Baptism In A Shack

by Bishop Sebouh Tchouljian

Two years after the 1988 earthquake a man in Gyumri, Armenia invited me to perform a baptism in his house. I went with him. His house was a little shack (In Armenia they call such shacks “domik”) made out of sheet metal, 6 meters deep and 3 meters wide. There were four iron beds and the mattresses were covered with very thin blankets. There was nothing at all enticing there, not even a sink, let alone a bathroom. The family consisted of husband and wife and four small children, two of whom were twins. The godfather was also present. Under these conditions, I baptized the little children, four of them. This abode was in such a wretched state that one could hardly call it a home. The poor family was in a terrible state, yet they were determined to have the baptism service in that shack so that their “home” would also receive a blessing and assume vitality through God’s grace. So great was their faith.

I performed my pastoral duty and baptized the children. They were so poor that they didn’t have anything. However, they had set aside whatever they had been able to save through tremendous sacrifice, in order to make a donation to the church on this occasion. I categorically refused to accept it but they would not accede under any circumstances. I had no choice but to take it. Later on, I slipped it under the children’s pillow as a gift to them.

The tremendous faith possessed by the extremely poor, wretched inhabitants of that bare shack astonished and amazed me. They believed that through baptism, their children would be spared illness. They believed that by means of that ritual their shack would be blessed. They believed that with the grace of God they would be able to recover their losses.

As I was baptizing their children, I was contrasting this humble scene with that of the baptism of children surrounded by comfortable and happy people, sitting at lavish tables groaning under the weight of fine foods and delicacies, in majestic homes. I wondered: In which case was faith stronger? I don’t mean to minimize the faith of those living in such opulent surroundings; nevertheless, the faith of this humble family seemed to me to be much stronger and much firmer, such that life’s cruel and bitter calamities hadn’t been able to shake it, even to the slightest degree.

At that time, I had moments of much more fervent prayer, imploring God to hear and accept this prayer, if my prayer is to be heard.