Living Up to Your Name
Today is the Feast of the Great Prophet Isaiah and Saint Christopher, both martyrs for being messengers of God’s truth. Isaiah’s name means “Yahweh is Helper” and Christopher translates to “God Bearer”, so both lived up to their names. We are named Christians; I wonder how we live up to our names?
I often joke about my name as a contradiction. My first name, Athanasios, translates to “Everlasting Life” and my last name, Haros, means “death”, making my very existence a constant struggle between life and death. My last name is the instigation of many jokes. Who wants Fr Death visiting the sick in the hospital? Joking aside though, each of us has a name that we are called to live up to. We are each called Christians, and Orthodox Christians at that!
Today reading from Acts recalls the final moments of life for Saint Stephen the First Martyr. ‘Just because’ he insisted on speaking Christ’s truth, the crowd overpowered him and stoned him to death. I was blessed to visit the site of his martyrdom, a beautiful Orthodox Church and Shrine today. Take a moment and read today’s passage from Acts.
In those days, Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, arose and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated men, who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us.” And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. And the high priest said, “Is this so?” And Stephen said: “Brethren and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Depart from your land and from your kindred and go into the land which I will show you.’ Then he departed from the land of the Chaldeans, and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living; yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him in possession and to his posterity after him, though he had no child. “But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands; as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool. What house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’ “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. – Acts 6.8-15, 7.1-5, 47-60
Saint Stephen never waivered from proclaiming the truth of God. Prophet Isaiah never waivered, nor did Saint Christopher. They all suffered for God, but they all are honored by Him and the Church. Now it is our turn to honor God, and live up to our name as Orthodox Christians. It isn’t enough that we call ourselves by this name. we must LIVE the life the name implies. What does the name imply?
To live as an Orthodox Christian is to live knowing we are and wanting to be in communion with God. Through our baptism and chrismation, we are united for all eternity with the creator of the universe. That has consequences to our daily lives. We cannot just sit back and enjoy the comforts of life without first acknowledging that all good things are from God. As I wrote the other day, one day we have good things and the next we don’t. An Orthodox Christians understands this truth of life and never blames God for our struggle. Rather we say as did Saint Stephen, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” or at least we should.
We must be willing, as were Prophet Isaiah and Saint Christopher, never to give up preaching the love and sometimes convicting truth of God. In the end we will be remembered for our faith. Being an Orthodox Christian means we care more about pleasing God than please people, yet most often we shy away from preaching to truth, merely to be liked by our neighbors. It isn’t that we want to be hated, but we should want God’s love more than our neighbors approval.
These are tough lessons in a world that is consumed with self-preservation and glory, but these are words that lead to life with God in heaven. These are the words of life as a Christian. Let’s live up to our name for once.