The Orthodox Pages



27th MAY 2010























































































































The Church in her liturgical worship follows two yearly cycles – the cycle of the immovable calendar and the cycle of the movable calendar. The immovable calendar are those feasts which fall on the same date every year like Christmas, Epiphany, the Dormition, Birth and Entry of the Mother of God and the feasts of the thousands of known Saints whom the Church honours every year on the day of their repose. The movable calendar are the feasts that are celebrated every year on different dates and depend entirely on the date of Easter. It consists of two periods with each having its own book of special services. The first period begins 70 days before Easter which the introduction of the Book of the Triodion and the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. From this date, which includes four Sundays before Great Lent, the whole Lenten period and Holy week up to the midnight service before the Resurrection service it comprises what we call in the Church the period of the Triodion. From the Easter service we enter into the second period of the movable feasts with the introduction of the Book called the Pentecostarion. This includes the 50 days from Easter to Pentecost which we celebrated last Sunday and one more week ending with the celebration of the Sunday of All Saints which is this coming Sunday.
The Church designated the Sunday after Pentecost for the Feast of All saints for obvious reasons. Within the whole period of the movable calendar the Church presented us all the things the Lord did for our salvation – the Passion, the Death on the Cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension into heaven and the sitting on the right hand of God and the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The feast of All Saints is the actual proof that the works of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit have brought forth fruits. The multitude of Saints who come from every nation, of different peoples and tongues are the fruits which the Lord harvested though his incarnation and whole life. In these fruits the Holy Spirit took up his abode and sanctified and deified them. It was logical then to place the feast for All Saints the Sunday immediately after the Feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit for it was through the grace of the Holy Spirit that they were deified. It also reveals that the saints didn’t reach sainthood by their own efforts. They were helped through the grace of the Holy Spirit so that they could follow the life in Christ and become partakers of his Passion and Resurrection. Having made themselves dead to the things of this world and showing a desire for holiness they accepted sainthood as a gift from God. There is thus a close connection between the feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit and the feast of All Saints. From the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit abides in the Church. Nothing else reveals and proves the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church more than the lives of the saints – their faith, their struggles, their confession and martyrdom.
The saints partook of the holiness of Christ because they accepted God’s calling to all men “be ye holy for I am holy” (1 Peter1:16). This is God’s calling to each and everyone of us and not just to a minority of men. We are all called to be saints, we are all called to be deified through the grace of the Holy Spirit. Some achieve this calling while many do not even recognize that man’s calling is to become a God by grace. For all those that are successful and attain the Kingdom of God through the grace of God they are essentially saints. Every Christian has the possibility of attaining sainthood and while we don’t specifically assign the term of ‘saint’ to our loved ones that have departed this life, we still pray and hope that we will all meet up again in God’s Kingdom: and if we are in God’s Kingdom we are Saints.
The Sunday of All Saints is dedicated to all the known Saints but also to the millions of saints whose names God has in his wisdom kept hidden from us. Of the known saints we have people from all different walks of life. They were not born into sainthood, they were ordinary people just like us, but at some time in their life they realized that this life was temporary and struggled to attain the true life with Christ. We have Saints who were doctors, soldiers, bishops, monks, priests, nuns, kings, queens, married couples, whole families who were killed for their faith, murderers, thieves and prostitutes. Age also is no barrier, some were babies, others children, teenagers, adults or old men and women. The terms and conditions for attaining sainthood have nothing to do with social standing or age. You don’t have to be a bishop or monk and you don’t have to walk through life trying to display actions of false piety and pretending that you wear a shinny halo around your head!
