The Feast of the Holy Name of our Lord Jesus Christ

For most of the world January 1st is New Year’s Day—the beginning of a new year, a day of football, resolutions, and black-eyed peas. For the church, however, January 1st is the Feast of the Holy Name. More often than not this feast goes unnoticed, uncelebrated, lost in the new year. And it is a loss. For the liturgical calendar has something to teach us about how we might begin the new year.

The Feast of the Holy Name falls eight days after Christmas. Luke tells that, “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Lk. 2:21 NRSV). Under the Law of Moses, all male infants were to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth (Lv. 12:3). It was also customary at this time for family and friends to witness the naming of the child.

The Feast of the Holy Name (traditionally celebrated as the Feast of the Circumcision) is a major feast of the church. It reflects the significance of the Holy Name, Jesus. The name Jesus is from the Hebrew Joshua or Yehoshuah meaning “Yahweh is salvation” or “Yahweh will save.”

Biblical theology understands there to be great power in a name. It is more than just a label. The name somehow carries or expresses the essence of the person. Thus, the disciples perform miracles and exorcisms “in the name of Jesus.” See for example the stories in Mark 9:38 and Acts 4:30. The Apostle Paul insists on the efficacy of the name for our sanctification (1 Cor. 6:11). Further, according to Paul we are obligated to venerate the Holy Name of Jesus “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil.2:10-11).

This feast invites us to a continual remembrance and veneration of the Holy Name in order that God might plant in us, and in every heart, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ. What better way to begin the new year!

In this regard the ancient church teaches the practice of the Jesus Prayer; “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” The saints teach us to practice a continual recitation of this prayer or even just the name Jesus. This is consistent with Paul’s exhortation to “pray unceasingly” (1 Thes. 5:17). The power of this prayer is in the Holy Name, Jesus.

It can be practiced wherever you go, whatever you are doing, whoever you are with. The Holy Name carries the whole Christ and introduces us to his whole Presence. May Jesus’ Holy Name fill your mind, your heart, your mouth, your life, and your new year.


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