There is an ancient Church tradition to name a child at baptism. It is through baptism we are adopted as children of God; therefore, receiving a new name identifies us as a disciple of Christ. The name chosen would be one of biblical origin, a saint of the Church, or someone else who exemplifies and models faith in God. Today, it is not uncommon for a child (or adult) to be given a baptismal name in addition to his or her birth name.
But where does this tradition of naming come from? And what does it have to do with circumcision? Like many things, it has its beginnings in the book of Genesis. “So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.” ~ Genesis 2:19
What was the purpose of Adam naming the animals? In the previous chapter of Genesis, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” A name, then, gives both identification as well as a sense of belonging to the one who has done the naming.
Later in the book of Genesis, circumcision, like naming, became the seal or identification of those who belonged to the ‘people of God.’ Performed on the eighth day after a child’s birth, it served as an irreversible sign of promise, a branding which made one the property of God. For Christians, following the death and resurrection of Christ, the practice of circumcision as the entrance into a covenant relationship with God ceased, and baptism became the entrance point into communion with God.
Explaining the meaning of circumcision in the Old Testament and baptism in the Church, St. Cyril of Alexandria writes, “The rite of circumcision was abolished by the introduction of baptism, of which circumcision was a type. It separated the descendants of Abraham by a sort of sign and seal and distinguished them from all other nations. It prefigured in itself the grace of divine baptism. Formerly a male who was circumcised was included among the people of God by virtue of that seal; nowadays, a person who is baptized and has formed in himself Christ the seal, becomes a member of God’s adopted family.”
Like circumcision, baptism was still traditionally done on the child’s eighth day to mark his or her entrance into ‘life in Christ,’ and also like circumcision, it is an irreversible seal that marks the baptized as an adopted member of the ‘people of God.’ St. Paul writes, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God…” ~ Colossians 2:11-12
In the Armenian Church, the Feast of Naming of the Lord «Անուանակոչութիւն» is celebrated on January 13th, the eighth and last day of Theophany. “And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Luke 2:21). Our Lord was given the name Jesus, meaning ‘Savior,’ and our Savior has named us. Through baptism, we belong to Him. Those who are baptized make up the Church, and together, the Church makes up the people of God. Theophany is a celebration, proclamation, and remembrance of many things, and living out the commitment of our baptism, and the promises prayed over us, is of foremost priority.
We can aptly conclude the season of Theophany and the Feast of the Naming of the Lord with the fitting words of St Paul as he writes, “…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).
Hymn for the Eighth Day of Theophany
Looys ee loosoh/ Լոյս ի լուսոյ (Light from light)
+ Light from Light, you were sent by the Father and you assumed a body from the holy Virgin so that you might renew the corrupt Adam.
+ You, God, appeared on earth and you went about with people, and you saved the universe from Adam’s curse.
+ The voice of your Father testified of you from heaven, saying, “This is my Son.” And in the appearance of a dove the Holy Spirit revealed you.
+ You cleaned humanity’s filth with the Spirit and with fire. All of us shall praise you as God and Savior.
+ The Savior appeared and brought the world back to life from the deception of the enemy, granting us adoption through baptism.
+ The One who brings life appeared today and burns our sin with water. He refreshes the world with his divine water.
+ The Savior crushed the dragon’s head in the Jordan River and by his own power he brought everyone back to life.
+ Restoring the old man, today the Savior comes to baptism to make our corrupted nature new with water, giving us an incorruptible garment instead.
+ Christ is baptized and all creatures are made holy. He forgives our sins, washing us from above with water and the Spirit.
How does this hymn shape our understanding of the Feast of Theophany – Christ’s birth and baptism, our baptism, the Eighth Day, and The Feast of the Naming of the Lord?
The Nativity and Washing of the Child, together with the Annunciation to the Shepherds, the Adoration of the Angels, and the Journey of the Magi, 1633, Istanbul.