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Imitate the Life of the Saint Whose Name You Bear

Originally Printed in Orthodox Life magazine, 1977

Imitate the Life of the Saint Whose Name You Bear

At Holy Baptism each person is given a Christian name - the name of an angel or of some holy person. This bestowal of a Christian name at baptism has a profound meaning and a great significance. A Christian name serves not only to distinguish one person from another, but also establishes an important bond with the saint of that name and places a definite obligation upon him. From the moment a baptized person is given his Christian name, the saint whose name he has been given becomes his personal guide and mentor on the path to Heaven. The Christian is thus entrusted to this saint for instruction, for preparation for the life to come. In like manner, as a father entrusts his children to a good and experienced teacher, so also does our Heavenly Father deliver the Christian to the care and guidance of his patron saint. In one’s patron saint, the Christian has his dearest and best teacher, comforter, guardian and intercessor at the throne of God. The spiritual joy a Christian experiences is at the same time the joy of his heavenly protector; his sorrow is also his saint’s sorrow. With whom can we ask for help, if not from the saint who lives our life with us, who rejoices in our joy, who is saddened by our grief? Indeed, it is not in vain that the pious Christian has a moleben served on his “namesday,” i.e. the day on which the Church commemorates his heavenly patron. We earnestly entreat our saint that, forgiving our offenses and all the sins we committed throughout the year, he will not forsake us in his aid and intercession before God throughout the coming year. Our patron saint rejoices with us in this and prays to God with us, and offers up his own mighty prayers to reconcile us with our Heavenly Master.

The bearing of a Christian name imposes a great and sacred obligation upon us; by our own life we must imitate the saint whose name it is our good fortune to bear; if not, we will show ourselves to be unworthy of the mercies of our heavenly protectors. We have been created for eternal life in heaven, and the saints are given to us as guides along the path.

It is a well-known truth that the example is the best teacher. Words of instruction often remain merely words if they are not supported by example. In the holy saints we have wonderful examples of holy and righteous life. We must therefore imitate them in our own lives. In this regard, the saints themselves present us with a lofty and edifying example, for they strove with zeal to make manifest in their own lives and deeds those good traits of Christian conduct that were to be found in the lives of their patron saints.Here is but one example of this. On June 6th, we celebrate the memory of St. Hilarion the New. WHile yet a child living at his parent’s home, he often read the life of his patron saint, the venerable Hilarion the Great, and strove to imitate him according to the measure of a child’s capacity. Thus the desire was born in him to imitate his heavenly protector, St. Hilarion, in abandoning the world and its vanities. This desire grew increasingly stronger with the passage of the years, and lo, when he reached the age of twelve we already find him at the holy monastery of Dalmatus, clothed in monastic garb. For ten years he remained in unwavering obedience, laboring diligently in the monastery’s garden. Yet while carrying out his duties without grumbling, HIlarion did not lose sight of  the other obligations of a monk, and often read the life of St. Hilarion the Great, striving to imitate him in fasting, prayer and in all manner of ascetic labors. For this he has received the title St. Hilarion the New (or the younger). The abbot of the monastery recommended him for ordination to the holy priesthood, but he declined this high rank out of humility. After the abbot;s repose, the brethren decided to elect Hilarion to fill his place, but this, too, he declined, acquiescing only at the insistence of the patriarch of Constantinople. During the iconoclastic controversy, St. HIlarion came forward in defense of Holy Orthodoxy and the veneration of the icons; for this he was given over to many tortures and was finally sent off to imprisonment on one of the islands in the Sea of Marmara. During the regency of Empress Theodora, a defender of the veneration of icons, St. Hilarion was returned from his prison to the monastery of Dalmatus, where he spent the remaining days of his life.

St. Hilarion, a brief account of whose life has been given above, serves as an edifying example of the imitation of the life of the saint whose name one bears. He often read the life of his patron saint and strove to follow his example in fasting and prayer. We also should acquaint ourselves with the life of our patron saints and imitate them in our lives. “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation” (Heb. 13:7). This injunction is given to us by the Apostle to the Gentiles. Is it possible, then, that we should abandon the world, enclose ourselves in a narrow, monastic cell, become “fools for Christ’s sake,” to imitate the saints? No, this is not required of us. Have a firm faith in God, love Him with all your heart, live according to the canons of the Holy Church, unite yourselves to her, love your neighbors - selflessly, forsake your vices and passions, pray often to God, visit the church, avail yourself frequently of the opportunity to confess your sins, partake of Holy Communion with reverence, with full knowledge of your unworthiness of receiving the dread Mysteries of Christ - do all this and you will be a worthy imitator of the life of your saint and of all the saints, for they were pleasing to God in their works and were vouchsafed the Kingdom of Heaven.

St. Athanasius the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria, relates that St. Anthony the Great, gathering knowledge of the ascetics of his time, studied in each of them their outstanding traits: in one he observed hospitality, in another perseverance in prayer, in another the absence of anger, in yet another love for his fellow man; with some he was amazed at their patience, with others at their fasting. Thus did he combine into one what he had borrowed from others and strove to exemplify all the outstanding characteristics of them all. So also do we have an obligation to imitate the lives of the saints whose names we bear. To imitate them we must thoroughly know and study their lives. INdeed, it is sinful and unpardonable for one not to know the life of his patron saint. He who does not know the life of the saint whose name he bears and does not strive to imitate him in his own life, bears his name unworthily. He is unworthy of God’s mercy, for the saints are God’s friends, as the Psalmist bears witness, saying: “Wondrous is God in His saints; the God of Israel” (Ps 67:35).

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