What is a Churching?
I mentioned that Christine was churched on Sunday; it was my first time back to church since she had been born. It wasn't my first time out of the house; I tried to stay at home as much as possible beforehand, but I wasn't as good at as maybe I could have been. So what is a churching anyway? Well, it's a short prayer service that blesses the new mother and the baby and it happens around the 40th day after birth.
Beyond that I don't know a whole lot about it; I'm still learning the ropes here and Sunday was the first time I had ever done one. Over the first several months of our moving here I met many new people at our congregation, and almost the first thing anyone would mention to me is the churching.
Did I know I wasn't going to be coming to church for forty days after Baby was born? Was I ok with that? And then they would proceed to give me all the reasons why it was actually a good thing, and not really a big deal. I got the impression that people were worried I would be offended that I wasn't "allowed" to come to church after having a baby.
And so I put everyone at ease by telling them the following story. Evangelia, our first child, was born on the Wednesday of Holy Week. (By the way, happy early birthday sweetheart!!) My husband was in seminary, and we almost never missed church. But I had just had a baby, so I figured I would stay home. Alas, on Sunday morning, Easter got the better of me. We had our first good night of sleep I told myself... I can't miss Easter!!! I have to go!
So, me and my four day old baby went to church. I should not have gone to church with a four day old baby. Not only was she being exposed to everyone's germs way sooner than was probably wise, but I was also four days postpartum! I had no business trying to make it through a full day of Easter festivities!
Now, if I had been Orthodox at that time, I would have had a very valid reason to not go to church. I wouldn't have been at my forty days yet. Some people consider this an old, antiquated tradition. But let's remember that the Lord was the One who began this antiquated tradition and maybe (just maybe) He had a good reason for it.
Although we are no longer held to the Jewish law as children of the New Covenant, we do know purely from a scientific perspective that many of the rules God gave to the Jewish nation were also things that helped keep them healthy and safe. (And the Orthodox Church retains the structure of worship they inherited from the temple at the time of Christ.) This is an example of that.
The Church has retained this custom, even though it is not a legalistic imperative, and there is plenty of room for exceptions and pastoral discretion. The Orthodox Church has more rules than any other church body I know... but they are also experts in understanding fluidity of application in regards to pastoral care.
So back to the science stuff... We know that babies shouldn't be out in public immediately after birth; it's good to give their fragile systems a chance to get stronger before introducing them to so many new germs. We also know that moms have a tendency to "over do it" after giving birth and not give themselves the rest they need. This is the church's way of helping us realize that rest is important, and supporting us by giving us that rest.
From a theological perspective it is also a beneficial practice. As mothers we are following in the footsteps of our Mother Mary, as she also completed her forty days before being presented in the temple with Christ in her arms. What a gift to reenact such an important event in the history of the world. I have also had someone tell me that we stay home for forty days because "after cooperating with God in bringing forth new life you are too holy to mingle with us regular people." Lol! I don't know how accepted that perspective is, but I sure appreciated the sentiment!
Many people get hung up over the language of the churching prayers for the mother that ask that the mother be washed and made pure from defilement, impurity and sin in order that she might be made worthy to partake of the Lord's Supper. Critics say such language is a relic of cultural beliefs and taboos regarding women's bodies and the process of making babies...
Well I don't know about that, but what I do know is that after forty days of not going to church and not having an opportunity to make confession before the service, I was extremely grateful for these prayers. Childbirth or no childbirth, we all become defiled and unclean in our sin; I would never reject an opportunity to ask that Christ would make me clean! I saw this as a special gift given to me by the Church, an extra level of support in the particular vocation I have taken on, not as some sort of accusation or declaration of any unique uncleanness.
Anywho... that's a brief explanation from my seriously limited perspective. If anyone is interested in reading through all the prayers of churching for new mothers and babies here is a link. And I've posted video clips from Christine's churching below! (Thank you Bonnie!)
A blessed Good Friday to all of our Western brothers and sisters! as for us we will be starting Holy Week next week and will take a break from blogging until after Pascha so that we can better focus on the task at hand. Until then!