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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Saint Cyprian


St Cyprian of Carthage, Bishop, Doctor of the Church, Martyr +258

When I was made a catechumen and later baptised, I was given the name Michael, which had always been my name anyway. There was never really anything in the way of discussion about the taking of another Saint's name. While we have never discussed it, I think that my parish priest may be of the school of thought that says that if one already has a Saint's name, it is right to keep that name for, after all, that Saint has guided and prayed for the person and has helped to bring him to the point of coming to Christ. I see much merit in this and it does indeed make sense to me. That said, it seem to me that, on the psychological level, a change of name is a good way of marking the beginning of a new way of life. A conversion of will, heart, mind, body, and entire being to the Way, a rebirth as a new creature from the font of Baptism, seems to naturally call for a new name. We see in Scripture the understanding that the name is tied up with the identity of a person, and we see names changed as they understand themselves and their relationship with God differently.

I should very much like to take a new name in the Church. Part of me is very glad that I didn't choose a name when I was baptised, largely because I knew very little about the plethora of Saints that there are, and would have likely chosen the name of Bertram/Bertelin, after the local Saint whose tomb I visited on the day before my Baptism. However, in honesty, while I have a great privilege in being able to make pilgrimage to his holy places, and while I am moved by the humility displayed I his life, I haven't really developed a devotion to him in the way that I have St Winefride or St Cyprian, both of whom I knew little to nothing before I came to Orthodoxy and began to learn much more about the Saints.

I really do feel an affinity to St Cyprian, for the clarity of his teachings, the pastoral sensitivity in working out the practical application of them as they apply to real people, and mostly for the nature of his teachings. As some will know, my initial reasons for being spurred to explore Orthodoxy were to do with ecclesiology. That has acted as a springboard for the rest of my love and understanding of our holy Tradition, and I find that love and understanding affirmed and expanded by the writings of St Cyprian. The Church as a communion of God's children, bound together by common faith and love for God and one another, in celebration of God's love for us, and with the destiny of moving into oneness of life with the Trinity really is quite beautiful. While much of what is found in St Cyprian's treatises and epistles may not be very popular among many people today, his writings are held up as a clear expression of Christian understanding on the matters on which he wrote, and he himself was martyred for confessing that Christian Faith. He really serves as a great inspiration to me and it would be lovely to be able to take his name. However, I have been baptised with the name Michael and that is what my name is in the Church. There must be some sense in this, but it is unclear to me at the present why the delay in my knowing much about the Saints is simultaneously the opportunity for me to find in whom I find one in whim I find strength and inspiration and also the reason why it is too late to take his name.

Perhaps this is one of those occasions where I need to allow my own will to be moulded by God's, even though I don't quite understand.

4 comments:

Mark said...

I don't think you need to take a new name; Michael is a wonderful name. :)

Michael Astley said...

Well, in the hypothetical situation in which my desire would become a reality, Michael would remain my secular name but I would be known in church and would receive the Sacraments under the name of Cyprian.

I do know of a lady who was received into the Church under her secular name, as she was one of a number of people coming to Orthodoxy from a protestant background which had trouble with devotion to the Saints. In an extension of economy, a number of them were permitted to keep their secular names and to become Saints with those names, thereby christianising them. In time, the lady in question grew in her Orthodoxy and developed a devotion to a Saint whose name she adopted retrospectively.

However, that was economy, extended where there was a particular pastoral need. I had no such need and could have asked to be received under a particular Saint's name, and I didn't, so I don't think it would be right to start asking favours now. I'll just ask St Cyprian for his prayers and continue to read his letters and treatises. St Michael seems to have done a good enough job so far. :-)

Ian said...

I have only read a little of St Cyprian, and have been encouraged, edified and challenged by his words.

I kept Ian, though the occasional deacon does refer to me as 'John' [Climacus] as I partake of Communion.

May St Michael and St Cyprian ever pray to the Lord for you.

Michael Astley said...

And St Ian Climacus for you. :-)