"Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain" (Exodus 20:7; Leviticus 19:12). Every Sunday, Orthodox Christians in their respective churches sing hymns in which reference is made to the Name of God, a Name to be highly exalted and revered. For example, in the first antiphon (Psalm 103) the following words are sung: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, blessHis holy Name." Soon after, the priest repeats silently the prayer of the third antiphon, composed by St. John Chrysostom (4th century), in which God is asked to grant the believers’ requests, for He has promised, "That when two or three are gathered together in (His) Name, He will grant their requests" (See Antiphon Prayer and Matthew 18:19). Then much later, after the consecration of the gifts of bread and wine, and the remembrances for the living and the dead, the priest again prays: "And grant us with one mouth and one heart to glorify and praiseThine all-honorable and majesticName: of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit;" that is, that we may as one harmonious chorus, and with complete unity of mind and spirit, sing God’s praises. And then, the prayer that is most familiar among all prayers, that which our Lord Himself taught, in which the faithful say, "Hallowed beThy Name," reminding all those gathered that God’s Name is to be hallowed. Finally, as if to promise that the communicants will remember and take to heart all that has been said and experienced during this time of public prayer, toward the end of the Liturgy the choir sings, "Blessed be the Name of the Lord, henceforth and forevermore."
The references to the Name of God in the Holy Gospels and the remainder of the New Testament are too numerous to cite fully, but I should like to call the reader’s attention to two of them: St. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans says, "For whosoever shall call upon theName of the Lord shall be saved" (10:13). Again, in the epistle to the Philippians, "Christ Jesus...humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God hath also highly exalted Him and given Him a Name which is above every name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things in earth and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (2: 5, 8-11).
It is nothing short of amazing that in spite of what has been mentioned, many Christians profane God’s sacred Name, treating it with little care as though it were one of so many other words, titles or names. It must appear incredibly inconsistent to those who do not follow Christ, when they hear the faithful take the Lord’s Name and do everything in daily conversation but bless, praise and glorify it. If one would seriously consider the meaning of the words sung during a Divine Liturgy or at any liturgical service, words which are so familiar to worshippers, an awareness would almost certainly develop regarding inappropriate ways in which our Lord’s Name is uttered.
The misuse of God’s Name takes a variety of forms. Sometimes it is an oath in which a person swears by the Name of God; of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ; by His most pure Mother; or by any of His beloved saints. Swearing on the part of a Christian is wrong because it defies an express commandment of our Lord Jesus Christ. The wrong is all the greater when one swears to a falsehood. This, however, is not the most common failing on the part of Christians, but rather the almost unconscious, habitual use of God’s Name in daily conversation as a simple exclamation.
In the first place all of what has been mentioned is in direct violation of the third commandment: "Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain." Secondly, the Lord, in His Sermon on the Mount, took each of the commandments and restated them in light of His New Covenant, explaining the implications of each, providing a much stricter rule to follow than that of the Old Israel. One of Jesus’ teachings specifically speaks of swearing by all that is holy: "Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: but I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: nor by the earth; for it is His footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, Nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil" (Matthew 5: 33-37).
The Orthodox Catechism asserts that those who make use of God’s Name without necessity are committing a sin: "They use the Name of God on the most trifling occasions, and have the detestable practice of mixing the glorious Name of the Lord, in all their speech and common conversation: for example: "By God," "God knows," "by the commandments of the Gospel," "Glory to God," "Jesus Christ," "O heavens," etc. And still the Gospel forbids the use of these sacred names except when we are engaged in His service, in singing His praise, and when we are talking about what we believe concerning Him and our relationship to Him."
The serious effects of the misuse that has been discussed are all too obvious. It is good to bear in mind, however, that taking the Lord’s Name in vain can lead to, 1.) one having little or no reverence for God Himself. A type of cynicism may develop in the hearts and minds of the faithful. 2.) others believing that Christians do not take their faith seriously, but rather practice it primarily out of habit or custom, 3.) an apparent inconsistency in one’s life. Most people do not appreciate in other realms of human activity when a person says one thing on a particular occasion and the opposite on others. How out of place then, it is to say "hallowed be Thy Name" in prayer and to do everything but hallow that precious Name at work, school or on the streets. How dreadful, as well, to receive into one’s mouth that spiritual nourishment which the Lord gives in the Mystery of His precious Body and Blood, and then to turn and use the same mouth and lips to blaspheme or without thought mention the Name of the One who has so favored us. Indeed, listen to the words of St. John Chrysostom as he warns the faithful about this very thing: "From the mouth that has been vouchsafed such Holy Mysteries let nothing bitter proceed. Let not the tongue that has touched the Lord’s Body utter anything offensive, let it be kept pure, let not curses be borne upon it." (Homily XIV on Ephesians)
We will not even detail the manner in which comedians (many presumably Christian or Jewish), television and movies poke fun at religion, faith in God or any efforts to stand up for a disciplined and moral life. Suffice it to say that the Lord’s Name and that of His followers are dragged through the mud on a daily basis in one way or another, at times by those who should know better.
All of what we have mentioned thus far is the work of the devil. He delights and rejoices every time an individual (particularly a disciple) blasphemes the Holy Name of God, for he is slowly, subtly, gaining fellow-workers.
People often find themselves in situations where in order to be accepted they feel the need for conforming in speech to the pagan atmosphere that surrounds them. At times like these it is important to remember that Christians bear the Name of Christ, they are all missionaries and that by uttering the Lord’s precious Name inappropriately they not only do themselves untold spiritual harm, but they adversely influence others, demonstrating that there are Christians who have not been affected by their faith to any great degree, content with being just like everyone else. I remember being favorably impressed by a story told by a religion professor. He mentioned that several Jewish students enrolled in one of his classes. For Jews the Name of God has been traditionally revered as holy. As the story went, whenever "God," was to be written on an exam or term paper the students refused to spell out the full Name, writing instead, "G_d," for it was blasphemous in their eyes to write it in its entirety.
The above references from the Divine Liturgy and Holy Scripture must be meditated upon, taken seriously and made a definite part of one’s daily life. For the Gospel must be lived as well as preached.
Finally, as the faithful go out from the place of sacrifice, from God’s house, they must carry with them the words of a liturgical hymn: "Let our mouths be filled with Thy praise, O Lord, that we may sing of Thy glory: for Thou hast permitted us to partake of Thy holy, divine, immortal and life-giving Mysteries. Establish us in Thy sanctification, that all the day long we may meditate upon Thy righteousness. Alleluia."