At the Name of Jesus

On the eighth day after His birth, the eternal Son of God, in accordance with the Law, would have been circumcised and given His name. The name He received was quite common. It is the same Hebrew name as “Joshua.” It means, “God saves.” No other name is spoken as often with such tenderness and devotion. The name itself has become a prayer. We are told that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But I marvel that the name was a common thing to begin with, like “Bob,” or “Joe.” There was no great revelation of a multi-syllabic construction never-before-spoken. This was not a magical word (like ‘abracadabra’ and ‘hocus pocus’). A thousand mothers across the land called for little boys by the same name so that they would come to supper. No one, hitting their thumb, uttered this name as a swear word.

The point of this name was the content which filled it. The name was as common as the flesh-and-blood that lay in a manger. But the name and the flesh-and-blood were united now with the person of the Son of God. By that name He will come to supper in every human heart.

We do not think about a name as something “physical.” It seems “mental” to us (as though our thoughts were not themselves a material thing). But a name is a pattern of sound, as describable as a rock or a tree. It is difficult to think about the relationship between Jesus and His name. An Orthodox thinker was once condemned for holding that “the name of God is God.” That, apparently, is the wrong way to speak of the matter. But the “name of God” is not “nothing.” There is a content. In other matters, we speak about these things in terms of icon or sacrament. The Holy Name seems somewhere in between. And, for that, I don’t think we have a word. But we have the Name.

It is sweet.

It is of note, to me, that Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants all have various devotions to the Holy Name. There seems to be little argument surrounding it. At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess…

 

39 comments:

  1. Happy New Year Father,
    I think we have lost some of the meaning of names in wake of the modern project. Names have meanings and we given as not only designaters of an individual but also a description of their character. One only has to look at Native American names to see this. I just watched a series of videos on the Battle of the Little Big Horn and the head Indian scout for Custer was called “White Man Runs Him.”
    We have denied the real significance of names in modernity because we separate symbol (name) from reality (character.) Even though the name of Jesus was commonly given to boys, its meaning is not common and most of the bearers of that name in Scripture were not common people.

  2. Yes, Fr. Stephen, the name of Jesus is precious on the lips of believers. I was reminded of the 20 Copts beheaded by Isis, now almost 3 years ago. Along with them was a man from Chad. He was moved by the faith of his friends. It is said that when they came to him he said, “Their God is my God!” He was beheaded along with them. Just the meer mention of that sweet saving name can still produce martyrs. Lord Jesus, have mercy on them, their families and all of us.

  3. Might I add…
    Coptic Bishop Mina said the name “Jesus” was on the lips of many of the martyrs at their beheading. You mentioned, Fr., that Protestants use the Name reverentially, also. I can still hear my elderly mother repeating over and over His name as she prayed.

  4. In some tribal societies the father named the children. When he knew the child’s name, he would take the child and walk to a private place and whisper the chid’sname into his ear. Thus the child heard his name first and in secret. Only then would the father walk back to the village and announce the new addition to the tribe.

  5. Thank you Father for lifting up His holy name! Sweet…yes sweeter than honey…it does something even to those who don’t believe. Rarely mediocre, it usually creates a strong reaction, either way.
    About “Jesus” not being a magical word, there is a website that offers answers to all biblical questions that warns their readers of the danger of the Jesus Prayer becoming a mantra, a magical incantation, and a vain repetition; a form of ‘ritual and tradition’ which is in opposition to true ‘spiritual practice’. But under the teaching of Tradition the meaning of His name, rich in meaning and content, is the cry of this prayer. They misunderstand.
    One last thing…where you quote ” every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”, I think about that verse often, and similarly emphasize “every”. I don’t know if this means that every knee will bow in submission, confessing Jesus as their Lord, but when I pray I “remind” God that such is my hope, in light of this verse. But yes, either way, each and every soul will know He is Lord.

