March 23, 2021

An Old Local Liturgical Custom Came to Light Last Week in Crete

Greek media reported a great tragedy last week, when on Wednesday afternoon a little boy who was two and a half years old was found in a barrel with limewater, under unknown circumstances, in the village of Ligortynos in the municipality of Archanes Asterousia of Heraklion, and while his death was initially confirmed, after 2 hours and 40 minutes he developed a pulse.

The little boy was hospitalized in critical condition and intubated in the Intensive Care Unit of the University General Hospital of Heraklion, from Wednesday night.

The little boy, moreover, had not been baptized before the accident. While the child was in intensive care, an air-baptism was given to him Thursday around midnight, where instead of water the child is baptized in the air in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The name he was given was Zacharias after his two grandfathers who also bear the name, but he was also given the middle name Nikitas, which in Greek means "victorious", in the hopes he would emerge victorious in his struggle for life.

Despite the anxious efforts of the doctors over a period of 24 hours, little Zacharias was not to emerge victorious and could not be kept alive, but he died about an hour after his baptism, thus bringing deep mourning to the Kamaratos family and all those who knew him, and tugging at the hearts of Greeks throughout the country.

On Friday the 19th of March 2021 the funeral was scheduled to take place at 4:00pm. The entire village dressed in black for the event. It was a few hours before the funeral that an old local Cretan liturgical custom came to light which the family wanted to keep.

Little Zacharias had a little sister who was only a few months old and she also had not been baptized. The local custom says that a funeral of a family member should not take place until all the members of the family are baptized. Therefore, a few hours before the funeral, the little girl was baptized and she was given the name Nektaria, which is the name of her grandmother.

When the priest was asked after the baptism of Nektaria his thoughts on the situation, he replied: "I'm shocked, I'm trying to stand on my own two feet, it's very difficult for all of us. We are experiencing a tragic situation with absolute respect and silence, which is often deafening."

Now let me explain why this local custom is so beautiful.

At a time when pain enters our existence through death, there is a moment of triumph and rebirth and an echatological foretaste of the resurrection. As a parent is standing at a family member's funeral, in their arms they are holding a newly-baptized child as a sign that through Christ the ancient enemy of mankind - death - has been defeated. Though they seem defeated and humiliated by death, by this baptism they are showing how in reality they are victorious and dominant. By this baptism of one member of the family on the day of a funeral of another member of the family, life enters the picture of death, comfort comes to those who weep, and with sadness there is hope through the Lord's Resurrection. Thus when one exits the world through death, another enters through newness of life.