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The meaning of name

The sacrament of baptism

The name

Names have always been of major importance for human communication and understanding given the fact that they have always played the role of those elements through which people, animals and objects were defined. The name was soon developed into a means of determining a person or a thing. If this is important for the plant and animal world, it is much more important for man where the personal character is much more intense and the special characteristics of each person appear in a different and unique way. The name and naming were developed in connection with the peoples' history and adventures. Through names we can follow the historical progress of an entire nation. Quite often some names hold a fascination and exercise a special power on us, and some others create distaste. This happens because the people bearing these names are associated with good memories from the past in the first case, while in the second with negative experiences and situations. Names are often distinctive for the religion of the people bearing them and are connected with the philosophical or social beliefs of the people. 

The name in the Gentiles

The Greeks were characterised more than any other people by the wealth of their personal names. The joy and pride of the Greeks was their personal name and never the profession or the title. The lack of names and naming in some peoples has always been considered lack of civilisation. Contrary to what was happening to the primitive peoples, in the civilised ones, people have personal names given to them through some kind of naming ritual. In the Ancient Greeks the name was given to the baby either upon their birth or on the eighth day after their birth.  

The name in the Old Testament

We see in the Old Testament that man, as the most perfect being in the entire creation, has from the beginning a special name which declares his individuality and uniqueness; this name distinguishes man from the other persons that are with him. The Creator calls the first man with his name, ADAM, while he gives names to animals and his wife.

The Jews named babies upon their birth, while, later on, on the eighth day after their birth. This naming on the eighth day was later associated with circumcision. The Jews took this act from the Egyptians and Ethiopians who practiced it during the antiquity. Circumcision is a religious act ordered by God Himself to be the apparent sign of anyone belonging to God as well as of the will concluded between God and Abraham. The connection of Jewish circumcision with the giving of a name shows perhaps the great importance that the Jews attributed to the name and its significance for man's life. 

The name in Christian teaching

Christianity took the importance of the human name and promoted it as it freed it from the suffocating space-time binds of this world by placing it in the eschatological dimension.

When is the name given?

The name, according to the order of the Orthodox Church, is given on the eighth day of the baby's birth. Why? In the Biblical revelation, number "seven" is the symbol of the "very good" world created by God, of the world that was corrupted by sin and was handed over to death. The seventh day is the day during which the Creator rested and blessed it; it is the day that expresses the joy and pleasure of man for the creation as a communion with God. This day, though, is a break from work and not its real end. It is the day of expectation, of the hope of the world and man for salvation, for the day which is beyond "seven", beyond the continuous repetition of time. The new day, inaugurated by Christ with His Resurrection, prevailed over this dead-end. A new time started as of the "first of the Sabbaths"; this time, although on the surface still remains within the old time of this world and is measured in relation to number "seven", the faithful feels that it is new. "Eight" becomes the symbol of this new time.  

Why is the name given on the eighth day?

By placing the naming on the eighth day, the Church wants to make the newly-born infant participant and communicant of this new reality and reveal the dynamic progress of the established human life, the end of which is the Kingdom of the Heavens. We see here that the Church considers the newly-born infant an already complete man; it faces the infant with the same providence that faces every man. The man's name gives the identity of the person and secures their uniqueness. The Church, therefore, takes care to give the infant a name. It considers the infant neither simply a man, generally and vaguely, nor the bearer of an abstract and impersonal nature. It is indeed overwhelming that long before human rights were recognised for children, before the world organisations on the protection of children were established, the Church, by implementing for centuries its benevolent as well as unheeded practice towards all people with the naming prayer, confesses the uniqueness of the specific child and recognises the divine gift of their personality. 

The prayer of naming

The prayer is thus called because with the blessing given to the child by the Church eight days after their birth, children are called for the first time with their personal names. This happens not because it is the first time that the Church has blessed the child -this has already happened in the first day- but because the blessings of the first day are mainly offered to the mother and then to the child. This name will be borne by the child in their entire lives and this is the name with which the child will finally enter the expected Kingdom of God , a first impression of which is this day of giving the name.

What the prayer does is to show man's objective which is the union with God. This is why it expresses the request of its conclusion in the Church and its completion with the holy Sacraments of Christ. The child will overcome the split of the sin only after having become a member of the Church through Baptism. It is, therefore, obvious that the naming prayer aims at the Sacraments of Baptism and Unction and the participation of man in the Holy Eucharist.  

The Naming Service

The prayer is included within the wider framework of the Naming Service which is held either in the church or at home. The child is received by the priest in the pronaos, where the Service is held, and not inside the naos. The origin of this arrangement can be found in the order of the Ancient Church during which the pre-baptism ceremonies were not held in the main naos but in the courtyard of the baptesterion. After reading the naming prayer mentioned above, the priest blesses the mouth, the forehead and the heart of the child. This is done not only in order to bless the specific parts of the body but their relevant functions: logic (mouth), intellectual (forehead) and life-giving (heart). The child, thus, as a psychosomatic entity is literally handed over to Christ. This is the reason that the Apolytikion of the Hypapante follows: "Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos, full of grace".

