Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Holiness of the Name

"When the priests and the people which stood in the Temple Court heard the Expressed Name come forth from the mouth of the High Priest, they used to kneel and bow themselves and fall down on their faces and say, 'Blessed be the name of the glory of his kingdom for ever and ever!'"--Yoma 6:2

For many cultures throughout the world, a name is a powerful thing.  It was no different for our forefathers in faith, the sons of Israel, for to them had been revealed the Holy Name of God.  His Name was seen to be so powerful that only the high priest could pronounce it, and that only once a year.  The Name was so great and so holy that Jews to this day do not pronounce it when reading the Scriptures, instead only saying "Adonai" (Lord).  For the holiness of God is an immense flood that soaks everything relating to Him, so that from the Ark of the Covenant to the Holy Name, all is imbued with His sanctity.  And this sanctity is of such a power that the one who is unprepared and unworthy is destroyed by it, as was Uzziah when he tried to touch the ark.  (Just so the Eucharist is Holy, and he who partakes of it unworthily eats and drinks condemnation on himself.)

The Holy Name of God is of immense sanctity, so much so that the sons of Israel would fall prone upon hearing it spoken.  Yet our Holy Name is the name of Jesus, "the one above every name, that in the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Lord is Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father."  This Holy Name is the one with which we should flog our foes, as St. John Klimakos instructed; in other words, "Chase, chase the devil away from yourself.  Chase it away with the name of Jesus," as Elder Michael of Valaam declared.  "Blessed is the soul which speaks in the name of Jesus Christ crucified.  Call upon that name and every disease will flee, every attack of Satan will yield" (St. John Chrysostom).

Why is it that there is such power in the Holy Name of Jesus?  Fr. Jean Corbon thought it was because it is "the only name that is not a word detached from the person but rather contains the presence it invokes.  It is the only name that is not possessed when pronounced, for it opens the heart by drawing it to Him."  Thus countless writers have proclaimed the wonders of this Name, for by it we are united to Jesus Himself.  Just read the poetic praises of Richard Crashaw:

"Sweet Name, in Thy each Syllable
A Thousand Blest Arabias dwell;
A Thousand Hills of Frankincense;
Mountains of myrrh, and Beds of spices,
And ten Thousand Paradises,
The soul that tasts thee takes from thence."

If there is such power, majesty, and sanctity in that Name, should we not reverence it?  The sons of Israel would fall prostrate upon hearing the Holy Name revealed to Moses: should we not at the least incline our head when we hear the greatest Name, and with our head incline our heart?  With His Name comes Jesus Himself, God become man to make us God.  He Who loved us and died for us and rose for us and reigns for us, should we not pay honor to His Name?  Let us surpass our brethren, the sons of Israel, in honor to the Holy Name, as the Gospel surpasses the Law.  May we reverence the name of Jesus, in all places, at all times, for holiness flows from His Name, and holiness is worthy of the greatest honor.  "Let us therefore also gaze upon God, raising up and exalting His holy name in praise. Let us take refuge with His purity by continual recollection of His name; let us sculpt out the beauty of our souls by gazing on the likeness of His glory, so that we may be seen to be glorious statues of His divinity within creation" (Sahdona).  And let us pray with St. Isaac of Nineveh:

"O name of Jesus,
key to all gifts,
open up for me the great door to Your treasurehouse
so that I may enter and praise You
with the praise that comes from the heart
in return for Your mercies
which I have experienced in latter days;
for You came and renewed me
with an awareness of the New World."

Nota Bene: The opening quote is from the Mishnah, as found in The Misnah: Translated from the Hebrew with Introduction and Brief Explanatory Notes, translated by Herbert Danby, D.D. (London: Oxford University Press, 1933).  The saying of St. John Klimakos that is referenced is found in Unseen Warfare, St. Theophan the Recluse's revision of St. Nikodimos the Hagiorite's Greek version of Lorenzo Scupoli's Spiritual Combat.  The quote from Elder Michael of Valaam is from Interior Silence: Elder Michael: The Last Great Mystic of Valaam, by Nun Maria Stakhovich and Sergius Bolshakoff, edited by Abbot Herman (Ouzinkie, AL: New Valaam Monastery, 1992).  The quote from St. John Chrysostom is from his Baptismal Instructions XI.25, translated by Paul W. Harkins as volume 31 of the Ancient Christian Writers series (Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1963).  The quote from Fr. Jean Corbon is from his The Wellspring of Worship, translated by Matthew J. O'Connell (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1988).  The quote from Richard Crashaw is from his poem "To the Name above every Name, the Name of Jesus," as found in The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse, compiled by D.H.S. Nicholson and A.H.E. Lee (published by the Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1969 reprint of the 1917 original).  The quote from Sahdona is from his Book of Perfection II.8.62, as found in The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life, translated by Sebastian Brock, volume 101 in the Cistercian Studies series (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, Inc., 1987).  The prayer of St. Isaac of Nineveh is his Prayer #5 as found in the same volume.

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