Photographer Eslam Gamal follows one happy Coptic couple as they prepare for their son’s sobou, marking the first week of the infant’s life, and then his baptism.
written and photographed by Eslam Gamal
George, a computer programmer, and his wife Christine live in Al-Sharabeya, a densely populated district in north Cairo. They recently celebrated Jaydan, their firstborn son’s, sobou (celebrated on the seventh day following the birth of a child by both Coptic and Muslim families) and 40 days later, his baptism.
Most people know little about the complex and spiritual religious ceremonies adhered to by Copts in Egypt, and few cameras have ventured to cover such events. This lack of knowledge is not just limited to Muslims: many Copts are also not sure of what their ceremonies actually entail.
One such complex sacrament is the ritual of baptism, through which Copts believe they are born again by being immersed in water three times in the name of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
As part of Egypt Today’s issue on the unexplored dimensions of Christianity in Egypt, and in celebration of Coptic Christmas, we open a window into the Coptic rite of baptism through Jayden’s special event.[caption id="attachment_442025" align="alignnone" width="620"] Baptism is not exactly the same for boys and girls: parents of newborn girls are required to wait 80 days before they can baptize their daughters.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_442026" align="alignnone" width="620"] George heads to the church where his child is to be baptized to take care of last-minute details. In the meantime, congratulatory signs are put up by family and friends[/caption] [caption id="attachment_442027" align="alignnone" width="620"] When all the friends and relatives are gathered, the priests begin by reciting Biblical passages. Before the baptism, which takes place 40 days after birth, the boy is bathed in soapy water.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_442028" align="alignnone" width="620"] After prayers and the baptism,family and friends sing songs to celebrate the arrival of the newborn, handing out balloons to the all children present.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_442029" align="alignnone" width="620"] The baptism begins with the priest resting his hand on the baby’s forehead while reading out verses from the Bible to dispel original sin.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_442030" align="alignnone" width="620"] Baptismal water is prepared in a Baptismal Font, which looks somewhat like a baby’s bathtub. The child is fully dipped three times in a row then towel-dried before being laid in a small touneh (crib.) The priest dries off the child using a small cotton cloth or a towel then dabs the baby 36 times with myrrh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_442031" align="alignnone" width="620"] After the baby has been anointed with myrrh, George picks up the infant boy before handing him to his mother. Christine will then cradle Jayden with her left arm and lift him up as she chants three times, “Agghedak ayoha al-shaitan” (I banish you Satan). [/caption] [caption id="attachment_442032" align="alignnone" width="620"] Jayden is now ready to attend his first church service.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_442033" align="alignnone" width="620"] After the service, family and friends join a zaffa procession led by one of the shamamessa.[/caption]