On Keeping the Name-Days



What is a “name-day”?

Every Orthodox Christian is baptized with a Christian name which either refers to Our Savior or the Mother of God, or is the name of a saint. That saint’s feast-day, or the feast of Christ or the Holy Virgin Mary to which his name refers, is the Christian’s name-day.

What is the significance of the name-day?

Just as a parish’s feast-day is the “second Pascha” for that parish every year, so the Christian’s annual name-day is his personal second Pascha

  1. It is a most sacred and joyous day on which he celebrates his very identity as a Christian, his very existence as a living creature and child of God, by glorifying the holy person for whom he is named.
  2. It is a day of personal renewal and re-commitment to the vows made at Baptism. 
  3. It is a day of joy for his family and friends, as they rejoice in their loved one and in the holy person who is his guardian, guide, and help.

How should we keep the name-day?

A name-day should never pass unnoticed and unobserved!!! It is not only our duty to glorify Christ, Panagia, and our patron saints, it is an opportunity to gain spiritual benefit, joy of soul, the grace of God. But because of the hurried and harried nature of modern city life, we must plan ahead in order to observe our name-day properly. What should we do

  1. By all means, make sure that the church is open and that there are divine services, especially the Divine Liturgy, on your name-day and those of family members. Arrange to be off work and at church. Offer the prosfora for that day along with the customary gifts of oil, wine, and beeswax candles for the Holy Altar. Consider preparing the artoklasia, and make sure that the priest has a list of your family member’s names – the living and the dead – ahead of time, to commemorate at the proskomidi, as well as a list of the living for the artoklasia.  Prepare a little luncheon for trapeza after the services, and invite friends and relatives. 
  2. In the home, THIS should be the day that is celebrated and observed for the adults and children, NOT the birthday. It is very grievous to see Orthodox children spoiled with lavish birthday parties and presents, yet not even know when their name-days are and never be in church for that day or have anything special in their homes on that day. This totally distorts their perception of what is important. 

- We should take our children out of school on their name-days, bring them to church, and prepare a joyous and enjoyable celebration at home as well. THIS, and not the secular birthday parties, should be getting the best share of our energy and attention. 

- AND name-days are not only for children! The name-day of the father of the house is the patronal feast of the entire family. The name-day of the mother of the family - not the phony “Hallmark Holiday” in May – is the real Mother’s Day of the family. And name-days are the special days that our elderly and unmarried adult relatives and friends should receive our special attention. 

  1. Ideally, everyone, adult or child, would fast and prepare for Holy Communion on his name-day. This would be the greatest and most perfect way of keeping this holy day!

What about birthdays?

It is instructive to consider the history of birthdays. The ancient pagans celebrated birthdays because this life was the most important thing for them. As ancient people became converted to the Christian Faith, they moved the emphasis in their activities to eternal life, and therefore it was natural to celebrate their eternal, immortal, and incorruptible identity by a name-day rather than their temporary, mortal, and corruptible identity by a birthday.

Historically, in Orthodox and Roman Catholic countries, that is, wherever the Church feasts and saints were honored, people did NOT celebrate birthdays; they celebrated name-days! Even in America, for example, until the de-Christianization of the 20th century, many people in Roman Catholic places like Quebec and Louisiana did not even know their birthdays! But everyone knew his name-day!

As Protestantism and its natural offspring, love of this world, spread, and more and more people began to neglect and despise the Church’s beautiful annual cycle of feasts, as more and more people began to have contempt for the Mother of God and the Saints (though they called themselves “Christians”!), they returned to celebrating birthdays, just like pagans! This was because their brand of “Christianity” really glorifies THIS life and mundane things, NOT eternal life and holy things!

In the Orthodox community in America, the sad neglect of name-days and disproportionate emphasis on birthdays is a direct consequence of de-Christianization. It is one of the many aspects of their traditional way of life which they minimized or simply dropped in order to do what they imagined they had to do in order to succeed in secular society. It is a major symbol of LOSS OF IDENTITY, BECAUSE YOUR NAME IS YOUR IDENTITY!

This is not to say that it is a sin to have a birthday party. For children, it is understandable that a little birthday party can be a happy family occasion. For a married couple, a spouse’s birthday might be a nice occasion to get away, enjoy an evening out, and so forth. There is no sin in sending a card to an elderly relative on his or her birthday, to show your interest in and love for them. The problem arises when the birthday takes first place over the name day, overshadows the name day, even obliterates all interest in the name day. Among Christians who take their Orthodox identity seriously, this simply should not be.

Let every Orthodox Christian and Orthodox family consider what they need to do to restore this beautiful, joyful, and necessary aspect of the unique and saving way of life received from the earliest generations of Christians, passed on by our ancestors through much suffering, and given to us as an irreplaceable legacy to pass on to our posterity!