Yesterday, I wrote about the Service of the Naming of the Child. I mentioned in that article the service of the Churching of Women. That is the subject of today’s article. As with the Naming Service, this service has fallen out of use as well and I would like to see all of these services restored as it is part of the rich Tradition of the Orthodox Church.
I can remember a class in seminary where this service came up. One of the many women in the class took exception to this service as there is nothing sinful about giving birth so why is there a service for this. Well that comment shows a complete misunderstanding of this service.
The ceremony as it exists today contains no elements of ritual purification. The ceremony includes prayers for thanksgiving for the woman’s survival of childbirth and is related to the Purification of the Theotokos in Luke 2:22-40. The ceremony makes it first appearance in the pseudo-Nicene Arabic canons and has been discontinued in Churches of the West.
The service presupposes a need for the new mother to stay home and recuperate after childbirth. I am sure many women would love the opportunity to remain home for 40 days but that is not the case in our world today. It was tradition that during this time the woman did not receive Holy Communion unless she was in fear of death. The service includes the blessing for the mother and the presentation of the child but needs to be separate from the Naming of the Child Service.
On the 40th day after the birth of her child, the mother comes to the church to receive a blessing. The mother and child are presented together and they stand facing the Holy Doors whilst the prayers are read. The service begins with the usual prayers and then:
O Lord God Almighty, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who by thy word hast created all things, both men and women endowed with speech and dumb animals, and hast brought all things from nothingness into being, we pray and implore thee: thou hast saved this thy servant by thy will. Purify her, therefore, from all sin and from every uncleanness, as she now draweth near unto thy holy Church; and make her worth to partake, uncondemned, of thy Holy Mysteries.
There is now a prayer for the child and the following prayer for the Mother of the Child:
O Lord our God, who didst come for the redemption of the human race, come thou also upon thy servant, and grant unto her, through the prayers of thine honorable Priest, entrance into the temple of thy glory. Wash away her bodily uncleanness, and the stains of her soul, in the fulfilling of the forty days. Make her worthy of the communion of thy Body and of thy Blood. For sanctified and glorified is thine all-honorable and majestic Name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.