Thursday, May 22, 2014

Why infant boys are churched differently than girls

I added the Churching of the child and the Dismissal from the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania below. There are some jurisdictional variances that surprise people when they visit other churches. For example, the placing of the child on the solea after churching is often cause for some befuddlement.

(Stump the Priest) - Question: What is the reason for the difference in practice of churching boys, who are taken behind the altar, and the churching of girls, who are not?

In Baptism, a person is united with Christ and His Church, and becomes a full member of the Church. The Rite of the Churching of an infant who has been baptized is the solemn act of bringing the child into the Church, and offering them to God. Baptisms are now often done inside the Nave of the Church, but historically, baptisms were either done outside (in a flowing river or lake), or in a baptistery that might be separate from the Church altogether, or which is located in the Narthex of the Church. And so, historically, after the Baptism concluded, the newly baptized was brought into the Nave for the first time.

Why is it that boys are brought into the Altar, but girls are only brought in front of the Royal Doors? Both are being offered to God, but their service to the Church in this life will be different. Fr. Victor Potapov says that boys are brought into the Altar, because this is "a sign that he may become a minister of the altar" (On the Significance of the Rite of Churching).

The fact that this has been the universal practice of the Church should be sufficient to convince us that we should accept it, and pass it on without change. However, in our times, when many seek to erase all gender distinctions, many now object to this practice as being "unfair.' And this, of course, also raises the question of having altar girls, as well as the ordination of women.

First off, it should be pointed out that there is not an absolute prohibition against women entering the altar. No one should go into the altar who does not have a blessing to do so. Normally, the altar servers are in fact all male, but in convents, nuns often serve as altar servers, as can been seen in this video which shows Greek nuns censing the Kursk Icon...
Complete post here.


  1. Our priest (GO) doesn't take either gender into the altar. He explains that it is not his practice to take any unbaptized person of either gender into the altar.

    So, my question is not whether girl babies should go into the altar, but should any babies be there?

  2. The current Russian/OCA general practice (according to our books) is to church the child after his/her baptism, but to only allow the boys in the altar. Some OCA priests do as the Greeks, and church the babies before the baptism (ie. during the mother's 40th day prayers), without taking them into the altar. The Antiochian Chuch in North America church both boys and girls (after baptism) through the Holy Altar. If you do some research on this topic, you'll discover that the practice actually varies widely throughout the Orthodox world, and it has changed several times throughout history.

    Here are various quotes and sources that I've come across to show that churching only baptized boys in the altar is not, nor has it ever been, the universal practice of the Church:

    “Until the 13th century there was a veneration of the holy altar, accomplished in this way: the child (whether male or female) was taken after the prayer through the sanctuary to the holy altar to be touched to it. If it was a male, he was taken around the altar from all sides, but if it was a female only from three sides.” (

    “Some priests church male and female babies identically: either bringing both of them, or neither of them, into the altar area.” (Pg. 572, Encyclopedia of Orthodox Christianity by Fr. John Anthony McGuckin)

    2012 edition of St. Vladimir’s quarterly entitled 'The Historical Rite of Churching' by Matthew Streett Vol. 56 Number 1:
    “The author presents a historical study of the ancient liturgical texts. In his summary he notes that the service has been changed multiple times as the theology has shifted. In the pre-iconoclastic period, gender differences were not involved and the sanctuary was not used. In the post-iconoclastic period, both male and females babies were taken into the altar venerating three sides of the Altar table while male babies venerated all four sides. A later period reveals that all baptized children were taken into the altar.”

    From a book written by Dmitrievsky (written in 1884), we learn that girls were taken into the Altar for churching in Russia in the 14th and 15th century, and that it was a very common practice.

    The Rite of Churching has developed, changed, and been revised many times from it's beginning up till the present time. There now seems to be three practices used in the Orthodox Church around the world:

    1. Church the babies before baptism (during mother's 40th day prayers), and take none of them into the altar (although historically, these unbaptized babies, both boys and girls, were taken into the altar)
    2. Church the babies after baptism, and take only boys in the altar
    3. Church the babies after baptism, and take both boys and girls in the altar.

    1. There is some evidence that in some places it was the practice to church boys by bringing them into the altar, and touching their heads to the sides of the altar. In that practice, girls had the heads touched to three sides (not the front). I have seen no specific rubrics that suggests there was ever a practice of Churching them in the same way... and so even in this practice, one still has to ask, why the difference?

      Secondly, there is no question that prior to Woodstock, and going back to at least the invention of the printing press (which also is the advent of the time in which a local Church could authorize a particular text), the current practice was the universal practice. And to disprove that, you need only show me an example of a published Euchologion by any local Church, with rubrics to the contrary.

