Saints and Friends of God

Virginmartyr Justina of Nicomedia

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only God and Our Only True Savior,



The first Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost is observed by the Orthodox Church as the Sunday of All Saints. This day has been designated as commemoration of all of the Saints, all 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.


Honoring the friends of God with much reverence, the Prophet King David says, "But to me, exceedingly honorable are Thy friends, O Lord" (Psalm 138:16). And the Holy Apostle Paul, recounting the achievements of the Saints, and setting 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 struggle for virtue, 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" (Hebrews 12:1).

This commemoration began as the Sunday (Synaxis) of All Holy Martyrs, to them were added all the ranks of Saints who bore witness (the meaning of "Martyr" in Greek) to Christ in manifold ways, even if occasion did not require the shedding of their blood.

Therefore, guided by the teaching of the Divine Scriptures and Apostolic Tradition, we honor all the Saints, the friends of God, for they are keepers of God's Commandments, shining examples of virtue and benefactors of mankind. Of course, we honor the known Saints especially on their own day of the year, as is evident in the Menologion. But since many Saints are unknown, and their number has increased with time, and will continue to increase until the end of time, the Church has appointed that once a year a common commemoration be made of all the Saints...It is the harvest of the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world; it is the "much fruit" brought forth by that "Grain of wheat that fell into the earth and died" (St. John 12:24); it is the glorification of the Gospel, they who fulfilled in deed the sayings of the Savior.

In this celebration, then, we reverently honor and call blessed all 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. All these, as well as the orders of the Angels, and especially our Most Holy Lady and Queen, the Ever-Virgin Theotokos Mary, do we honor on the Feast of All Saints, setting their life before us as an example of virtue, and entreating them to intercede (to pray with us and for us) on our behalf with God, Whose grace and boundless mercy be with us all. Amen.

God and Holiness

It must be stated at the beginning that the only true "saint" or holy one (Hagios) is God Himself. The Holy Bible states "For I am the Lord your God; you shall name yourselves holy and keep yourselves holy, because I am holy..." (Levit. 11:44; 19:2 and 20:7). Man becomes holy and "sainted" by participation in the holiness of God.

Holiness or sainthood is a gift (charisma) given by God to man, through the Holy Spirit. Man's effort to become a participant in the life of Divine Holiness is indispensable, but sanctification itself is the work of the Holy Trinity, especially through the sanctifying power of Jesus Christ, Who was incarnate, suffered crucifixion, and rose from the dead, in order to lead us to the life of holiness, through the communion with the Holy Spirit. In the Second Letter to the Thessalonians Saint Paul suggests: "But we are bound to thank God always for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because from the beginning of time God chose you to find salvation in the Spirit that consecrates you, (en agiasmo Pneumatos) and in truth that you believe. It was for this that He called you through the Gospel we brought, so that you might possess for your own the splendor of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2: 13-14).

Categories of Saints

Through the work of the Holy Trinity all Christians could be called Saints; especially in the early Church as long as they were baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, they received the Seal of the Spirit in chrismation and frequently participated in the Holy Eucharist. In the same spirit Saint Paul, when writing to the Churches he had visited, calls all the faithful "saints". Writing to the Ephesians, he addresses "the saints who live in Ephesus" (1:1); writing to the Corinthians he uses the same expressions (2 Corinthians 1:11). Saint Basil the Great, commenting on this point, writes that Saint Paul refers to all those who are united with God, who is the Being, the Life and the Truth (Against Eunomius, 11,19). Furthermore, Saint Paul writes to the Colossians that God has reconciled men by Christ's death, "so that He may present you before Himself holy, without blemish and innocent in His sight" (1:22).

In our society, however, who can be addressed as a saint? Who are those men and women and children who may be called saints by the Church today? Many Orthodox theologians classify the saints in six categories:

  1. The Apostles, who were the first ones to spread the message of the Incarnation of the Logos (Word) of God and of salvation through Christ.
  2. The Prophets, because they predicted and prophesied the coming of the Messiah.
  3. The Martyrs, for sacrificing their lives and fearlessly confessing Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.
  4. The Fathers and Hierarchs of the Church, who excelled in explaining and in defending, by word and deed, the Christian faith.
  5. The Monastics, who lived in the desert and dedicated themselves to spiritual exercise (askesis), reaching, as far as possible, perfection in Christ.
  6. The Just, those who lived in the world, leading exemplary lives as clergy or laity with their families, becoming examples for imitation in society.

