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).