  6. Sometimes the Jesus Prayer is the only prayer I can muster. It feels like a life-line that, if I can just manage to hold on to it, will gradually pull me upward out of the abyss of the darkness of this Fallen world. When I fail at everything else, I call on His Holy Name and trust in His mercy to save me.

  7. “By that name He will come to supper in every human heart.” A lovely post, Father, and a lovely line.

    It reminds me of several things, all of which converge on the matter of the intimate relationship we are invited to have with God, now that we know His name in Jesus.

    An online friend of mine who is Jewish always types “God” as “G-d”. He explained that he has always been taught that the name of God is too holy to say or write. And I know this to be an ancient practice. However, nowhere are we, as Christians, told to refrain from saying the name of Jesus. On the contrary, we told to use His name when we pray and through it we are drawn into family relationship with Him. The “Our Father” not only teaches us that you and I have the same Father but that we all have the same Father as Jesus.

    Another thought coming to mind is from St. Porphyrios’ book, “Wounded By Love”:

    “And when you repeat the prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’, say it slowly, humbly, gently and with divine love. Pronounce the name of Christ with sweetness. Say the words one at a time: ‘Lord…Jesus…Christ…have mercy on me’, smoothly, tenderly, affectionately, silently, secretly, mystically, but with exaltation, with longing, with passion, without tension, force or unbecoming emphasis, without compulsion or pressure. In the way a mother speaks to the child she loves: “my little boy…my darling girl…my little Johnny…my wee Mary!’ With longing. Yes, longing. That’s the whole secret. Here the heart is speaking: ‘My little child, my joy!’ ‘My Lord, my Jesus, my Jesus, my Jesus!'” (p. 127)

    To some, such a tender and intimate calling of Jesus to our hearts might seem inappropriate at best. To speak to Him as we would our own child? And yet during this season we are remembering Him as a human child – as much a little child as any other. Our western saint, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, is known and loved for having taught about the practice of “spiritual childhood”, recognizing our smallness and trusting our Father implicitly. She related to His smallness as a Child from the smallness of her own humanity.

    Well, I must be off to make supper. I’m expecting a Guest. 🙂

  8. I love the word “supper.” When I grew up we had breakfast, dinner and supper. Even better when the Master says He will come in and “sup” with us if we but open our heart’s door. And this to an everlasting banquet. The symbolism of close friends dining together is wonderful. While in Mexico if we were invited to supper with a family we were welcomed into a close familial relationship. And of course with the Eucharistic meal we dine even now with our Lord Jesus and with all the other invited guests.

  9. Dean
    Adding to your reflection is the cultural concept that supping with someone in Middle Eastern culture was not just eating and fellowship but a commitment to defend the guests life. It is the Law of Hospitality and it is why the Pharisees were so offended by the Lord supping with sinners and it also says a great deal about Him supping with us. It is not mere fellowship but a sacred pledge of defense.

  10. Many people have a superstition concerning the Sweetest name of our Lord Jesus.

    The pious superstitions of those outside the Church maybe mentioned as was the mentioning of the stranger who began a personal ministry preaching in by the name or authority of Jesus Christ.

    However, we must also be cautionary; for a superstitious sentimentality is NOT Orthodox. As our Lord explained to the woman at the well, “you worship what you do not know”.

    The Lord did not instruct the Twelve to begin a joint-ministry with the stranger who was moved by his own sentiment to begin his own ministry apart from the communion of the Twelve with Jesus. Neither did He instruct them to silence him, because he was not among the Orthodox Communion with Christ.

    Yes many have a sentimental love for the Sweetest Name of Jesus for “God Saves”.

    But should there not be a warning?

    For in the Acts of the Apostle we have an account of some who attempted to
    Cast out demons in our Lord Jesus’ name. The result was not pleasant, for though the name God Saves was used, the Demons did not recognize it’s use as having any Orthodox Authority over them.

    In this later case, the exorcist depended upon their knowledge of Paul to assure them of their confidence or boldness to call on the authority of the name of Jesus, God Saves to save someone else.