Christ tells us in the Gospel reading for this Sunday what we must do to attain sainthood: “We must confess him before all men” – in other words we must not be embarrassed of our faith. Many people believe in Christ but don’t go to Church every week because they fear people might think of them as “Bible-bashers” or religious fanatics. For the same reason they feel ashamed to make the sign of the Cross in public. We should not be afraid to show the world that we believe in Christ, but at the same time we should not make a show of our faith to embarrass others. The confession of our faith would them become self righteous and hypocritical.
In the Gospel reading Christ also mentions that “He that loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.” This doesn’t mean that we should only love Christ and no one else, or to abandon everyone we love and go and join a monastery. Many have done this and the Apostles also left all that they had to follow Christ. What Christ means is that if we have love for God above all others, if we make Christ the centre of our lives then our love will become Christ-like and not only our love for our family members, but love for all people will follow naturally. We will then be able to take up our Cross and follow him. The sign of a true saint is that he must be prepared, if absolutely necessary, to sacrifice even family relationships especially when these family members have an unbelief and total disregard for God and also to be prepared to endure the hardships and martyr-like sufferings that faith in Christ can bring at various times in our life especially in our times where faith is regarded as a weakness.
The Sunday of All Saints originally began as a feast in honour of all the Martyrs and with time all the other ranks of saints who bore witness to Christ in other ways were added to them even if this did not require the shedding of blood. The word Martyr in Greek means witness so it was natural that even ascetic saints who bore witness through their ascetical struggles should be included in the feast. As the feast stands today commemoration is made of all the saints, the Righteous, the Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Shepherds, Teachers, and Holy Monastics, both men and women alike, known and unknown, who have been added to the choirs of the Saints and shall be added, from the time of Adam until the end of the world, who have been perfected in piety and have glorified God by their holy lives.
The word “Saint” literally means “Holy One”. All Christians are in a sense saints. From the day of our Baptism and Christmation when we received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we became the temple of the Holy Spirit and God dwells within us. But the gifts we received at baptism remain hidden because we haven’t as yet purified ourselves to discovered their existence. Thus we reserve the term saint only for those people who have through struggles attained holy lives, above and beyond the average Christian: those men and women who “fought the good fight and finished the course and kept the faith”. (1 Tim 4:7)
The Orthodox Church honours all known saints with Icons and special services and on the Sunday of All Saints honours all those other saints whose names have been lost with time and all those that died without being recognized for their sainthood. The Church continually beseeches the saints in prayer and encourages her members to seek their assistance. This has been misunderstood by non-Orthodox people especially Protestants who would even go as far as to call it blasphemous. So why do we pray to the saints?
When we are in need it is natural to ask our friends and family to pray for us. We do not see this as something offensive or blasphemous. We hope that through the prayer of many God will speedily hear our request and come to our aid. Praying for one another is an act of love and it is our duty as Christians to pray for each other. The Church is a family of brothers and sister all with the same Father in heaven. When someone passes over to the other side he does not stop being a member of this great family. All our faith and hope is that there is life beyond the grave. As Orthodox Christians we believe that with his death on the Cross Christ overcame death. There is only the temporary death of the body but the person still lives on in the world of spirits. “God is the God of the living, and not the dead”. How then more natural can it be for us to seek the prayers of our fellow brothers and sisters who not only have passed over to the spirit world but have through their way of life found favour with God and find themselves bathed in his glory. Is it not more natural and logical to put our trust in their prayers than our fellow Christians who are still living in this world?

Asking for their intercessions does not mean that we worship them. Yes, we give them honour and respect because of their oneness with God and because they have made themselves God’s friends. When we pray to a saint, we do not ask him to save us directly as though he was God, but we beseech him as our fellow man and as our brother and fellow member of Christ’s Church to intercede to God on our behalf. Of course our prayer to the saints is always accompanied by a great reverence because they have been shown by God as great men who have overcome the passions of this world and for this he has rewarded them with glorification. We are struck with awe and admiration of their exploits and clearly recognize the grace of God in their struggles and martyrdom. But this is nothing unusual for we do something similar to honour great men in other fields. Men have always honoured others who have performed great deeds, such as a brave General, a soldier who is singled out for his heroic deeds, or a wise statesman. If we honour such people who are still in this life with medals and ceremonies, how much more should we honour the saints who have battled with demons and whose deeds far surpass the deeds of ordinary men. By honouring the saints we are recognizing that we see in them the light of Christ and rejoice because we are reassured of the resurrection.
