Since the time of Abraham, the sign of the covenant between God and the Hebrews (later Israel) was circumcision. According to the book of Leviticus, male children were circumcised on the eighth day after their birth; this was their entrance into the qa’hal, the people of God.
Christians, however, enter into the new Israel – the Church – through Baptism, which is not merely a sign of a covenant, but a putting on of Christ. Baptism is the way that we enter into the Life of the Lord – His Life become ours, His death becomes ours, so that His Resurrection will become ours. The waters of Baptism run deep, even to the very heart of our being.
In Baptism we are no longer identified by a physical mark, but by Christ Himself: “For you died, and now your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). And when we are joined to the Holy Orthodox Church, it is not just about parish membership or jurisdictional affiliation. We enter into communion with the Saints – those who have shone forth in this world as living gospels, little christs, tireless intercessors before the Lord.
In preparation for Baptism, then, the newborn child receives the name of a saint on the eighth day. Though the service is meant to be served at the doors of the temple, it is more commonly served in the home. After the Trisagion prayers and the dismissal tropar of the day, the priest makes the sign of the Cross on the forehead, lips and breast of the infant. He prays that
the Light of Thy countenance be signed on this, Thy servant (name), and that the Cross of Thine Only-begotten Son be signed in his heart and understanding, that he may flee from the vanity of the world and from every evil snare of the enemy, and that he may follow after Thy commandments.
The incredible array of saints, each one of them unique and brilliant, nevertheless have this “pattern” in common: embracing the Cross, fleeing vanity and evil, and following the commandments of the Lord. At this tender age of eight days old, we ask that this pattern be signed in the very heart and understanding of the newborn infant, so that he may “receive the blessedness of the Elect in [the] Kingdom… of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Many years to Russell, Rebecca, and the newborn – and newly-named – Jacob!