    Yes, there is a big promise in “All who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”.

    But is not this promise like the rain which God sends upon all mankind?

    And must not we be on guard to not be taken in by the sentiment of piety, for true love is in the Truth?

    Ought not St. Paul’s words in Philippians 1:18 guide us?

    Are all those who love the name of Jesus to be counted as “brethren”, for so the Apostle signifies those of whom he wrote in Philippians?

    I loved the name of Jesus Christ from my earliest remembrances. And began calling on His Precious name 50 years before I found and was found by the Orthodox Church. But it took that many years to prepare me for to believe and receive Christ into my heart through baptism into the Orthodox Church.

    For me, I know there was a process of purging of old thoughts sown by incorrect instruction and miss-directed affections. My love for the Sweetest Name known to Mankind needed correction to accomplish what the Promise “All who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Assured me.

    Yet there remains a future rest for those who call on the name of the Lord, and which obligates the one needing saved to be worthy of that salvation. Philippians 1:29

    God is Good and His mercies are new every morning. Let us call upon His name early, for our salvation is still before us.

    Thank-you

    John Dunn

  11. Hi John Dunn,

    I think what is most important is that we call upon the name of Jesus with a sincere heart. The Lord Jesus does not insist that we wait until we have profound understanding of Church teachings or even that we are spiritually mature. He simply wants our hearts – at whatever stage they are – even if full of sin and delusion. Hence, the Baptist believer who calls upon the name of Jesus with sincerity is perhaps more in communion with Christ than the Orthodox (or Catholic) who calls upon His name with their lips only. (As, sadly, it is easy for many of us to do when our prayers become familiar and we become “comfortable” in our Faith.)

    However, I certainly acknowledge that there are and can be misuses of the Name or misunderstandings that can lead to error. A very common one is the automatic appending of “we pray in the name of Jesus” to every prayer, thinking that this guarantees its fulfillment. This is not what it means to “pray in the name of Jesus”. To believe so may lead a person to unbelief when they interpret the absence of a miracle as God has not kept His promises. And there certainly may be people who reach excesses in their sentiment – but I am in no position to judge who they are. I may be standing next to a saint such as Porphyrios!

    Forgive me. Blessed be His Holy Name.

  12. Karen…thank you. Beautiful hymn. The writer is the same one who wrote “Amazing Grace” (and many others). His personal story that inspired him to write it is amazing too…
    Amazing Grace
    How sweet the sound
    Who saved a wretch like me.
    I once was lost but now am found
    Was blind but now I see.

  13. John Dunn,
    I think there is a possible article in what you observe. But on the day of His Holy Name, I chose to be generous, and to believe the best of the Lord’s generosity even towards those who are ignorant. I think we Orthodox frequently forget that the vast majority of Christians “do not know any better”. After all, the historical mess of contemporary Christianity is far from being their own fault – they inherited this mess.

    I am no ecumenist – I understand and respect the boundaries of the Church. But God is generous beyond our understanding – “generous and kind to the ungrateful and the evil” – according in St. Luke’s gospel. If He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil, how much more might we expect His kindness to those who love His name without truly correct understanding?

    In a bit of hyperbole, Fr. Tom Hopko once suggested that only the Orthodox would be in hell, since we alone possessed the truth.

    Be cautious in judging others – you set a standard by which God will judge us – who have no excuse.

  14. John Dunn,
    Yes, some may call on Jesus’ name out of sentimentality. However, I can’t see their heart. Can you know what someone thinks, feels toward the icon she is praying to? I can’t. Also, there is no direct relationship between “all who call on the Lord will be saved” and the Lord causing rain to fall on the just and unjust. In the first, people are actively calling on the Lord for help/salvation. In the second they are passive recipients, God acting upon them.
    I am glad you are in the Ark of Salvation. Like you, I did not know the Church for 50 years. But Christ is constantly throwing out life-rafts to millions around the ship, keeping them afloat, also. “God is a good God who loves mankind.”
    Mary Benton…good words.

