No crying in the sanctuary

Aug. 02, 2013 @ 05:50 PM

I don’t think I was ever bold enough to consider myself an atheist.

Instead, for much of my life, I tread in the comfortable water of agnosticism: not too cold in my cynicism to declare there’s no god, but not so hot in my zeal to claim I could prove otherwise.

If I can’t see it, I reasoned, I can’t know it’s really there. I’m a journalist, after all: It’s in my blood to want to trust, but verify.

I went beyond Fox Mulder’s “I WANT TO BELIEVE” to “I WANT TO KNOW IT’S TRUE.”

But as I’ve come to learn over the years: Anyone looking for proof in faith misses the point.

I found myself, just two weeks ago, standing with Catherine and our infant son, John Michael, in the narthex of St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church. His first day of church, a special 40-day ceremony. We waited for Father Stavroforos Mamaies to approach so that he could bless our son and lead us through the nave – past all our fellow parishioners - to the dais of the iconostasis.

All eyes were on us.

John Michael started crying.

“You’ve been baptized, right?”

Catherine asked that last year as she planned our wedding at the church. I couldn’t get married without baptism. If I had been baptized in another church, the Greek Orthodox process might have been a simple formality.

So, had I?

Nope.

I didn’t grow up in a church-focused family. We sometimes went to Catholic mass on holidays with my dad’s mother, but beyond that, our Sundays were reserved for movies, TV sports and romping around the neighborhood in Orlando.

My little brother and I almost got baptized on accident, though.

It’s a story that mortifies my mother – she didn’t hear about this until just a few years ago. Back in the 1970s, she had a day job and our father worked nights at Walt Disney World.

So he was sleepy on those summer mornings when Donnie and I played in the yard.

He slept right through the arrival of a white school bus. It carried a bunch of kids and a grinning middle-aged man who wore a powder blue sports coat. He stepped off onto the asphalt of Ursula Street and asked: “You boys going on the picnic?”

This was years before the murder of Adam Walsh and the proliferation of cherubic faces on milk cartons. We didn’t give it a second thought as we climbed aboard.

Turned out, it was a Baptist church group on a fellowship picnic. Lots of kids our age. They took us to Jellystone Campground for lunch and putt-putt golf.

We had a great time.

They didn’t take us back home on the bus, though.

They took us to the church – a white building with a steeple and a murky green pond out back. I wasn’t sure what was going on. I led my brother to some bushes on the fringe of the pond so we could hide and watch.

Minutes later, our new friends from the bus emerged from the church dressed in white gowns. They walked down to the pond, where the preacher waited in waist-deep water. The kids took turns wading in so he could say some words and dunk them.

We were horrified. Was he drowning them?

We weren’t sure how to get home, but railroad tracks ran past the church and we knew those tracks would take us not far from our neighborhood.

We ran.

In February, just weeks before the wedding, I wore swim trunks as I stood in an aluminum tub in front of family and friends at the church.

My godmother, Amanda Theodosiadis, was at my side as I was anointed with oil and doused with a pitcher of water.

She could be my little sister. She’s a thirtysomething dental tech and a dear friend of Catherine’s.

The baptism experience wasn’t the ice-cold tub dunking that I had anticipated based on repeated viewings of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

No near-drowning. For that, I was grateful.

And, for that, my son must pay the price too. We’re in this church thing together, kid.

Now, we followed the priest down the aisle with a crying baby.

Maybe John Michael was tired. Probably, he was hungry. Regardless, he was making it clear that his patience had run out.

Eventually, Father Stavroforos carried our son into the sanctuary, an area normally reserved for clergy. It’s a sacred space.

Perhaps John Michael sensed the solemnity. Or maybe he was just adjusting to this new person carrying him. He grew quiet.

The priest spoke in Greek to our son as he carried John Michael around the altar.

That explains that, I thought. His grandmother Athena talks to him in Greek. Great-aunt Lula talks to him in Greek. Uncle John talks to him in Greek.

“He just likes hearing the language,” I told the priest after the service.

He smiled, but said, “I think God had something more to do with it.”

I’ll take that on faith.
 

Wes Platt can be reached at 919-419-6684 or wplatt@heraldsun.com. Follow on Twitter at @HS_WesPlatt. Connect on Facebook at facebook.com/wesplattheraldsun.