Sources of Orthodox Tradition: The Saints

Icon of All Saints

Icon of All Saints

In our services and in our piety we praise the saints, those who were with Christ on earth and whom we know to be “alive” in Christ’s presence now although departed from the body. Hebrews 12:1 writes, “…we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” In God and His Church there is no division between the living and the departed. As we pray for one another and ask for one another’s prayers, so we ask the faithful departed to pray for us and we continue to pray for them out of love.

After the Holy Trinity, we especially venerate the Mother of God (Theotokos in Greek), the Blessed Virgin Mary. This praise has a biblical basis (Luke 1: 28; 42-43; 48) and is due her because of her unique role as the “birth-giver” of God. By giving honor to the Mother of God we honor the Son whom she bore. We never forget that Our Lord was truly incarnate, that He truly had a human Mother, and a real family history! We reject any notion that Our Lord simply passed through Mary as water through a pipe, to be discarded after being used! Mary, the birth-giver of God, was specifically chosen by God before all time to bring forth, nurture and raise the Son of God! She was the first follower of Christ! She is our model of faith! She is with Him now in the heavens! Having said this Orthodox Christians do not blur the line between God and the Mother of God, and worship is offered only to the Holy Trinity through Christ.

The doctrine of the Church comes alive in the lives of the true believers, the saints. The saints are those who literally share the holiness of God. “Be holy, for I your God am holy” (Lev 11:44; 1 Pet 1:16). The lives of the saints bear witness to the authenticity and truth of the Christian gospel, the sure gift of God’s holiness to men.

In the Church there are different classifications of saints. In addition to the holy fathers who are quite specifically glorified for their teaching, there are a number of classifications of the various types of holy people according to the particular aspects of their holiness.

Thus, there are the apostles who are sent to proclaim the Christian faith, the evangelists who specifically announce and even write down the gospels, the prophets who are directly inspired to speak God’s word to men. There are the confessors who suffer for the faith and the martyrs who die for it. There are the so-called “holy ones”, the saints from among the monks and nuns; and the “righteous” those from among the lay people.

In addition, the church service books have a special title for saints from among the ordained clergy and another special title for the holy rulers and statesmen. Also there is the strange classification of the fools for Christ’s sake. These are they who through their total disregard for the things that people consider so necessary — clothes, food, money, houses, security, public reputation, etc. — have been able to witness without compromise to the Christian Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven. They take their name from the sentence Of the Apostle Paul: “We are fools for Christ’s sake” (1 Cor 4:10; 3:18).

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8 Comments

Filed under Sources of Orthodox Tradition: Series

8 responses to “Sources of Orthodox Tradition: The Saints

  1. I have just discovered your truly excellent blog. Thank you so much for all you have written, especially the remarkable and valuable stuff on the Jesus Prayer…

    Peace, and every blessing

    Mike

  2. Gabriel Emanuel Borlean

    Amen, and thank you for the wonderful reminder of how important the Saints are in our lives. What a wonderful exmple to follow in their steps, with God’s help.

    Apostle Saint Paul told the Corinthian Christians and us today to “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Cor 11,1) See also Philippians 3,17 and
    1 Peter 2:21 – “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.”

  3. Gabriel Emanuel Borlean

    Question 1 : How do we know that our Blessed Virgin Mary “was the first follower of Christ!” ?

    Question 2: While I think it is beneficial to gain the prayerful support of as many friends (here on earth or up in heaven), why not Pray directly to our Lord for assistance instead of praying to a specific saint for a specific request (e.g. Saint Christopher for those traveling, etc.) ??

    Thank you for your comments and reflections.

    • Fr. James Coles

      Dear Gabriel,
      Thank you for your many thoughtful questions and remarks.
      We say that the Theotokos was the first follower of Christ out of love. I agree with Chris’ comment that it is through her own confession and witness. We know that she was the first to accept our Lord Jesus when she said, ‘Yes’ to the angel Gabriel. Throughout the Gospel and the life of the Church we see her following first. She is always present. Thinking also about His first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana in Galilee she simply knew that He could act and that He would act.

      The Orthodox do pray directly to our Lord for assistance and I think it impossible to pray to any of the Saints without the Lord hearing our prayer. But as Christians we need to stand up taller and stronger in our belief that Christ has been victorious over death and that death is powerless to cause separation between those on earth and those who have obtained their reward. We have not lost touch with the communion of Saints. I think the hymn we sing on Saint Sergius’ feast day may help explain: “The Holy Spirit took up His abode in thee and operating there adorned thee with beauty. O thou who hast boldness to approach the Holy Trinity, remember thy flock gathered by thy wisdom and never forget it, visiting thy children, according to thy promise, O holy Father Sergius.” Maybe you have said it best in your question, praying to the saints in beneficial so why would someone not want the benefit?

      Thanks again for your questions and comments!
      Fr. James

  4. Chris

    Answer 1: Through her own confession and witness.

    Answer 2: What if praying to the saints (our friends) was the same thing as praying directly to the Lord?

  5. Chris

    I like Father’s answers better :o)

  6. Brian Webb

    Can someone point me towards something on line that would explain the process in the Orthodox tradition for ‘making’ someone a saint. Are their differences between the various branches of the Orthodox tradition – Greek, Russian etc Many thanks in advance

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