We know that prayer to the Saints is pleasing to God, because of the witness of the Scriptures and the abundant experience of the Church. God has revealed to the world that he himself has honoured them through the many miracles they perform when they are beseeched to act as mediators. Through these miracles we are assured that such prayers to the saints are pleasing to God, and because we recognize the great grace that God has bestowed upon His Saints, we have great confidence when we ask their intercessions.
St. Nectarius of Aegina, the renowned saint of the 20th century wrote: “In invoking the intercession of the saints, the Church believes that the saints, who interceded with the Lord for the peace of the world and for the stability of the holy churches of Christ while living, do not cease doing this in Christ's heavenly, triumphant Church, and listen to our entreaties in which we invoke them, and pray to the Lord, and become bearers of the grace and mercy of the Lord.” (Modern Orthodox Saints, Vol. 7. Constantine Cavarnos)
The word Prayer means to ask, but it is also a form of communication. When we pray to God we are at the same time communicating with him. As a form of communication we are obliged to have a active spiritual union with the heavenly inhabitants, with all the saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs, prelates, venerable and righteous men, as they are all members of one single body, the Church of Christ, to which we sinners also belong, and the living Head of which is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This is why we call upon them in prayer, converse with them, thank and praise them. It is urgently necessary for all Christians to be in union with them, if they desire to make Christian progress; for the saints are our friends, our guides to salvation, who pray and intercede for us. (St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ)
There are many (like the Protestants churches) who call themselves Christians but have almost no knowledge of the intercession of the Saints, and even consider this heavenly intercourse as blasphemy. There are several reasons for this, including prejudice, a lack of grounding in Christian Tradition, misunderstanding of Scripture, and the abuses of Rome which I will mention as we progress, but the primary reason is that they do not fully understand the relationship between God and man, neither what the Resurrection means for mankind or the Ascension and the Sitting on the right hand of God of which we spoke about in a recent talk.
Scripture is full of quotations that honour the saints. Sadly because they read from the Old Testament translation made from the Masoretic text like the KJV they are deprived of many truths. The Prophet King David in the Psalms of the Septuagint version says “How honoured also are Thy friends unto me, O Lord! their rule is greatly strengthened. I will number them, and they shall be multiplied in number more than the sand.” (Psalm 138: 17-18)
St. Paul in the Apostle reading for this Sunday recounts the achievements of the Saints, how they stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. how they raised the dead to life again: but also how they suffered: they were tortured, they were mocked and scourged, they were in bonds and imprisonment, they were stoned, they were sawn asunder and were slain by the sword, how being destitute, afflicted, tormented they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Heb 11 33-38) Having set forth their memorial as an example that we might turn away from earthly things and from sin, and emulate their patience and courage in the struggles for virtue, he says, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every burden, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).
There are some that believe that when we die we are inactive and in a deep sleep awaiting the General Resurrection of the dead. Our Lord Himself told us clearly that “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Mat 22:32) and there is an event in the New Testament that clearly teaches that the saints are not asleep or dead. The event is the Transfiguration of our Lord on Mount Tabor. Moses and Elias appeared very much alive next to Him and talked with him. This clearly shows that the “dead” are even more filled with knowledge and activity than the living, for in comparison the apostles Peter, James and John could not withstand the uncreated light which came forth from Christ, but Moses and Elisa basked in it. Therefore the departed Saints have greater vision and knowledge and their intercessory boldness is greater for them without their bodies, than when they were in the flesh. This important understanding is elementary knowledge for the Church, but has passed from many of those outside of her.
Thus because they do not understand that the Saints are alive, conscious and active, those who shun prayer to the Saints misinterpret the reverence the Orthodox Church show to the saints. Another thing Protestants misunderstand is the word “pray”. They think of it as a word that applies only to God in the same way that worship applies only to God. They are so scandalized by the thought of praying to a saint that they consider it almost blasphemous and if they were in the days of Christ they would rend their clothes like the high-priest Caiaphas. As already mentioned the word pray simply means “to ask”. We ask the Saints to intercede for us, and any examination of the Church’s canons, the writings of the fathers and our liturgical texts will show clearly that we understand that worship is for God alone.
