creative nonfiction by Sophia Tempest Parsons
My earliest memory is my baptism. This typically would have been done in infancy, but due to complicated and uninteresting circumstances regarding both my poor health (1) and my father’s disagreements with the freemason presence in the Greek community in Toronto, my parents opted to wait until we moved back to Dallas where I could be baptised in the Orthodox Church of America. At the time, the diocese was in the process of renovating the cathedral, so the walls, which were to be covered in iconography, were still bare. I was naked (2) in the baptismal font and just conscious enough to be aware of it. As an adult, the sensory nature of Orthodox ritual is a comfort to me, but when you are thrust in, for the first time, old enough to know what is happening but not old enough to understand it, naked in a chalice, and strange men are circling you and chanting, and shaking the thurible and you are overwhelmed with frankincense and smoke, it is terrifying. And your mother and your father, who are supposed to protect you, are just watching and letting it happen. When you are three, you may not know what death is, but you know what danger is, and everything in your body can tell you to get out get out get out, but you are small and you are helpless and you can not get out, and you can not say stop, either but you can let out a blood-curdling scream and you can cry and cry and cry, because you have felt fear before but not like this because instead of cradling you and ssshing you, your mother and your father and your priest (3) just watch and do not stop and they dunk your head under water and they chant and they may sigh at your crying but they know your fear is normal, and they know they can not stop and can not get you out because they are saving you from the mouth of hell and they know their fear of hell is greater than your fear of death, you are not afraid of hell yet but you will be soon and they have learned not to cry about it and soon you will too.
(1) My parents did, however, have an emergency priest on call while I spent my early years in the hospital, to ensure my entry through the gates.
(2) My older sister remembers me in a white dress, not naked. Their memory is more reliable than mine, but as it stands, my memory is that of nakedness.
(3) That priest is also my godfather. Father John, I hope you never, ever see this.