Fr. Bill's Corner
November 2016 PASTOR’S PULPIT
PASTORS’ PULPIT: WHAT or WHO MAKES A SAINT?
In the months of November and December the Holy Orthodox Church commemorates several saints. For example, on November 25th, we commemorate Saint Katherine the great martyr and on November 30th Saint Andrew, the first called apostle. Then in December, Saint Barbara is commemorated on December 4th, Saint Nicholas on December 6th, Saint Spyridon on the 12th, Saint Stephen on the 27th and so on.
Each day in the church calendar commemorates one or more saints. Some saints are obscure and some renown. Some saints were soldiers, others royalty, others evangelists, others musicians, others teachers, others shepherds, others martyrs, others miracle workers, others confessors, etc. “Saint” means set apart-“aghios or aghia”-that is, not of worldly things or pursuits- separated from sin.
The saying is that there are as many saints in the Greek Orthodox Church as there are islands in Greece! That is to say they are too numerous to count especially since there are fourteen autocephalous Orthodox Christian Churches around the world! Moreover, some saints are celebrated in some parts of the world more so than others. For example, Saint Gerasimos is patron saint of the island of Cephalonia, Greece. Saint Spyridon is patron saint of the island of Corfu and Saint Andrew patron saint of Patras. Saint Vladimir is popular in Russia but not Greece. Saint George is popular in the Middle East and in Greece but he is the patron saint of England.
But what makes a saint or how does a person become a saint and get commemorated by the Holy Orthodox Church?
For an answer, Fr. Stanley Harakas, professor emeritus of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, gives guidance. In his text, “The Orthodox Church: 455 Questions and Answers,” he writes the following:
“It is of course, different to be a saint (or saintly), and to be declared a saint. All Saints Sunday, at the end of Easter Liturgical Cycle, shows us that the Church recognizes that not all saints, in the sense of those who lived the Christian life, have been recognized by the Church. Nevertheless, there are thousands of persons who have been acknowledged by the Church as saints, and who have found their way into the various general and local calendars of the Orthodox Church.
The vast majority of these saints were acknowledged as saints by the living experience of the believers, who worshipped and prayed through the centuries in each local parish. The point is that “the Church” we are talking about here is not restricted to the “official Church,” consisting of Bishops and Archbishops in formal synodical meetings (councils). The “Church as the People of God,” is what we are talking about here.
Thus, in a very natural and unforced way, the vast majority of saints on our calendar were “acknowledged” by the clergy and the people of the Church, as a result of a shared knowledge, conviction, experience and reputation of a particular Christian’s life which was seen as exemplary. Usually, the process starts in the town or region where a saintly Christian lives. After their deaths, people begin to remember their holy lives, martyrdom, spiritual wisdom, moral example, etc. Some may, on their own, begin to ask for the saintly person’s intercessions and then report to others details of answered prayers. A priest, monk, bishop or other hymnographer then may write a hymn or even a service in honor of the saint. This may remain only a local observance. Some saints are then honored in a region, but no place else. Others may become recognized in a national Church such as the Church of Greece, or Romania. Saint John the new of Suceava is honored for example, in Romania. Other saints are recognized and honored throughout the whole Orthodox Christian world, such as Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Basil the Great, and Saint Gregory the Theologian, who are known as the Three Great Hierarchs.
In recent times, some saints have also been declared saints by synods of various local Churches. Usually, however, these official declarations merely confirm what is already in the consciousness of the Church. Thus, within the last century or so, Saint Nektarios of Aegina and Saint Nikodemus of the Holy Mountain (Athos) were declared saints by the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece.”
Thus, sainthood is a communal decision of the Church. Clergy and laity pray, discuss and decide to declare a person worthy of sainthood. May we all be worthy!
For the glory of God,
+Fr. Bill Gikas
**Included in the monthly Parish Life Newsletter.