A name day is the day on which an Orthodox Christian celebrates the feast of his patron saint. If possible, one will attend Liturgy or another church service on their name day. Another tradition is for the family to include the saint's troparion and/or kontakion in the family's prayers. The icon of the saint is displayed prominently, usually on the family altar. Often, gifts are given to the person whose name day is being celebrated, as this day is seen to be more important than a (secular) birthday.
My wife and I were allowed to choose the names of a pair of saints who happened to be married. We did this because we had started our spiritual walk to Orthodoxy together and we felt that the story of this couple was a beautiful and moving one. Our name day is 26 August, and here is the story of our patron saints:
In the fourth century, the Roman Emperor Maximian cruelly persecuted all Christians. In a cave near Nicomedia in Asia Minor some Christians were hiding, and singing and praying the whole night to God. Maximian's soldiers seized these Christians, beat them and brought them in iron chains to the place of judgment, One of their chief judges, a young man by the name of Adrianos, seeing how patiently and how willingly the Christians suffered for their faith, asked what reward they expected to receive from their God for such tortures.' The holy martyrs replied: "It is written in Scripture that 'eye has not seen, nor has ear heard, nor has it entered the heart of man those things which God has prepared for those who love Him'" (I Cor. 2:9). Hearing these words, Adrianos walked out into the middle of the holy martyrs and said to the scribes who were recording the names of the martyrs: "Write down my name also together with those of these holy men, for I too am a Christian and shall die for Christ God in their company!" And immediately the scribes sent a message to the emperor informing him that Adrianos had declared himself to be a Christian and was asking them to inscribe his name among those of the condemned.
On hearing this, the emperor marveled and was filled with rage; and, summoning Adrianos into his presence, he asked him: "Have you taken leave of your senses, Adrianos? Or do you also desire a wicked end?" "No, I have not taken leave of my senses," he replied. "But, on the contrary, l have left great insanity behind me and I have finally attained to true and full mental health." "Do not argue," cried the emperor . "It would be better to ask forgiveness, to acknowledge before all that you have sinned, and to cross your name from the list of the condemned." "From now on," replied Adrianos, "I shall entreat the true God, that He forgive me the sins I committed as a pagan." Enraged all the more by Adrianos' words, the emperor Maximian then commanded that he be weighed down with iron chains and cast into prison with the other martyrs, appointing the day on which he would give them all over to torture.
When Adrianos' wife Natalia was told of her husband's conversion to Christ and of his imprisonment, instead of being sad, she greatly rejoiced for she was secretly a Christian herself and she knew the joy which now filled her husband's heart. She ran to the prison and, falling down at the feet of her husband, she kissed his chains and said, "Blessed are you, my Adrianos; you have found such a treasure." When Adrianos was brought before the Emperor and threatened with torture if he did not worship the pagan gods, Natalia and the other martyrs encouraged him saying: "Having been found worthy to carry your own cross and to follow Christ, take care that you do not turn back and lose your eternal reward."
Adrianos courageously endured the tortures and was returned to the prison. Natalia, and other pious women, would come and help the prisoners, cleaning and bandaging their wounded bodies. When the emperor found out about this, he forbade them to visit the prison. But Natalia had such love for the sufferers that she cut her hair and put on men's clothing. In this disguise she was able to enter the prison.
But when it became known to the emperor what the women had done, and also that the prisoners had weakened greatly as a result of their infected wounds and were barely alive, he commanded that there be brought to him at the prison an anvil and an iron hammer, that he might break the shins and arms of the martyrs, saying at that time: "Let them not die the violent death usual for such men!" And when the torturers and executioners came to the prison with the iron hammer and anvil, Natalia, seeing this and discovering the reason for their arrival, asked the servants that they begin with Adrianos, since she feared that her husband, seeing the cruel torture and death of the other martyrs, would become afraid.
The torturers went first to Adrianos. Then Natalia, lifting up her husband's legs, placed them on the anvil; the torturers shattered the martyr's shins and broke off his legs. "I beseech you, my lord, you servant of Christ," said Natalia, "while you are still alive, stretch forth your arm that they might break it, and you shall then be equal with the other martyrs who have suffered more than you have!" Adrianos stretched forth his arm to her, and she, taking it, set it upon the anvil. The torturer, striking the arm, broke it off, and immediately the holy Adrianos surrendered his soul into the hands of God, unable to endure further torment.
Having slain the Holy Adrianos, the torturers went with the anvil and hammer to the other martyrs, but they themselves placed their arms and legs on the anvil and said: "0 Lord, receive You our souls"
After this, the emperor commanded that the bodies of the martyrs be burned, that the Christians might not take them up and remove them for an honorable and Christian burial. But hearing of the emperor's command, Natalia secretly took her husband's arm and hid it so that it would not be burned. When the servants of the tyrant kindled a fire and carried the bodies of the holy martyrs out from the prison to be burned, Natalia and the other pious women followed behind them and gathered up the martyrs' blood in their costly garments and in bands of cloth. In this way preserving it, they anointed their own bodies with the blood. In addition to this, the women purchased from the servants of the emperor the martyrs' garments, which had been dyed with their blood. When the bodies of the saints were cast into the fire , the women cried out with tears: "Remember us, 0 our masters, in your everlasting repose!" But Natalia drew near to the fire, to cast herself upon it, desiring to offer herself up with her husband as a sacrifice to God, but she was restrained
Later, a pagan nobleman desired to marry Natalia. She cried and begged God to save her from this marriage. Having prayed fervently, Natalia fell from exhaustion and sorrow into a light sleep during which the holy martyrs appeared to her in a vision and said, "Peace be unto you. God has not forgotten your labors. We shall pray that you will come to us soon. Get on a ship and go to the place where our bodies are and the Lord will make Himself known to you."
Following their directions, the blessed Natalia reached Constantinople and going to the church where the bodies of the holy martyrs lay, she fell down before them and prayed. She was so tired from the journey that she fell asleep and saw in a dream her husband Adrianos, who said to her, "Come my beloved, and enjoy the reward of your labors." Very soon after this Natalia died peacefully in her sleep. Although she did not shed her own blood, she is numbered among the martyrs for having co-suffered with them, serving and encouraging them in their heroic struggles for the sake of Christ.
Thou didst esteem the saving Faith as wealth that cannot be taken away, O thrice blessed one / And didst abandon the ungodliness of thy fathers / Thou didst accept the words of thy spouse and wast made radiant by thy contest, O glorious Adrian, / do thou entreat Christ God for us, / together with the Godly minded Natalia.
Having laid to heart the divine words of thy Godly minded spouse, / O Adrianos, martyr of Christ, / thou didst run ardently to the tortures, / and, with thy wife, didst receive a crown.