There is a little known religious practice primarily associated with the Greek Orthodox faith that involves parents placing their child in the spiritual care of a stranger. This is at least how I understood it when I witnessed this peculiar ritual played out at my local church many years ago when I was a child.
Father’s day is an appropriate time to reflect on a community’s responsibility to children.
I recall a woman purposefully making her way to the iconostasi, which is the section of the church where the saints look down on the congregation as though in judgment. She approached a particular icon, placed her baby at its feet and walked away. Within seconds a large section of the congregation stepped forward to attend to the child.
I remember turning to my mother and asking how anyone could do this to their child? She explained that the baby had been dedicated to God in return for the mother’s answered prayer, adding that the person who picks the baby up becomes the child’s godparent.
“But they are a complete stranger,” I whispered to my mum, to which she responded that no member of a strong community is a stranger. Besides, there is only so much that an individual can do without community support. She assured me that the child would be safe no matter who gets to baptize it.
A person who steps forward to help the vulnerable is a truly good person. A community that surges forward to support the destitute is, however, a truly compassionate and caring community.
Father’s Day is an appropriate time to reflect on a community’s responsibility to children. No doubt the day reminds us of the sacrifices that a father makes for his children. As sons and daughters we reciprocate with gifts and praise.
Sadly there are many children who are not as fortunate. Some indeed are cruelly reminded of the absence of their father’s love on days when society celebrates the bond between father and child. These are the kids that deserve our attention.
The words of Luke the Evangelist remind us of where our heart needs to be on a day such as this. In Luke 1:17 John the Baptist is praised for his ability to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just”.
The commemoration of the beheading of John the Baptist on the Sunday before Fathers’ Day grimly reminds us of our responsibility to those who have been wronged by their fathers.
We cannot afford to stand back and expect the deeds of a few to remedy the problems that children face today, especially at a time when teenage mental illness and homelessness is at crisis point.
The homeless or neglected child is similar to the child who is left at the iconostasis. A compassionate community surges forward to assist in any way it can. And it is not so much the person who reaches the child first, but rather the community that they belong to that offers hope to all children.
Chris Fotinopoulos is a Melbourne-based writer who has taught ethics and philosophy at the University of Melbourne and Monash University.