Monday, June 04, 2007

June 3: All Saints Sunday

"The veneration of the saints and prayers addressed to them is an ancient tradition of the Church preserved from apostolic times. Accusations that the Church worships people on the same level as God, thereby breaking the commandment ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve’, are unjust. Greek theology makes a clear distinction between worship (latreia) of God and veneration (proskynesis) of the saints. The latter are venerated not as gods, but as people who have attained a spiritual height and who have become united with God. The saints are closely connected with each other and with Christ. In venerating the saints we venerate Christ, Who lives in them.

"Official numbering among the saints, or canonization, is a comparatively late phenomenon: there were no acts of canonization or glorification in the early Christian Church. A martyr who suffered for Christ soon after his death would become the object of reverential veneration by believers; they would pray to him and would celebrate the Liturgy on his tomb. To this very day there is a rule in the Orthodox Church whereby the Liturgy is celebrated on the relics of the martyr or a saint. This emphasizes the link between the Church on earth today, made up of living people, and the Church triumphant in heaven, made up of saints glorified by God. It also shows how the martyrs are the basis and foundation of the Church. ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christianity’, said Tertullian.

"The veneration of a particular saint is not a result of the act of canonization. Actually, the reverse is true: canonization comes as a result of the popular veneration of a saint. There are saints about whose lives almost nothing is known, and yet their veneration is universal. A good example is St Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia (the fourth century). He is glorified by Christians of both the Eastern and Western Churches, he is loved by both children and adults (Christmas holidays in the West would be unthinkable without Santa Claus visiting the home and bringing presents). Even non-Christians who pray to St Nicholas receive help from him. This universal veneration of the saint is rooted in the experience of many generations of people: he became the ‘personal friend’ of those thousands of individuals whom he has helped and whom he has saved from death.

"Some people find it difficult to understand why it is necessary to pray to the saints when there is Christ. Yet the saints are not so much mediators between us and Christ: rather, they are our heavenly friends, able to hear to us and help us through their prayers. Someone who has no friends in heaven cannot properly understand this reverential veneration which surrounds the saints in the Orthodox Church. It has to be said, therefore, that those Christian communities which have no direct and living communion with the saints, cannot fully experience the completeness of the Church as the mystical Body of Christ uniting the living and the dead, saints and sinners."

- from The Mystery of Faith, by Bishop HILARION Alfeyev; icon from the website of the Orthodox Church in America