Speaking of birthdays and namedays

From a ROCOR parish priest in Michigan’s FAQs (emphasis added):

Should I celebrate my birthday or my namesday or both and how?

The question often is asked: “Should we celebrate our birthdays or our namesdays?” The answer is: yes. We should celebrate both of these important days in our spiritual lives, but in slightly different ways. On our birthdays we thank God for His mercy in allowing us to be born (and thus giving us the opportunity for eternal life with Him), for giving us parents to guide us in a loving, safe Orthodox home, and for other such things. Arranging a Thanksgiving Moleben on this day in the parish church or at home would be very appropriate. On namesdays we honor our heavenly protector, that is, the saint for whom we are named. This we do by going to the parish church and partaking of the Mysteries of Confession and Communion, or if there is no service in our parish on that particular day, arranging for a Moleben to be served for our saint in the church on that day and Confessing and Communing on the nearest day possible to our namesday. It is also a pious tradition to invite our friends to our homes on our namesdays for a reception in honor of the saint for which we are named, to sing the saint’s troparion, and to read the life of the saint. It is also very important to have an icon of our patron saint in our home icon corner. Some who read this may not know in honor of which saint they are named. For instance, there are at least 23 different saints with the name “John” on the Orthodox calendar. This is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is VERY important to learn about your heavenly patron, to make that saint a focus of daily prayer, and to keep that saint’s commemoration (your namesday) in a pious manner. If you are not sure for whom you are named, and your parents also are not sure (this should be part of the baptismal record at the parish where you were baptized), please see Fr. Gregory. Although it is not a shame to not know your heavenly patron, it is a shame to not take the time to find out about your saint or to choose a saint with your name as your heavenly patron if indeed this information cannot be otherwise ascertained.

In the church on Sundays we do not sing “Many Years” for those who have celebrated birthdays during the previous week,* but we do for those having celebrated namesdays. This is simply because the namesday is spiritually more significant than the birthday. This is not to say that the birthday is not important, but that the namesday is MORE important. Why is this? Everyone born on earth has a birthday, but not everyone has a namesday. That is, many people are born on this earth, but not all of them have the honor of being named after one of God’s saints. Also, one does not entreat one’s day of birth to intercede at the heavenly throne of God, but one DOES entreat one’s saint in such a way. Finally, the Holy Church appoints a special service and prayers to be read for an infant on the day on which his name is given (the 8th day after birth). There are no such prayers for the infant on his birthday (the prayers on the day of the birth of a child specifically mention only the mother). This is not to say that birthdays are without spiritual significance. As mentioned above, they are indeed spiritually significant and services of thanksgiving should be arranged on the birthday, but as we can see, namesdays are even more spiritually significant than birthdays, and thus we should be even more zealous to celebrate our namesdays than our birthdays.

(*–FYI, some other parishes *do* sing Many Years for birthday people on Sunday, eg, during ‘coffee hour’ after Liturgy. -LPO’F)

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