Wednesday, March 29, 2017

New Name New You

When someone chooses to become a member of the Orthodox Church, it is common to change names. This very ancient tradition can be seen in today’s reading from Genesis. Abram became Abraham. Other examples include Saul who becomes Paul, and Simon who becomes Peter. Admittedly not all believers in the ancient world changed their names, but that does not take away from the profound meaning of those who did change names. This custom has been a part of the Church since the first days and continues until today.

The basic meaning behind the name change reflects the new life now realized in the Church. Saul for example converted from being the great persecutor of the Church to become the great missionary of the Church. This drastic change is very noticeable in the monastic tradition when someone “leaves” the world behind to join the new community. The new life deserves a new name.  In a similar way, when someone becomes Orthodox, especially as an adult, it makes sense that a name change would be in order.

If we embrace our relationship with Christ, whether through infant baptism or adult conversion or baptism, our life is expected to change. If we consider that in our baptism we die to the world to live in Christ, then this tradition might make more sense. There is one thing missing in the modern usage as I have experienced it (albeit on a limited basis) with conversion stories. Most people receive a new “Orthodox Name” which they use during Holy Communion and other sacraments, but maintain their original name in their daily life. I would suppose that if we fully accepted the concept of a new life, then we would use the new name in every aspect of our life. To do otherwise would be risking a dual personality. Either we have a new life or we don’t.

Today’s Old Testament Readings:
Isaiah 41:4-14 (RSV) - Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am He.  The coastlands have seen and are afraid, the ends of the earth tremble; they have drawn near and come.  Every one helps his neighbor, and says to his brother, "Take courage!"  The craftsman encourages the goldsmith, and he who smoothes with the hammer him who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, "It is good"; and they fasten it with nails so that it cannot be moved.  But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, "You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off"; fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.  Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish.  You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all.  For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, "Fear not, I will help you."  Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I will help you, says the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
 Genesis 17:1-9 (RSV) -  When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.  And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly."  Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him,  "Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.  No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.  I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you.  And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.  And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."
 Proverbs 15:20-16:9 (RSV) - A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish man despises his mother.  Folly is a joy to him who has no sense, but a man of understanding walks aright.  Without counsel plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed.  To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!  The wise man's path leads upward to life, that he may avoid Sheol beneath.  The LORD tears down the house of the proud, but maintains the widow's boundaries.  The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD, the words of the pure are pleasing to him.  He who is greedy for unjust gain makes trouble for his household, but he who hates bribes will live.  The mind of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.  The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.  The light of the eyes rejoices the heart, and good news refreshes the bones.  He whose ear heeds wholesome admonition will abide among the wise.  He who ignores instruction despises himself, but he who heeds admonition gains understanding.  The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility goes before honor.  The plans of the mind belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.  All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit.  Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.  The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.  Every one who is arrogant is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished.  By loyalty and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil.  When a man's ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.  Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.  A man's mind plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.

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