Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Midwives get prayers too

My last child was born with the assistance of two midwives. This got me interested in the prayers related to childbirth, those for newborn babies, and for mothers on returning to church. I consulted a few of my books of needs and related texts as well as sought out a few papers on the topic. Aleksandr Andreev of the The Orthodox Pastoral School wrote a great paper entitled "A New Source for Childbirth Prayers in the Byzantine Rite" which I enjoyed tremendously. 

A few things I found quite interesting (but do read the whole paper). First, can you imagine a mother on bedrest sending her midwife to church to get the baby prayed over? I visualize a newborn in a carseat being driven (in a suitably safe vehicle like a Subaru) with much wailing - in that special way newborns wail - all the way to the church. Certainly someone is recording this on an iPhone. And the priest quickly does the prayers before the baby is sped back to the mother with all due fleetness. That's apparently what we used to do (minus the Subaru).

Based on the description of the rites (ff. 2r–30r), we can judge that Christian initiation in this tradition took place in the following manner. After the birth of an infant, prayers were read over the accouchée in the house where the birth took place. Then, at some point soon thereafter, but before the purification of the mother was completed, the infant was brought to church, where prayers were read and a temporary name was given. Since the child’s mother was seen as ritually impure, at this rite the infant was held by a midwife. On the 40th day, the mother came to church together with the infant, and prayers were read for her purification and for the infant. The block of prayers for the naming of the infant and the second churching may have been done at that time as well. Some time thereafter, the child’s baptism would follow, though no specific chronology is given here other than the typical admonition that an unhealthy infant should be baptized without delay.

Second, did you know we had prayers for midwives?

O Lord, our God, the source of blessings, who protects the infants for the sake of those who receive them, look upon this, your handmaiden Name, and, as you blessed the midwife Salome to receive (you) bodily when you accomplished the mystery of your incarnation for our sake, so also now, Master, bless this, your handmaiden, because you have shown how they should receive the infants that are fashioned by you, the work of your hands; bless also your creation, (the infant), make him (her) grow, instruct him (her), and preserve him (her) in chastity. Have mercy also on your handmaiden according to your holy name and make her worthy to enter into your holy church, to be filled with your holy things, and, together with us, to send up glory to your Father without beginning and to your all- holy, and good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. 

O Lord, our God, king of glory, who was well-pleased to have your Only-begotten Son be received by the midwife Salome and to have the mystery of your (sic) most-pure mother, the Most-Holy Theotokos, examined by her, which was accomplished for the reshaping and salvation of humankind, now also redeem and deliver your handmaiden Name from all difficult circumstance, and by the sanctification of grace enlighten her heart and cleanse her from all filth and every sin of body and soul. For we have called upon you, our God; hear us in every place of your dominion, O Lord, the God of hosts, and have mercy on her, and grant her forgiveness of transgressions in order that she may be deemed worthy of your holy and immortal mysteries and that through her may be glorified your most- holy name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages <of ages>.

Lastly, "the earliest Byzantine Greek Euchologia contain only two prayers for the occasion of childbirth: a prayer for the naming of the child on the eighth day and a prayer for the churching of the child on the 40th day." The prayers for all the other things related to childbirth existed at different times and places (Slavonic and Greek manuscripts are outlined in the paper) show a great variety in Orthodox practice.

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