Another thing that had a detrimental effect on the Protestant understanding of prayer to the Saints was an unorthodox teaching by the Roman Catholic Church. It came up with the doctrine of “Supererogation” or more simple the superabundance of the good works of the saints. The doctrine teaches that a certain amount of “good works” are required to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The good works or merits of the Holy Virgin and the saints are more than they need to save themselves and therefore, the rest of them can be used for the forgiveness of the sins of other men. Thus for a price, poor sinners who cannot attain to all these good works, can pay to be granted "indulgences", which would increase their chance of entering the Kingdom of Heaven. This sounds so unbelievable and naïve that we would be forgiven if we laughed out loud, but this is essentially the doctrine of Rome till this day. Of course, the Pope himself, who invented many ways to gather money through the administration of this supposed right to forgive sins, has assumed the dispensation of these merits.

Opposition and the abuse of this teaching was the main point of Martin Luther when he began opposing the Roman Catholic Church, and it influenced the thinking of the Protestant Reformation as a whole. The Anglican Church also denied the doctrine of supererogation in the fourteenth of the Thirty-Nine Articles, which state that works of supererogation “cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety.” Many later Protestant movements followed suit, as did Methodism in its Articles of Religion. The doctrine of supererogation was therefore responsible for poisoning the understanding of Protestants regarding the Saints. This lead to their unanimous teaching that a Christian “needs no mediator” save Jesus Christ, believing that the scripture they refer to “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5)) forbids prayer to the Saints.
Overall we see in those that refuse to ask the saints to intercede for them a great lack of understanding of the Christian faith and a form of prejudice against the saints. Its seems that they do not recognize that there is life beyond the grave and it also seems that when someone of their church dies he automatically stops being a member and is cut off from the main body. I say this because while they refuse to pray to the saints they ask of those still among the living, among their family and friends, to pray for them. This latter action is entirely correct, as fellow believers and brothers of a church we should pray for those we love, but if our departed are still considered as members of the same church then they also should be asked for their prayers. If the departed members of the church were righteous then their prayers can do much for the living for as the Scripture tells us: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:16)
There is a general perception that praying to the saints is like “second best” so why don’t I go for the best and pray directly to God. Of course God hears our prayers but it is also a little arrogant and self righteous on our part to assume that he will respond to our request. Why should he, want have we done to merit such attention, do we live such holy lives that we are so full of confidence that as soon as we ask for God’s help he will send his angels to our aid? Scripture clearly says that “God heareth not sinners” (John 9:31) and that “God is far from the ungodly: but He hearkens unto the prayers of the righteous. (Prov. 15:29)
Is it not then better to use every means at our disposal in the hope that God will not only hear our prayer but also respond? If he hears the prayers of the righteous then that is a safe and sure route for our petitions. Let us not forget that God has glorified his saints and he wants us to recognize them as people full of his own glory. He has given them to us as protectors and helpers in times of trouble. By honouring the saints we do not forget or abandon God, but rather we honour, thank and glorify God for his great grace that he bestows upon man. We glorify him who glorified the saints.
But how does someone become officially recognized as a saint of the Church?
Some are recognized while still in this life by the holiness of their lives, their spiritual knowledge and discernment and through miracles they perform. They usually prefer to live in isolation away from the masses and try to conceal the gifts God has given them, but the Holy Spirit who has enlightened them and given them these gifts will in time uncover them so that through their sanctity they will be able to help others. Those whom the Holy Spirit has not revealed as saints in this life are generally revealed as saints after their death through miracles that occur at their graves or through their relics which very often bring forth Myron and have a perfumed scent. People who knew them while still in this life testify to their holiness and begin to pray to them and having their petitions answered the fame of the Saint begins to spread. At other times they have been known to appear to people and tell them who they are and where they are buried.

