What's in a name?

A number of people - particularly those who know me as Michael - have expressed curiosity over my adoption of the name Cyprian.

It really isn't the exciting story that you might hope it to be but, well... here it is.

When I was new to Orthodoxy, I interacted with many Orthodox Christians online to learn as much as I could and to become familiar with Orthodox faith, practice, and culture.  I understood from these interactions that I would take a saint's name at some point, and it was explained to me that, as part of my catechumenate, my priest would ask me which saint I would like as my patron.

So, I was made a catechumen (in the Byzantine calendar, on the feast of the miracle of St Michael at Colossae), and given the name Michael.  Some months passed, and I wasn't asked, so I made the enquiry about taking a new name, only for my priest to explain that I had already been made a catechumen with the name of Michael.

It turns out that the advice I had been given online reflected only one practice, and that there is another, which is based on the understanding that, if you already have a saint's name, that saint has led and guided you to the point of knocking on the Church's door, seeking entry, and ought not to be abandoned.

I asked about changing my name when I was ordained a reader and then again a subdeacon, but was told that this is not the custom of the Russian church.  So I was stuck with Michael.

Yet it was questions of ecclesiology that had caused me to begin exploring Orthodoxy in the first place, and it was in the writings of St Cyprian of Carthage that I had found clarity and answers.  While they may not be the answers I would entirely subscribe to today, they were pivotal on my journey into Orthodoxy, and I value his writings immensely.

Also, in the life of St Cyprian, I saw myself - both as what I was and also what I hoped I might be.

After the Roman persecution of Christians under the emperor Decius, St Cyprian was very hard on those who had fallen, and who had offered sacrifice to the emperor, and even on those who had not done so but who had signed false documents claiming to have done so to preserve their safety.  As a bishop, and a nobleman of means, he was able to go into hiding, so was really quite unfair to those who did not have the resources and privileges that he had had.

In this, I saw something of myself - quick to point out what is right and proper, and not always stopping to take account of the human cost of doing the right thing and the real difficulties that this might pose for some people.

Yet, in the later persecution under the emperor Valerian, St Cyprian did not go into hiding but stayed with his people as their pastor, and so he was arrested and martyred, boldly confessing the Faith of Christ even to the point of death.

Is this something that I would do?  I would like to say yes but the reality is that I cannot know that until faced with the situation myself.  However, I know that I have a holy advocate and example in the person of St Cyprian of Carthage.

Therefore, shortly after my reception into the Orthodox Church of the Gauls, I asked my bishop's blessing finally to take the name of Cyprian, which he graciously granted.  Now I have him as my patron saint, interceding for me before the throne of God.

We honour you, O Cyprian, as a true shepherd who with your sacred words and divinely-wise doctrines have shown us the boundary-stones marking out the one Church of Christ.  Even to death you bore witness with courage; wherefore, we extol you as a bishop and martyr. Entreat Christ that we all may be saved.
Kontakion, tone 2 

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