TRAVEL COMPETITION: LITERALLY LOST 89
Sunday 08 August 1999
t seventy-five Father Barnabas was the youngest of the brothers. They called him "little boy".
Father Chariton was the oldest, and half blind. He often talked into space. During meals he would cross himself incessantly and stumble away before grace was over.
Father Stephanos was now the abbot, and presided over baptisms on Sunday mornings. Every year scores of families drove out from XXXX with their babies. I found him in the church, pouring water into a portable font.
He was in his element. His face shone above its beard like an aged cherub peering over a cloud. Three monks were chanting conversationally behind, while a lace-wrapped tyrant of a baby was being humoured by twittering relatives. Grandmother joggled him; father gurgled. A host of aunts undressed him, fussing like guinea-fowl. But Father Stephanos rolled up his sleeves to the elbow and said remorselessly: "Ready."
The boy was stretched out naked, while his hands and body were anointed, then the abbot lifted him high in his arms and lowered him to the font. The small hands clutched the edge, slipped, and the head vanished suddenly; but from the water rose a terrible howl and a moment later the outraged face reappeared, black eyes and mouth wide open and puckered with rebellion. "The servant of God, Vassos, is baptized into the Name of the Father, Amen...." The abbot raised him high and glistening for everyone to see, plunged him inexorably down again - "And of the Son, Amen" pouring water over his head, lifted him once more to desperate wails, immersed him again "... And of the Holy Spirit, Amen." Finally he scissored off three locks of the damp hair and handed the baby back to his godmother, whose face clearly said and he'd been so good up till now.
At once, in accordance with Orthodox tradition, the infant was confirmed and the long-suffering body anointed on forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth, ears, chest, hands, feet, while Father Stephanos murmured "The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit." Then the grandmother buttoned the child's head in an Elizabethan bonnet, so that he looked like a watery Holbein, his father took him in his arms, and the family paraded round the font, while a flock of tiny sisters held up candles and a little boy stumbled under a processional cross.
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