On Taking An Orthodox Name
Print my name. I am proud of it. I am a
Christian and I have Christs name. You ethnics want your
own names and think that this is important. If you had Christ you
wouldnt. I read Mr. and Mrs. Cownies book, what you
call your priests, about using Orthodox names. How about
confessing Christ instead of worrying about names. My priest does
not have the big degrees that, from what I hear, you just claim.
But he can tear you to shreds. The first Christians he says didnt
[sic] pay any attention to this. There were no saints
names to take. Touchay [sic]! They confessed Jesus. Make
fun of us all you like. My faith isnt in names. It is in my
Lord. (R.J.L., CA)
In their Guide to Orthodox Life, Father
David Cownie, a Priest in our jurisdiction, and his wife,
Presbytera Juliana, make reference to the ancient Christian
custom of taking the name of a Saint at Baptism, a custom which
we have discussed numerous times in past issues of Orthodox
Tradition. This is a very important Orthodox custom, since it
reifies the bond which is established, at Baptism, between a
Christian and the Saint whose name he bears. When we are
addressed by others with this name, whether they are Orthodox or
not, they show honor to the Saint and invoke his or her blessing.
We also directly show pious honor to Christ Himself, when we
accept and use a Saints name, since Saints are precisely
those who have been joined to Christ, "small Jesus Christs
within Jesus Christ," to quote one Father.
In placing such great emphasis on this
tradition and in expressing our regret that so many converts to
the Orthodox Church ignore itsee, for example, our remark
in this regard about Frank Shaeffer in the foregoing
question, we mean no disrespect. Rather, our comments are
centered on the concern that we have for the cultivation of a
genuine Orthodox spirit in the West, and especially in America.
It is essential, indeed, that converts take the name of an Orthodox
Saint, use it in all circumstances, and begin their journey
towards spiritual maturity with this spiritual weapon in their
basic arsenal of safeguards against sin and spiritual delusion.
Such an act of humility and spiritual submission was so important
to St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, a man committed to the
rebirth of Orthodoxy in the Westeven to the point of such
an excess as experimentation with the Western Rite, which he
deeply regretted in later lifethat he refused to commune
converts who used their pre-Orthodox names or ethnic Orthodox who
dishonored the names of their patron Saints by using impious
diminutives and nicknames.
As for the Early Church, your thinking and that
of your Priest are quite wrong. In the first volume of his
excellent commentary, On the Divine Liturgy (Belmont, MA:
Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1986),
Metropolitan Aug[o]ustinos of Florina, the most conservative of
the New Calendarist Hierarchs of Greece, makes the following
insightful comments, demonstrating that ignorance among
Christians with regard to the importance of Christian Orthodox
names is not limited just to converts or to the Orthodox
diaspora. Speaking of the Baptismal customs of the primitive
Church, he observes that
[w]hen the catechumens had been taught
everything that they were supposed to, their teachers would
lead them back to the bishop, and the bishop would recommend
that they change their pagan names and adopt Christian ones,
names to remind them of holy persons or of virtues (e.g.,
Agapios, from agape, "love;" Elpidos, from elpis,
"hope; Irenaios, from eirene, "peace...").
As you see, the Early Church attached great importance to a
persons name. Yet certain people insist on giving their
children names which have nothing to do with the glorious
history of Christianity, or even the names of atheists and
unbelievers who waged war and still wage war against
Christianity. The names of Christians must be re minders of
faith and virtue.
In contemporary times, following the exact same
tradition that prevailed in the Early Church, we take on the
names of the Saints who have sanctified our Church and whose
intercessions uphold our faith and our spiritual efforts.
From Orthodox Tradition, vol. XIV, no. 4, pp. 19-20.