I had a very unpleasant experience with what was supposed to be a very merry celebration. My family and I went to the baptism of our cousins’ baby twins. Everything was a complete fiasco.

In the Rozhen monastery

Мy four-member family, the mother with the twins, their uncle, and their grandparents, traveled by cars for at least half an hour up a steep and curvy mountain road in 40˚C heat, during which both babies puked. Eventually, we reached a very beautiful monastery with a very pedantic priest. First he scolded my parents, the godfather and godmother for not having had a religious wedding (religious marriages were forbidden during socialism, most Bulgarians in their age group weren’t married in a church).  Then he scolded the mother for not being able to remember whether she was ever baptized or not (again, she was a child during socialism). As a whole, instead of inspiring us to be better Christians, this priest was reprimanding us.

As soon as the ceremony began, the babies started crying as if someone was beating them. They were choking on their tears, they peed themselves out of fear, they kicked and fought back. Everyone laughed at first, but after thirty minutes passed, we all wanted this to end. The mother got furious (or desperate) and rushed out of the church. The evil priest remained unshaken. He didn’t bother to shorten the ceremony, which lasted more than an hour. He had to completely undress the babies, dip them three times in the baptismal font, make them kiss the bible, draw crosses with ointment on each of their limbs, cut a few hairs in the shape of a cross from their heads, and on, and on. Everyone was nervous and distressed.

I usually treat religion with reservation, but this particular occasion deserves a little bit more.

The mother says that she is openly atheist. She didn’t know what the ceremony really was, so she was shocked when the babies started crying like that, when they had to be undressed, and when the priest started washing them with holy water with his hands.  She said the ceremony was torture for her kids who had never cried like that before. She said that she will “try” eastern religions instead.

Why then did she want to baptize the kids at all? Just in case? Or just because she thought it would be very romantic in that marvelous mountain monastery? Why do something that you don’t really believe in? And why bind your children to something that you don’t believe in? At least she could have waited until they are old enough to make their own choice.

In general, few Bulgarians are true believers. Our skepticism for religion is a leftover from the socialist regime (1944-89), which forbade religion, the “opium of the people.”  Today, Bulgarians go to church, but only on major holidays. We observe the Christian Orthodox traditions, but we accept them as family holidays rather than anything spiritual. Or am I wrong?