The Importance of Our Orthodox Christian Tradition of Giving Christian Names to Our Children at the Sacrament of Holy Baptism

My beloved spiritual children in Christ,


Slowly but surely more and more of our Greek Orthodox faithful are giving in to secularism and the ways of a secular society and world. It seems they want the best of both worlds. They want to be considered to be Christians but yet they are willing to give in to the trappings of this world, in other words, to compromise their Christian faith and Holy Orthodox Tradition.

Orthodox Christianity has always placed great significance upon names. In fact, not only is a name of great importance in the Church, but the actual process of naming someone holds great significance to us. These Christian traditions are of divine origin and of tremendous significance. The significance of names and naming is one area where Orthodox Christian Tradition will inevitably affect the American practice, and is also an area where we must be on guard of the reverse effect and of allowing American culture to rob the Holy Church of meaningful and universal traditions.

The significance of names is evident at the very beginning of Biblical history. God had just made the heavens and the earth in six days, and finally finished His glorious work of creation by fashioning man from the dust of the earth. After Adam (whose name in Hebrew means "earth" or "ground" from which he was made) was created something very interesting takes place. God brings all of the animals which had been made on the previous days to Adam so that Adam can name them (Gen. 2:9). Whatever Adam named the animals is what the animal was called. By naming the animals Adam's authority over them was expressed, and Adam imaged God who has first named him. Man was to lead the physical creation in the worship of the Holy Trinity. Shortly thereafter God fashioned a wife for Adam out of his side. Adam called his new wife "woman" because she was taken out of man (Genesis 2:23). Her name showed her very nature as being derived from man ("For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man", (1 Corinthians 11:8). After the evil serpent tempted our first parents and led them to sin bringing death into the world, God intervened and promised the Redeemer would come from the woman's seed to crush the serpent and trample down death by death (Genesis 3:15). As a result of this Adam named his wife "Eve", which means "life" or "life-producer". Her name explained who she was. She was the one through whom Christ would come, who would give life to the world.

"By Orthodox practice, an infant is not given a name until he/she is baptized [or in the Naming Service in preparation for baptism on the eighth day or on the day of Churching.] Because Orthodox Christians receive their names not at their physical birth but at their more important spiritual birth when one becomes a Christian, and because the names Orthodox Christians receive are Saint's names we call our names "Christian names."

The Role of the godparent and the Priest: On the day of baptism or on the 8th day at the Naming Service or Prayer it is the godparent who first names the child. The choice of the Christian name involves the godparent. From his earliest days as an infant at the chalice the person will hear his/her Christian name spoken and have his identity as a child of God and of His Church reinforced as the Priest says, "The servant of God (N.) receives the Precious and All-Holy Body and Blood of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ for remission of sins and for eternal life" while administering the Holy Communion. Throughout his/her Christian life the individual will hear his/her Christian name from the mouth of the Priest in prayer during the Divine Liturgy, during the Mystery of Repentance and Confession, and finally even at his/her funeral when the Priest will pray, "For You are the Resurrection, the Life, and the repose of Your servant (N.), who has fallen asleep, O Christ our God..." At each of these moments the Orthodox Christian is drawn both to a remembrance of his/her Christian identity and of the nearness of his/her Patron Saint whose name he/she bears.

The Christian name given to a newly baptized child or adult is the name of the Saint who will be that person's Patron Saint throughout his/her life. "By bearing the name of a Saint, the Orthodox Christian acquires an identity akin to that of the Saint whose name he/she bears...By Orthodox Christian Tradition beginning with the early Church, the Orthodox Christian celebrates his/her name day on the day of the feast of the Saints whose name he/she was given at Baptism. One's date of birth appears to be of lesser importance to the Greek Orthodox Christian than his/her name day. The celebration of birthdays was a pagan practice. And it is widely believed among the Orthodox Christians that what makes physical birth really meaningful is one's spiritual birth at baptism." It is at his/her baptism that one is reborn through water and spirit and made a member of the body of Christ, the Church. Celebrating one's name day honors one's Patron Saint, and directly connects the Orthodox Christian with his/her own baptism and the continuing life and intercession of one's heavenly Patron. On this day one should by all means seek to attend the divine service at Church and join in the veneration of his Patron, and celebrate his/her patronage. It is a day of great joy.

Our Lord Himself was named Jesus because the Archangel Gabriel told Joseph to name Him so. Why "Jesus"? The Angel tells us our Lord was name Jesus "because He would save His people from their sins" (St. Matthew 1:21). Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew "Joshua" which means "the Lord is salvation." Our Savior was named after that great servant of Moses Joshua who led the people of Israel into the promise land. And so, as the Greater Joshua, our Lord shall lead us into the greater promised land of everlasting life and blessedness to the glory of His All-Holy Name!

Please know that by giving a secular name to a child that has been baptized and given a Christian name creates confusion to the child and in most cases the child and the parents eventually forget the Christian name altogether. It has happened in every parish that I have served. It undermines his/her Christian identity and the child feels absolutely no connection with his/her patron Saint and when coming to receive the Holy Communion does not know his/her Christian name to give to the Priest who is about to offer him/her Holy Communion. He/she know nothing about his/her Patron Saint, has no icon of his/her Saint, is never brought to the Divine Liturgy on the holy Feast of his/her Saint, does not know the life of the Saint whose name he/she bears. If the Orthodox Christian parents believe that it is more important to be fashionable then to adhere to our Holy Orthodox Christian Tradition why baptize the child at all? If the baptized child does not see the inside of the church since his/her baptism what is the purpose? Our worst enemy is how ignorant we are of our Christian Faith and how willing and selfish we are to comprise everything to satisfy our desires.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George