    2. And I would also say that the existence of some Euchologia that have such rubrics hardly proves that those rubrics represented a wide spread practice. If the universal practice at any time was to Church boys and girls in the altar, it is hard to imagine how such a change in the opposite direction could have happened, and then become universal. There are some liturgical changes that could happen without many people noticing them... but this would not be one of them.

    3. Fr. John, what does the word "universal" mean to you? You keep talking about the universal practice of the Church regarding the churching of infants, and I've already shown you (which you even admit above), that there were various ways of churching the infants throughout history (and today), thus meaning that there was, and is, no universal and consistent means of churching. There were various ways, done at various times throughout history, in various places. I will send you the article to which I earlier alluded (on your facebook page).

    4. A universal practice would a practice that is considered normative throughout the Church. That does not mean that it was always universal, but it has been unquestionably universal practice since the advent of the printing press... at least based on the evidence I have seen thus far. Obviously we have some post-Woodstock that have adopted different practices, but this truly is a recent innovation.

  3. Also, the teaching that boys are carried in the altar to reflect that they have a different service to the Church, and that they may grow up to serve at the altar later in life, is actually a later teaching that was given to justify the relatively new practice of churching only the boys in the altar. Historically, this wasn't the case, and as in several of our church practices (ie. waving the aer), the theological meanings given to them only came after the original meaning was no longer applicable and the practice became established. Also, if the theological reason for boys being churched was actually valid and true, this would mean that severely disabled boys, who will never have a chance to be a priest or serve at the altar, shouldn't be churched at the altar either. Thankfully, the "theological reason" given doesn't hold up under such circumstances.

    1. How do you know that the difference between the Churching of boys and girls is not related to their difference in service to the Church? Why else would there be a difference?

    2. Since you are so insistent on seeing the rubrics for the rite of Churching, I will ask the same of me the document from one of the writings of the Fathers, or the Ecumenical Councils, that provide us with this definitive theological meaning that you keep talking about. You say, "how do you know that the difference between the Churching of boys and girls is not related to their difference in service to the Church?" I will turn this question around for you..."How do you know that it is? Upon what authority?" It's a strange thing to put forth a theological meaning of a Church practice, and then say, "Now prove to me that this is not what it means." Well, no. If you're going to tell us a certain practice definitely has a certain theological meaning, then prove it. Show us the sources. The bottom line is that while both males and females were churched in the altar (which you finally admitted to), and that the boys were brought to the front of the altar (in addition the the other three sides), while the girls were only brought to the three sides of the altar, we simply don't have any documented reasons as to why this is, only speculation which our modern understanding of things has projected back throughout history in order to help us understand them.

    3. Father, you did not simply question my sources for my statement... you have made the assertion that the understanding I referred to was an explanation concocted after the fact to explain the practice. Now either that was just your speculation, or you have some basis for that claim. My basis for my statement is that this the explanation given that has been handed down to us. It does not have to be based on an Ecumenical Council to have validity. We do believe in oral tradition in the Orthodox Church, and particularly when it comes to the services, we could not do them without the oral tradition that has been handed down to us. Otherwise, we would not know what the rubrics mean when they say things like "The deacon then stands in the usual place..."


    Is it possible to be saved without having your sins forgiven? Was Saul saved by faith alone before his sins were forgiven?

    If Saul was saved on the road to Damascus, then he was saved without having his sins forgiven.

    Saul believed in Jesus on the road Damascus, but his sins were forgiven three days later in Damascus
    Act 9:1-19......9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank....

    Saul sins were forgiven in Damascus, three days later, not on the road to Damascus.
    Acts 22:1-16.....10 And I said, 'What shall I do Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.'.......16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins,calling on His name!

    Saul was not saved by faith only. Saul was saved by believing and being baptized in water.

    Jesus did not establish faith only salvation on the road to Damascus. Jesus confirmed what He already had said "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved"... (Mark 16:16)

    You cannot be saved unless your sins have been forgiven.

    In order to support the doctrine of faith only men have offered many reasons why the Scriptures cannot be trusted.
    1. The Bible is not the inerrant word of God, it has many errors and contradictions.
    2. You have to be a Greek scholar to understand the Bible. If you understand the original Greek language, then you would know water baptism is not essential for forgiveness of sins.
    3. You need to use extra-Biblical writings to understand the plan of salvation.
    4. The Bible has been mistranslated, therefore men are saved by faith only and not the way it is presented in the Bible.

    If God is not smart enough to give men an accurate translation of His plan for salvation and Christian living, then why would anyone trust in Him for salvation or for anything else.

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    Men are not saved by faith only and there is no verse of Scripture that states men are saved by faith only. Men are saved by faith, but not by faith only.