Each and every one among all these saints has his or her own calling and characteristics: they all fought the "good fight for the faith" (1 Timothy 6:12 and 2 Timothy 4:7). All of them applied in their lives the scriptural virtues of "justice, piety, fidelity, love, fortitude, and gentleness" (1 Timothy 6:11).

The Concept of Theosis (Deification)

The ultimate goal of the saint is to imitate God and live the life of Deification (Theosis). Saint Maximos the Confessor (seventh century) writes that the Saints are men who have reached theosis; they have avoided unnatural development of the soul, that is, sin, and tried to live the natural way of life (i.e., living according to created nature), turning and looking always towards God, thus achieving total unity with God through the Holy Spirit (On Theology, 7.73).

It may state here that the Saints are first of all "friends" of God. Secondly, through their genuine piety and absolute obedience to God, they pleased Him and have therefore been "sanctified" both in soul and body, and subsequently glorified in this world. Third, they have been accepted in God's bosom after their passing from the world into eternal life. Fourth, many of them have been given special "grace" or "favor" to perform miracles either before their departure from this world or after. Fifth, they have been granted the special gift to pray and intercede for those still living in this world and fighting the "good fight" for the glory of God and their own perfection in Christ. This intercession springs from the fact that they also are part of the "Communion of Saints". They share prayers and good works with Christians on earth and there is a constant interaction and unity between the glorified Saints in Heaven and Christians who still live in the world.

The Intercession of the Saints

The fact that Christians ask the prayers of saints and their intercession is prefigured in the New Testament. Saint Paul asks the Christian Ephesians, Thessalonians, Colossians and Romans to pray for him (Ephesians 6:19, Thesal. 5:25, Colos. 4:3, and Rom. 15:30-31). In every Liturgy, we ask God the Father to accept, on our behalf, "the prayers and the intercession" of all the Saints who now live in heaven. The Holy Fathers of the Church also accept as a matter of course the prayers and the intercession of all the saints.

In one of his letters, Saint Basil the Great explicitly writes prophets and martyrs, and he seeks their prayers to God (Letter 360). Then, speaking about the Forty Holy Martyrs, who suffered martyrdom for Christ, he emphasizes that "they are common friends of the human race, strong ambassadors and collaborators in fervent prayers." Saint Gregory of Nyssa asks Saint Theodore the Martyr "to fervently pray to our Common King, our God, for the country and the people." The same language is used by Saint Gregory the Theologian in his encomium to Saint Cyprian. Saint John Chrysostom says that we should seek the intercession and the fervent prayers of the saints, because they have special "boldness" (parresia), before God (Gen, 44:2).

The Veneration of the Saints

In the Orthodox Church the worship (latreia) given to God is completely different from the honor (time) of love (agape) and respect, or even veneration (proskynesis), "paid to all those endowed with some dignity" (St. John Chrysostom). The Orthodox Christians honor the saints to express their love and gratitude to God, who has "perfected" the saints. As Saint Symeon the New Theologian writes, "God is the teacher of the Prophets, the co-traveler with the Apostles, the power of the Martyrs, the inspiration of the Holy Fathers and Teachers, the perfection of all Saints."

Throughout early Christianity, Christians customarily met in the places where the martyrs had died, to build churches in their honor, venerate their holy relics and memory, and present their example for imitation by others. Interesting information on this subject derives from the Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp, according to which they early Christians reverently collected the remains of the saints and honored them "more than precious stones." They also met on the day of their martyrdom (death) to commemorate "their new birthday, the day they entered into their new life, in Heaven." To this day the Orthodox have maintained the liturgical custom of meeting on the day of the saint's death, of building churches honoring their names, and of paying special respect to their relics and icons. The Seventh Ecumenical Council of the Church (787 AD), in summarizing this practice of the Church, declares that "we adore and respect God our Lord, and those who have been genuine servants of our common Lord we honor and venerate because they have the power to make us friends with God the King of all."

The feast days and the celebrations honoring the saints had become a common practice by the 4th century. The twentieth holy canon of the Council of Gangra in Asia Minor (between the years 325 and 381 AD) anathematizes those who reject the feast days of the saints. So great was the esteem in which the Apostles, Prophets, and Martyrs were held in the Church, that many writings appeared describing their spiritual achievements, love and devotion to God.

(Source: "The Lives of the Saints" by George Bebis, Ph.D., and Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America)



The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George