  15. Mary Benton,

    You said, “the Baptist believer who calls upon the name of Jesus with sincerity is perhaps more in communion with Christ than the Orthodox (or Catholic) who calls upon His name with their lips only.”

    In addition to Baptist believers, I would add Methodists, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, African Methodist Episcopalians, and any and all others who believe in Jesus as their savior, regardless of their denomination or their understanding of any dogma, doctrine or creed,

    I would also edit out the word “perhaps.”

  16. Hmmm, I wonder if “sincerity” is the right way to consider closeness to God. After all, most people are sincere–even in their passions and misguided focuses in life. Calling upon the Name may be nothing more than a form of idolatry, no matter how sincere. I often consider that even love may be distorted by our passions (so many today seem to think that love validates anything and everything in life).

    Like anything else, I suppose it is dangerous to try to nail this down legalistically. As Father mentioned, best to not set such a standard! It is enough that God is good.

  17. Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on us!

    From St. Silouan the Athonite: p. 198 ‘The life (Christ Jesus) is the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.’ The darkness of non-being cannot black out the light of life. All the good that proceeds from God and returns to God is indestructible. Prayer is the highest form of ontological good, indestructible, eternal. It is ‘that good part, which shall not be taken away.’

    Philippians 1:15-18 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will, The later do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel: the former proclaim Christ out of partisanship, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed: and in that I rejoice.

    Is this not the battle that goes on in the heart of all who call upon of our Lord Jesus Christ? Sometimes in pretense, sometimes in truth.

    Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on us!

  18. John Dunn, there may be a distinct difference between calling on Jesus name in humility for one’s own salvation and attempting to use it without authority to save others.

    I was for all intents and unbeliever when 50 years ago I cried out in pain with little hope, “If you are real, let me know.” Jesus came clearly and unmistakenly. Only He knows why.

  19. Michael,
    I heard you mention once before the way Christ met you. I love to hear it because 50 years ago I too prayed the exact same prayer, “Jesus if you’re real please let me know.” I went to bed agnostic and woke up believing. I think Jesus came to us both… as He will come to any thirsting heart, because of His love for us. Jesus beckons
    to us in John 7, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink….” What wonderful condescension.

  20. Fr. Stephen,
    I wish you a happy new year with good health. Thank you for the love and strength you give me with Your Writings.

  21. Fr. Stephen,

    I’m afraid I don’t understand your problem with “sincerity”. Are you objecting to any human judgment of sincerity? Or the reality of one’s heart before God?

    Of course, I cannot judge anyone else’s sincerity. Often I cannot even be sure of my own – it becomes so easily contaminated by passions, distractions and everything else. My own reference was to the reality before God – which only God knows.

    I suppose one might question why I bothered to make the initial comment at all, if “sincerity” is something known only by God. I know I’m just restating what others have said before me – but I think it is important to emphasize that Jesus hears and responds to all who call on Him with sincerity of heart, even if they are burdened by false beliefs, ignorance or confusion.

    And if we consider sincerity on a continuum (rather than an all-or-nothing), He responds lovingly to even the smallest spark of sincerity in the heart of the sinner. If He did not, I fear that none of us would have a chance.

  22. Fr. Stephen,

    I was joyfully reading your posting, but I confess it’s lofty height had me soaring above the fray of the earthly contest. Such loftiness is above my grade, I haven’t yet earned my wings.

    Nobody likes their love being questioned; not even an Apostle.

    Thank-you for your reply, and also others who gave responses.

    I encountered a person this very morning whose name was Anastasia. My grand-daughter’s name is the same, which gave me an opportunity to speak about this coincidence and to find out if she was an Orthodox Christian. Her answer churned within me for she had said.

    “I was raised Greek Orthodox and my family is Greek Orthodox, but I don’t go there and just identify myself as a Protestant Christian now, because we are all really the same.”

    My heart was aching with prayer on how to offer her correction.

