Everyone is familiar with Christmas in the Armenian Church, the Feast of Theophany on January 6 which celebrates the birth and baptism of Jesus Christ. What may be less acknowledged is that Theophany begins on January 6 and lasts a total of eight days. What is then perhaps eclipsed by our grandiose celebration on January 6, is that the last day of Theophany climaxes with the Feast of the Naming of the Lord «Անուանակոչութիւն» on January 13.
In the Gospel of Luke (2:21) we read, “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.” What is the significance of naming? Why at the end of eight days? And what does circumcision have to do with anything?
Naming a son or daughter is exciting! Whether a name is chosen from a book, to carry on the legacy of a close relative or ancestor, or simply because of what the name means, do we ever consider the meaning behind the practice of naming? In the book of Genesis (2:19), “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.” In the previous chapter, God gave man and woman dominion over creation. And so, naming gives meaning, identity, purpose, value, as well as a sense of belonging to the one who has done the naming.
If we continue reading the book of Genesis (17:9-14), we discover that the “people of God” are identified as such through circumcision. Anyone who received this seal entered into covenant with God and belonged to Him. 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 Jesus Christ, the practice of circumcision as the entrance into a covenant relationship with God ceased, being replaced by baptism as the entrance point into communion with God. It is through baptism that we are adopted as children of God, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and together, make up the Church. The fourth century Church Father and theologian, St. Cyril of Alexandria writes, “The rite of circumcision was abolished by the introduction of baptism, of which circumcision was a type. 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 [or herself] Christ the seal, becomes a member of God’s adopted family.”
Today, there still exists an ancient Church tradition to name a child at baptism, which identifies that child 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. Traditionally, like circumcision, baptism is done on the eighth day following a child’s birth 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)
On the eighth day, the Lord was given the name Jesus, meaning “Savior,” and through baptism, our Savior has named us as His own. This is the meaning of the Feast of the Naming of the Lord, the eighth and last day of Theophany. When we celebrate the baptism of Christ, we celebrate our own. Through baptism, we have been adopted and belong to Him. We are given a new identity, new being, in Him. May He keep us on the path of salvation as we, together as the Church, live our one Baptism in Christ and sing the words of the hymn for the eighth day of Theophany, “The Savior appeared and brought the world back to life from the deception of the enemy, granting us adoption through baptism.”