Orthodox America

  A Question of NAMES

In a question pertaining to pastoral practice, in the Russian journal Russkiy Pastyr (San Francisco, No. 3, 1994), Archpriest Alexander Lebedev gives an answer that will be of interest to many of our readers.

Q. In praying for the health of unbaptized persons, should they be commemorated out loud; they often have names which are not Orthodox.

A. Although it may grate on the ear to hear "non-Orthodox" names audibly commemorated-during molebens, for example-there is no reason a priest should feel awkward about pronouncing these names aloud. If people are called by that name and the priest is asked to pray for them, how else should they be commemorated?

The truth is, the custom at baptism of giving names only of saints, which is so firmly rooted in the Russian Orthodox Church, although not without significance, is not categorically required by the Orthodox Church as a whole.  Our brother Slavs, the Serbs, do not limit themselves to names of saints. The best evidence that this custom of giving names exclusively from the list of saints did not exist in the earlier history of the Church is the list of saints itself, where we find some 20,000 names.  If from the beginning there had been such a custom, there would be far fewer names. One should not, however, conclude from this that priests can give those being baptized names that are not in the list of saints, i.e., break with the tradition of the Russian Church.  We should rejoice that a custom has been established of giving to each newly-baptized the name of a particular heavenly protector, whose life and ascetic struggles the baptized person should emulate.  At the same time, priests should not look disparagingly upon those who have names that are not found in the list of saints.  We should also mention that very many so-called "non-Orthodox" names belong in fact to saints glorified in the West before the schism of the Roman Church, i.e., wholly Orthodox saints, and although these names are not found in the Russian menologies, they are no less appropriate for newly-baptized persons.  Thus, such names as "Edward," "Richard," and "Genevieve," among many others, are perfectly legitimate "Orthodox" names.

Celebrating Namedays

The celebration of namedays-the day on which one's patron saint is commemorated-is a nice tradition, especially for children, for whom they can be very meaningful.  There are no "rules" for how namedays are observed, although the person celebrating is encouraged to go to church and receive Holy Communion that day or, if this is not possible, close to that day.  In Russian families it is customary to bake a cake and invite people for tea. Here, a convert to the Faith describes how the tradition is developing in her family.

We began what has become an established tradition for celebrating namedays in our household when Angelina was 2 1/2 years old.  Anthony was only an infant at the time but has since come to appreciate the tradition and participate in it himself.  The children and I bake homemade cinnamon roles together. From scratch we mix and kneed the dough.  While waiting for it to rise, we talk about the Saint and her/his life.  After the rolls are baked, we light the nameday child's baptismal candle before the icon of the saint and say the Lord's Prayer and the troparion to the saint.  Then we enjoy the rolls.  Now that the children are older, we invite a few of their Orthodox friends to come and share in the celebration.

Last year, on Angelina's nameday, we were visiting my mother.  Although she is not Orthodox, she was pleased to participate.  My nine year-old niece was also present, and she was very intrigued, wanting to know if she had a saint and more about why and what we were celebrating.  It was a perfect opportunity to introduce her to the Faith. 
Maria Thomas