When a convert joins the Orthodox Church it is customary to receive a ‘new name’, usually the name of one of the Saints. Generally this is the name of a Saint with whom the person feels a special affinity. An exception is when your birth name is already a ‘Christian’ name, and since my first name is Andrew it was naturally assumed I would not adopt a different name at Chrismation. After all, Saint Andrew the First-Called was one of the twelve apostles, a martyr, and exemplary example of the Christian life, and I strongly suspect it was with him in mind that my parents named me. However there is different Saint who has been very formative in my ‘faith journey’ the last few years: the Apostle and Evangelist, John the Theologian, also sometimes known as the John the Beloved.
Several years ago while still in the charismatic-evangelical church, I turned again to read the gospel of St John. This was not unusual as over the years I have read all four gospels many times. What was unusual was that I ended up reading John’s gospel over and over again. Every time I reached the end I was compelled to turn to the beginning and read it all over again. I tried reading different scriptures but nothing but St John would do. As the months followed I found my view of almost everything changing. Long-held views on the person of Jesus, on the love of the Father, on redemption, on salvation, on what it is to be human and what it means to be ‘saved’, were challenged and transformed. But more than just changing beliefs, I felt a change in myself. I became more aware of the presence of God in everything around me, more aware of of my need for Him, and at the same time more aware of my acceptance and inclusion in Him.
As lovely as this sounds it was also unsettling. I am deeply grateful for the years my family and I spent in the charismatic church; for the many people who loved and cared for us, who stood by us, prayed for us, ministered to us, and by their example pointed us to Jesus. But I became increasingly dissatisfied with the culture and message I had been committed to for so long. I became convicted that I needed to change, rather than expect others to do so. I knew God was calling me to another place. And so began my journey to the Orthodox Church.
I therefore regard John the Beloved with a special reverence. He had a special intimacy with our Lord, being the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’, and reclining with his head upon the bosom of Jesus at the Last Supper. He was present on the mountain of transfiguration and at the raising of Jairus’ daughter. He was the only disciple present at the crucifixion, and one of the the first witnesses to the resurrection. And he was the one charged to by Jesus to regard the mother of our Lord as his own mother. But beside these universal truths, it is the gospel of Saint John that has formed and shaped me the most these last few years, and led me to the Orthodox Church.
Therefore when I became a member of the Orthodox Church through the sacrament of Chrismation, I adopted the name of John in honour of Saint John the Evangelist.
In the Orthodox Church, the eight day of May is the feast day in honour of the holy apostle John and therefore my own Name Day.
O beloved Apostle of Christ our God,
Come quickly to deliver your helpless people.
He on whose breast you leaned, will accept you as intercessor.
Entreat Him, O Theologian, to disperse the clouds of darkness,
Granting us peace and great mercy
Troparion to St John the Theologian (2nd tone)