When a child is born it is given a name that will stay with them (unless changed) for the rest of their life. Traditionally, people choose names to express continuity with their family, i.e, they will ‘recycle’ the names of parents, grandparents and other relatives. Orthodox Christians have long chosen the names of Saints to proclaim their link with their spiritual family, the Church.
Every day of the year is dedicated to the memory of at least one Saint or Martyr, as well as events in our Church (Resurrection, Transfiguration) and others (Angels, Holy Cross, Memory of Relics). Mostly though, we remember the day the Saint died or martyred as this is the day of their birth into eternal life. The name chosen for the child may be that of a Saint commemorated on the day or near to the day of the child’s birth, or for whom the family has a special devotion. The child may also be pledged to a certain Saint in the case of a miraculous birth, for example, after having difficulties conceiving. Likewise an adult who is received into the Orthodox Church chooses a Saint’s name to whom they have a strong attachment.
Namedays are more important than birthdays to Orthodox Christians. Often, gifts are given, festive meals are prepared and special preparations are made for an open house or coffee hour at the church.
One’s nameday is an occasion to honour the memory of the Saint whose name we bear and to give thanks for their daily intercession on our behalf. We would benefit from attending the Divine Liturgy on this day having prepared to partake Holy Communion. We could also pray and bake a prosforo (bread offering), as well as do an artoclasia. An icon of our Saint usually adorns our houses and it is important that we learn to chant the troparion of our Saint.
Often it is to our patron Saint that we pray to intercede for us. Their life can be a model for us, and our patron Saint can become a true hero for us to emulate. Those who are not named after a Saint usually celebrate on All Saints Day, the Sunday after Pentecost. The usual greeting for someone on their name day is “hronia polla”.
Source: August-September 2015 Lychnos Edition