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Churching is a service of thanksgiving and blessing of the mother and her child when they return to the church after childbirth. It is reminiscent of the Old Testament ceremony of purification (Lev. 12: 2-8) and the presentation of Jesus at the Temple (Luke 2: 22-29). There are separate services of churching for the mother and for the child.
In some traditions, it is customary to baptize the child on the eighth day, following the example of the Old Testament rite of bris or circumcision of boys with the naming of the child taking place in the temple. When this occurs, the mother does not attend and the child is presented by its godparents.
Churching of the mother
The mother traditionally comes to church on the fortieth day after childbirth for special blessings. After the birth of her child a mother remains at home for forty days to recuperate and to care for her child. However, if the child has not survived, the woman still remains at home to heal physically and emotionally. During the time of her confinement, the mother does not normally receive Holy Communion, unless she is in danger of death. As the service is practiced in some traditions, churching involves both the blessing of the mother and the presentation of the child to God.
In contemporary practice, it is rarely medically necessary and sometimes not even possible for the mother to remain confined in the home for forty days. Pastors must determine whether it is more important pastorally that the churching be the first thing the woman does upon leaving the home or that the churching happen on the symbolic fortieth day. Not all pastors make the same determination.
On the day of her churching, the mother comes to the temple to receive a blessing as she begins attending church and receiving the Holy Mysteries once again. The child, that has already been cleansed and washed, is brought by the mother accompanied by the intended godparents who will stand at the child's baptism. They all stand together in the narthex of the church before the doors of the nave of the temple, facing east toward the altar. The priest blesses them and says prayers for the woman and the child, gives thanks for their wellbeing and asks God's grace and blessings upon them.
Churching of the Child
If the infant has already been baptized, the priest performs the churching of the child. If not, he does the churching immediately after the child's baptism.
Taking up the child, the priest lifts it up, making the Sign of the Cross with the child before the doors of the temple, saying: "The servant of God (Name) is churched, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
The priest then carries the child into the center of the nave, as he says, "I will go into Thy House. I will worship toward Thy Holy Temple in fear of Thee." Stopping in the center, he says, "The servant of God (Name) is churched, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. In the midst of the congregation I will sing praises unto Thee."
He then walks up to the iconostasis, and stopping in front of the Holy Doors, he says, "The servant of God (Name) is churched, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
If the child is a girl, the priest places her on the solea in front of the icon of the Theotokos. If the child is a boy, he carries him through the south deacon's door into the altar and around the back of the Holy Table exiting the altar through the north deacon's door and again places the baby boy onto the solea.
He then chants the Song of Simeon and says a special apolysis (dismissal), after which he blesses the child with the Sign of the Cross on its forehead, mouth and heart, and returns it to its mother.