As a rule when a person who is considered as a living saint dies, the Church prays for him just like any other member of the Church. No matter how righteous a man was, he receives the same funeral service and the same memorials as the rest of us sinners. Our prayer for all that depart this life whether they be king or soldier, whether rich or poor, whether righteous or sinner is that God will grant them remission of their sins, to place their souls among the righteous and to give them rest with the saints. Only later when the common voice of the people testifies to a person’s righteousness and when the Lord confirms this through miracles after his death when he is remembered in prayer, does the Church then make moves to officially accept him as a Saint glorified by God.
When the Church is profoundly certain that a reposed righteous man is with the Lord, in the choir of the Saints in the heavenly Church, she then gives her blessing for the change of prayers – in other words a change from the usual prayers for the reposed to a specially written service for the saint whereby we ask for his prayerful assistance before the throne of God. Thus the Church, through her hierarchs, comes and confirms the conviction of her ordinary members concerning the sanctity of the righteous man. This in essence is how the Orthodox Church acknowledges the “Glorification of a saint”.
It is very important to note that the recognition of particular saints may have a local character for example in Cyprus we have local saints such as St. Bechianus [11th December], St. Soter, Bishop of Theodocian, St. Nilus founder of Machera 13 Dec, St. Barnabas, ascetic of Basa 11 June, and a great many more who are only known by the Cypriot Church. The Russian Church has a great many saints that are unknown to most Orthodox in Greece. Each Orthodox country has her own saints whom she venerates and glorifies, but this does not mean that these saints do not belong universally to all Orthodox Churches. If these local saints become known to the other Sister Orthodox Churches then they would automatically be venerated as Saints of their Church as well. The reason for this local element is because Saints in the Orthodox Church are not “canonized” Even though canonization derives from the Greek word canon, it is a Latin term and it is not used by the Orthodox Church. In the Latin Church the Pope who has self-appointed himself as the head of the church proclaims a person a saint. In its contemporary form, canonization consists of a solemn proclamation by the Pope: “We resolve and determine that Blessed N. is a saint, and we enter him in the catalogue of the saints, commanding the whole Church to honour his memory with reverence...”
Thus as the head of the whole of the Roman Catholic Church his ruling is universal. The Orthodox Church on the other hand, does not have a single bishop as the head of the Church, but each local Church is autocephalous and self ruling with each its own Synod of Bishops. Thus when recognizing the glorification of a saint the ruling of the local synod is not binding to the other sister Churches that make up the universal Orthodox Church.
Once recognition has been made by the Synod, the specially written service for the saint may be officially sung in Church and an Icon of the saint is commissioned with the title the saint has been given.
The Orthodox veneration of the Saints is nothing less than the wholehearted belief in Christ, his Incarnation, his Resurrection, his Sitting on the right hand of God and the Descent of the Holy Spirit. With his resurrection Christ re-opened the gates of Paradise, but more than this, he took his deified body to heaven and sat it at the right hand of God. We saw two weeks ago in our talk on the Ascension that what this really means is that Christ glorified humanity; he raised man to be with him and be a partaker of the divine nature: he raised man to be a God by grace.

Our veneration of the saints is nothing more than our conviction that all men can participate in God’s divinity. In recognizing a saint we see the fulfilment of God’s promise and the expectation of our own destiny. Christ has commanded us to be perfect even as his Father in heaven is perfect. This seems like an impossible task to the majority of us sinful men, but the saints have proved that with the grace of God this is indeed possible by all Christians who strive for perfection and union with God. The saints are therefore our examples or if preferred “our heroes” who have fought the good fight and with their heroic deeds became shining examples of virtue, and benefactors of mankind. Their lives are for us as beacons of light which show us the path to perfection; let us therefore set them as our examples that by following in their footsteps we also, when our earthly time is over, may find ourselves among the righteous and glorified by God as a saint.
Until then let us give them their due honour and as friends of God let us beseech them to remember us lowly sinners in their prayers before the throne of God. Through the prayers of All the Saints, who have been well-pleasing to God from our forefather Adam up to the present day, may God have mercy upon us and save us. Amen.