November 6th was my new daughter’s “first” Sunday. In the Byzantine Rite, this is a significant day. The first time a newborn child is brought to Divine Liturgy is considered a sort of “Presentation in the Temple.” There are special prayers said publicly for both mother and child. These prayers are not part of the baptismal liturgy, but can be included in it. Because Eowyn Claire is our first child to be born since joining the Eastern Church, this was the first time I, as a mother, experienced this ritual.
The day was heavy with significance for me and my family. Not only was it Eowyn’s first Divine Liturgy, but we were also able to be present at Dr. (now Deacon) William Chavira’s Mass of Thanksgiving. Dr. Chavira has cared for our family since my husband and I were married and Eowyn was the last baby he delivered as a layman. The principal celebrant at Dr. Chavira’s Thanksgiving Mass was Bishop James Wall of Gallup, New Mexico. Bishop Wall is a long-time friend of my parents, having known our family since his days in seminary; he introduced my sister to her husband and officiated their marriage and baptized their first child.
Yet with all of these special things, what has really stuck with me (and perhaps rightly so) is the gospel reading for November 6th. The Byzantine Rite has a different schedule of readings than in the Western Church and on this day the Byzantine Rite Gospel was Luke 8:40-56, about Jairus’ Daughter and the woman with the Hemorrhage.
This Gospel reading (also found in Mark 5:21-43) is really two stories woven together. Historically, the Woman with the Hemorrhage and Jairus’ Daughter have no connection with each other. However, spiritually these two stories are full of meaning for the Christian woman. For the purpose of this post, I will focus on Jairus’ Daughter.
In the Divine Liturgy when the Gospel is read, it is tradition that the children present come and stand in front of the Proclaimer of the Gospel while it is read (in actuality it is chanted). On this particular morning, I went forward with my children bringing Eowyn for the first time (at least the first time in my arms). She had been fast asleep since we got to St. Stephen’s, not making a single sound. As I held my little girl, in front of Christ present in the Scripture and Christ present in the Tabernacle, I listened to Jairus beg Jesus to help his dying daughter. I was struck by the significance it had for me and her; Eowyn was dead spiritually because she was born into Original Sin. We had already scheduled her Baptism for the next Sunday and there I was begging Jesus to restore my spiritually dead child to me. Then, at the moment when the Deacon read, “But taking her by the hand he called, saying, ‘Child, arise’” (Luke 8:54), Eowyn let out a tiny cry, like she was gasping for air.
It made it all the harder for me to think of these things. Not having the grace of the Sacrament of Baptism, Eowyn was not a part of God’s family, she was not yet a Christian, she had no life of grace in her soul; she was dead. Yet, there was hope. Jesus was coming and he would heal her. He would speak the words, “Talitha Koum!” (“Little girl, I say to you arise!”), and she would be brought to life — real life, God’s life.
The next Sunday, the day of her Baptism, it was even more wonderful than that. In the Byzantine Rite all three Sacraments of Initiation are given at the same time, even to infants. So she was not only baptized into Christ, but she was fed by him in the Divine Eucharist and sealed by the Holy Spirit with Chrismation (Confirmation). Interestingly, in both Luke and Mark’s account of this story, Jesus orders that the little girl be given something to eat immediately after he raises her from the dead. For Eowyn, that something to eat was his very self. Thus, it was with great joy, just like Jairus and his wife, that we received back from Jesus Christ our daughter, now infused with the life of God in her soul.