The Glorification of Saints (Part III)

Icon of Sophia, the Wisdom of God

Icon of Sophia, the Wisdom of God

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

by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazanksy

Martyrs and Ascetics

Under Turkish rule, the Greek Orthodox Church had no small number of martyrs who were put to death for their exceptional zeal for the Christian faith and for publicly denouncing Islam. The later Greek Orthodox Church, and the universal Church with her, has regarded and continues to accept her martyrs just as the ancient Church regarded the martyrs of the early Christian era, acknowledging martyrdom as sufficient foundation for glorification, irrespective of the gift of working miracles, although miracles did have a place in many cases. A great many Greek martyrs were not proclaimed as saints in any official manner and were often honored as "zealots," without any deliberate inquest or proclamation on the part of the Great Church of Constantinople, for such would have been difficult to carry out under the conditions of the Turkish Yoke. Saint Nicephorus of Chios, who composed a "General Service to Any New Martyr," explaining the need for such a service, states: "Inasmuch as the majority of the new martyrs do not have a service to celebrate, and whereas many people are desirous of such a service--one, to honor his fellow countryman; another, to honor someone known to him personally, yet another, to honor someone who has helped him in some need, I have therefore composed a general services for any new martyr. May he that so desires sing such a service to that martyr for whom he has a veneration." The author of A History of the Canonizations of the Saints in the Russian Church believes that generally martyrs honored without official glorification were also intended in the above case. Whether or not his supposition is accurate is difficult to determine.

As before, in the Eastern Orthodox Church the criterion that had to be met for the glorification of ascetics, be they hierarchs or monastics, was the gift of working miracles. Patriarch Nectarius of Jerusalem (reigned 1661-1669 AD), gives lucid testimony concerning this He writes: "Three things witness to true sanctity in people: 1) irreproachable Orthodoxy, 2) perfection in all the virtues, which are crowned by standing up for the faith, even unto the shedding of one's blood, and finally, 3) the manifestation by God of supernatural signs and wonders." In addition to this, Patriarch Nectarius indicates that at that time, when abuses in reporting miracles and virtues were common occurrences, yet often other signs required, i.e., the incorruption of bodies or a fragrance emanating from the bones.

In the East, the right to glorify a saint for local veneration belongs to the Metropolitan of the Metropolitan Sees; for general veneration throughout the Church of Constantinople with his synod of bishops gives the blessing. Athos, apparently, constitutes an exception in this regard, glorifying its own ascetics for local veneration on the Holy Mountain through the personal authority of the brotherhood, or of individual monasteries, or by the Synodia of the Protaton for the entire Athonite Community. Also, the gift of working miracles can hardly be considered obligatory as a basis for glorification, yet one may deem an ascetic life, confirmed afterwards by the sign of fragrance emanating from the bones, as such a basis.

From the compilation of documents of the Patriarchate of Constantinople relating to the glorification of the saints, which is appended to the second edition of A History of the Canonization of the Saints in the Russian Church, one may form for oneself an idea as to how glorification has been carried out...

"...The act of numbering among the choirs of the saints is, for the most part, combined with the uncovering of relics of the righteous one who is being glorified. In these cases one must then distinguish three specific acts: the examination of the relics may be reckoned as one of the actions that precede the act of glorification, on par with the verification of the accounts of his miracles. Then follows the synodical decision concerning the glorification. In our day, the solemn removal of the relics is usually one of the first sacred actions in the realization of the act of the glorification which will take place. With the removal of the relics and the enshrining of them in a specially prepared place in a church, the prayerful commemoration in honor of the newly-glorified favorite of God begins. However, the presence of relics and their actual uncovering are not absolutely essential to a glorification. The holy relics of many saints have not been preserved. As regards the holy relics of a considerable number of ancient saints, certain of these constitute entire bodies--bones with flesh, others--bones devoid of flesh.


From all that has been said, we may draw several conclusions. Essentially, according to the understanding of the Church and according to the principles of the glorification of saints, the glorification of saints has always been the same in the Orthodox Church. In these questions, the Eastern Orthodox Churches of the second millennium have followed the Tradition of the Church of the first millennium and its ancient period. The Russian Orthodox Church of the pre-Petrine era followed the path of the Greek Orthodox Church; while the Russian Church of the post-Petrine era remained faithful to the customs of the pre-Petrine era. The glorification of the saints consisted and consists of a general statement of faith by the Church that God Himself has united the departed one to the Assembly of His Saints. This faith is founded on the facts of a death by martyrdom, or upon a righteous life which is apparent to the whole Church, or upon the glorification of the saint of God by instances of wonderworking during his lifetime or at his tomb. Glorification is usually an expression of the voice of the people of the Church, to whom the higher ecclesiastical authority, after due verification, gives synodally the final word, establishment, recognition, confirmation and the sanction of the Church.

The glorification of the saints is among the most important activities of the Church. In its basic, elementary aspect, glorification consists of turning from prayers "for the dead" to requests for a saint's intercession before God, and in his prayerful glorification by services from the general menaion or with specially composed services. The glorification of a saint and the uncovering of his relics do not constitute a single, inseparable act, although they often are performed together. The Orthodox Church does not maintain that it is essential that a fixed period of time pass between the repose of a righteous man and his numbering among the choir of the saints, as is accepted in the Roman confession, which has instituted a period of several decades (usually fifty years from the date of death for "beatification", a process which corresponds roughly to local veneration, and eighty years for canonization).

In the miracles worked through the prayers or at the tombs of the righteous of God, the Orthodox Church sees the will of God in the glorification of these strugglers. When no such signs exist, the Church does not see the will of God in their solemn glorification, as one of the resolutions of Patriarch Adrian of Moscow (reigned 1690-1700) expresses in regard to a certain request for glorification: "If our Lord God, the Creator of all, glorifieth anyone in this life, and after his death declareth this to His people through many miracles, then the miracles of this person become clearly known, for many holy wonderworkers were found in the Holy Church, whose memories the Church always hymns and their holy relics it contains. They that are not known, whom God Almighty Himself hath not been well pleased to glorify with signs and wonders, even if such lived righteously and in a holy manner, are not such as the Church glorify. The names of many are not remembered, and the whole world cannot contain the books of their names that could be written." (Source: Holy Protection Russian Orthodox Church, Los Angeles, California. Editor: Archimandrite Alexander (Mileant)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),

The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George