Many times today, due to various reasons, such as ignorance, or the non timely decision of the parents about the name of the child and other practical reasons, the naming is associated with the Service of Baptism.

Why do we celebrate?

Man created in the image of God is by nature destined to celebrate, to remember God. St. Gregory the Theologian characteristically says: "the main point of the celebration is to remember God." Consequently, the Christian celebration is not a theoretical, abstract and irresponsible situation. On the contrary, it shows the really labouring progress of man to return to God, to the uncreated Archetype where man originates from. The Christian celebration, as an experience of joy and pleasure, is not possible to be understood outside the framework of the doxology of God's works and the experience of divine glory, outside the framework of the new reality created in the world by the events of the divine Economy, the Incarnation of the Logos, the Cross, the Passion and the Resurrection of Christ; events that gave a new meaning to time, space, man, the world, life itself. 

The content of the Christian celebration within the Church

Man celebrates because Christ celebrates. St. John of Damascus says that "Christ made celebrations for us." The content of the celebration is the joy of man; the joy of salvation. An experience within the Body of Christ, the Church, which is characterised by the Fathers as: "Church worthy celebrating the Spirit". An experience acquiring eternal dimensions, becoming "the form of the above joy", since Christ, Church and eschata (the last things), that is the Kingdom of God, are not separated. God is not honoured only in certain great events, but He is a point of reference and memory for man in every moment, every hour, every day, every celebration. The time in ecclesiastical life is the framework within which the revelation unfolds, man's salvation is conducted and the sacrament of the Incarnation of the Son and Logos of God is appreciated. Man can now overcome the obstacle of time and live the eternal and true. We can all make our lives a continuous Pasch. The celebrations dispersed within the ecclesiastical year constitute centers that organise time in a new dimension. Easter, Christmas, 15 th of August, the feast day of All Saints, the daily commemorations of Martyrs and Saints, the weekly and daily cycle of the Services, the other celebrations with their fasting and Services give time a new direction and dimension. The celebration, therefore, is the existence of the Church itself, where the Resurrection continues taking place as a historical reality and mystically places the faithful in the world of divine life. It is the ontological feeling of the eighth day, the par excellence universal event of the Church.  

The Eucharistic dimension of the celebration

The Transfiguration of time, the renewal of the world, the joy given by Christ to man, as well as the imitation of Christ's life, the new life required by the Christian celebration are experienced within the Church, the Eucharist and its mystic life. The Church, says St. Nicholas Kavasilas, "takes its meaning in the sacraments"; that is it lives in the Sacraments. This means that the celebrations and rituals of the Church stem from the one and only sacrament of Christ.

The entire Church is present in the Divine Eucharist, within the Divine Liturgy, the celebration par excellence. Christ is present revealing God's truth to man. The Saints are also present in the Divine Eucharist. The Divine Liturgy is offered "for those who repose in the faith, forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, confessors, and especially for the most blessed and holy Mother of God." Not, though, as our petition to God for the Saints but as a thanking. The Divine Eucharist is not offered as the saint's gratitude for the conducted triumph, but it is offered because the faithful are joyful and hope for the saint's intercession during his celebration. This is why when we celebrate we go to the Church. Celebrate means go to the Church, participate in the divine worship, receive the Body and Blood of Christ in communion, be in communion with God. Celebrate means that I am not alone, but with God and my brethren.

Why do we honour the Saints?

We honour the Saints not as religious heroes, because this would be idolatry, but as living examples of experiencing man's renewal in Christ, as "theurgic lights", as true friends of God, as participants in the passions and glory of Christ as well as leaders of the faithful to "the whole and entire truth in the Holy Spirit".  

The icons of our Saints

The honorary veneration of the Saints springs from the fact that they were honoured themselves by God. The Saints' icons are evidence of this honour conferred by God and so, they invite us to imitation and similar faith. St. Basil the Great says that the "honour given to the icon passes over to the prototype". The honour attributed to the icon passes over to the portrayed person and, in final analysis, is attributed to God.

"We, therefore, following the divinely inspired authority of our Holy Fathers and the traditions of the Catholic Church (for, as we all know, the Holy Spirit indwells her), define with all certitude and accuracy in a manner not unlike that befitting the shape of the precious and life-giving Cross, that the venerable and holy images, painted or mosaic or made of any other fit materials, be placed in the holy churches of God, on sacred vessels and on vestments, walls and panels, houses and streets, to wit, the figure of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, of our immaculate Lady, the Holy Theotokos, of the honourable Angels, of all Saints and of all pious people"

(7th Ecumenical Council)

Bibliography

Geogios Ch. Chrysostomos, Ονοματοδοσία (Naming), Purnara Publications, Thessaloniki 1991.

S. Demoirou, Ονοματοθεσία του ανθρώπου των αρχαίων Ελλήνων και των Ελλήνων χριστιανών (Name placing for man in the ancient Greeks and Greek Christians), Athens 1976.

K. Mantzouranis, Τα κυριώτερα ονόματα των ελλήνων και ελληνίδων με σύντομον ιστορίαν των και την ετυμολογικήν και συμβολικήν σημασία των (The most important names of Greek men and women with their short history and their etymological and symbolical significance), Athens 1951

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