for her child, and coming in contact with the life-giving glory of God, she asks for the forgiveness of her sins, despite her human weakness, so that she may be `worthy to partake, uncondemned, of the Holy Mysteries,' (that is Holy Communion) once again.
This ceremony, in imitation of the Old Testament ceremony to which the Mother of God submitted, was done on the fortieth day after the child's birth, but may also take place as close to the fortieth day as possible. Some request that this take place prematurely to facilitate their personal needs and desire to attend social engagements. God in His wisdom ordained that a period of six weeks lapse following childbirth before the mother resumes her life. Good advice is not to hasten this process.
During the churching, the priest, in imitation of the elder Simeon (Luke, Chapter 2), takes the child up to the sanctuary, making the sign of the Cross with it and reciting the prayer of St. Simeon (Luke 2:28-32). Again, inspired by the example of Simeon's encounter with the infant Messiah, for each child has the potential to be great in the sight of the Lord, the act of churching recognizes this and also serves, as with the mother, to introduce the child to the community of faith."
On the day of churching, the parents and the child are invited to wait in the narthex of the church where they will be greeted by the priest. This takes place after the antidoron has been distributed following the Divine Liturgy. A call to the church office will help things run smoothly.
The mother and child remain in the church narthex and do not enter the nave until the priest has offered a prayer. Then the priest carries the baby to the front of the church, followed by the mother and sometimes other participants. The priest proclaims: "The servant of God is brought within the church in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen."
After the forty-day blessing, close family members say, "Na mas Zisi" ("May he/she live for us") and acquaintances offer congratulations with "Na sas zisi" ("May he/she/ live for you"). Since mother and child are still in delicate condition, no celebration or reception afterwards is necessary.