    We sat in silence until we neared her stop. She spoke to thank me for our meeting and I replied,

    I mean no offense, but as you learned the Orthodox Faith as a Child, I have had to learn it after much inquiry. I ask you, Please do not confuse our Civil Faith with our Orthodox Faith; for in our Civil Faith all who the Churches calling them self Christians are the same. This is for civil order and peaceful Commerce among neighbors.
    Please don’t let your Orthodox Faith be replaced by our American Civil Faith. One promises earthly Freedom only, the other gives eternal life, for it is the True Faith.

    Forgive me if I was off mark.

    John Dunn

  23. Father, Byron, and Mary,

    Now that I think about it, I guess I would use the word “sincerity” in the sense of not violating the Third Commandment.

  24. My apologies all, for any confusion and frustration my comment caused. I am not questioning “sincerity” in and of itself. My only concern is that it is too often used as a justification for almost anything in our modern societies. I think Father hit the nail on the head in pointing out that there is nothing wrong with sincerity, it is just not a good tool to measure (truth). Just my thoughts.

  25. John Dunn,
    There are many who have left the Orthodox faith for little reason – but who were “in” the faith for very little reason as well. Our American civil religion doesn’t care what we believe or think so long as we’re willing to serve the American project.

  26. If I would have to describe sincerity from my own inner experience ( I’m not referring to other how other people may seem or are ) I would say it’s a mix of emotional responses and overthinking combined . I doubt that neither have much to do with my heart/ nous .
    Maybe regardless that is what sincerity is , in my case anyways . I’m reminded of the The great divorce and the lady who argues in heaven about the love she had/ has for her son , which as the argument unfolds we see is her key passion and deluded in the realty of perfect truth . However she sincerely believes and argues her point. Who could question the sincerity of a mothers love towards her son ?Yet in the light of perfect truth it is shown as self seeking love though she won’t accept it .

  27. The Love of the Name of God, is it not the Love for the Day of His manifestation? The day of His appearing? The Day of The Lord; or as called in the Revelation: The Lord’s Day?

    For in calling upon our Lord’s name, we call upon His Presence to be made manifest as “God with us!”

    And mankind has been calling upon God’s name since Genesis 4; and God has led the nations by this means unto Himself. The Lord said “Thy Faith had made Thee whole.”.

    Sometimes with the Twelve we have to marvel at His mercies manifest among the nations.

    Again, thank-you.

    JohnD

  28. At the conclusion of Liturgy today, there was a Naming Service performed on the 8th day of the child, Sophia’s life. Did not know about that service. Neat to experience.

  29. Michael
    That is because it normally is done at home. The Service is in the Great Book of Needs. You should look at one and see all the various services that are performed mostly privately. It is very interesting.

  30. Nicholas,
    Since you mentioned the Great Book of Needs….
    Maybe you know of a prayer for “admonition of animals”? I heard about it in a recorded talk by Met. Anthony Bloom, how he read it to a mouse in his mice-infested house in London (and all mice disappeared!)… I have always wanted to find it. 🙂
    Thank you, and Happy New Year to all friends here!
    Agata

  31. Agata,
    The next time I pick up the Great Book of Needs (it comes in two volumes) I will look and see. I have never heard of that prayer, but then I have not read or used the entirety of the Book. I let you know.

  32. Thank you Nicholas,
    Maybe just email me, so I don’t miss it. My Gmail is “agatamcc”.
    I love how he says (it’s in his talk on prayer) that he did not believe such a prayer can work, but since some Saint wrote it (he must have believed) and the prayer was addressed to the mouse (it had to listen and obey), the result was not at all dependent on his personal “belief”… I really love this approach to praying “prescribed prayers”.. 🙂

  33. Agata, I will make a note to investigate the next time I go to the church which should be tomorrow or Wednesday

  34. Agata
    I did look in all four volumes of the Great Book of Needs that we possess and alas no prayer like the one you describe. That does not mean that the prayer does not exist, it means it is not where I thought it might be. I do not know where else to look. Sorry

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