The Glorification of Saints

Prophet Zachariah the father of St. John the Baptist

Prophet Zachariah the father of St. John the Baptist

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

by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky

What, in essence, is the Church's formal glorification of Saints? In the Holy, Catholic, Orthodox Church the prayerful memory of each of her members who has departed in faith, hope, and repentance is cherished. This commemoration of the majority of the departed is limited, comparatively, to the narrow circle of the "Church of the home," or, in general, to persons of close blood relation or acquainted with the departed. It is expressed by prayer for the departed, prayer of remission of sins, that "his soul be numbered among the righteous," that "his repose be with the saints." This is the spiritual, prayerful thread which binds those on earth to the departed; it is an expression of love which is beneficial both for the departed and, likewise, for those who pray for him. If, after death, he is not deprived of the vision of the glory of God because of his personal sins, he responds with his own prayer for those close to him on earth.

Persons who are great in their Christian spirit, glorious in their service to the Church, beacons illuminating the world, leave behind themselves a memory which is not confined to a narrow circle of people, but which is known throughout the whole Church, local or universal. Confidence in their having attained the glory of the Lord and the power of their prayers, even after death, is so strong and unquestioned that the thought of their earthly brethren is not channeled into prayer for the forgiveness of their sins (since they are holy before the Lord without such), but towards praise of their struggles, towards accepting their lives as models for ourselves, towards requesting their prayers for us.

In witness to the profound certainty of the Church that a reposed righteous man is with the Lord, in the choir of the saints in the heavenly Church, she composes an act of "numbering among the saints," of "glorification." By this the Church gives her blessing for the change from prayers for the reposed to prayer requesting for us his prayerful assistance before the Throne of God. The unanimous voice of the Church, expressed through the lips of her hierarchs, the conciliatory voice, confirms the conviction of her ordinary members concerning the sanctity of the righteous man. Such is the essence of the act of glorification itself. Nothing in the Church should be arbitrary, but "proper and orderly." The concern of the Church in regard to this is expressed in offering a uniform prayerful supplication to the righteous one.

At times the commemoration of a departed righteous one does not extend beyond the bounds of a particular province. Other saints of God become famous and renowned throughout the Church even during their earthly activity; they are her glory and show themselves to be pillars of the Church. An ecclesiastical resolution on their glorification confirms this commemoration forever in its proper domain, i.e., in the local Church which has made the resolution, or throughout the Universal Church.

The Assembly of Saints in the heavenly church of all times is great and beyond enumeration. The names of certain saints are known on earth, others remain unknown. The saints are like stars--those closest to us are more clearly seen; yet, countless other points of light exist through space, beyond the eye's reach. Thus, in the Church's commemoration, saints are glorified in large groups and whole assemblies, as well as individually. Such are the commemorations of Martyrs that were slain by the hundreds and thousands, the Holy Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils, and, finally, the general celebration of "all Saints," both annual (the first Sunday after Pentecost; the second Sunday after Pentecost for all the Saints of Russia), and weekly (every Saturday).

How has and does the Church's glorification of her great and glorious Hierarchs, Ascetics and others recognized as Saints occur? On the basis of what principles, by what criteria, by what rite--in general, and in individual cases? Research by Prof. E. Golubinsky, The History of the Canonization of Saints in the Russian Church (2nd ed. Moscow: University Press, 1903), is dedicated to these questions. In the following exposition we will, for the most part, make use of Professor Golubinsky's treatise.

While using the term canonization of the Saints, Prof. Golubinsky admits in the first lines of his book that, although this term is etymologically derived from the Greek word canon, it forms a part of the terminology of the Latin (Roman Catholic) confession and is not employed by the Orthodox Greeks. This is an indication that we need not use it; and indeed, in his own times Prof. Golubinsky was reproached for using it too assiduously, especially since the spirit and character of Orthodox glorification is somewhat different from the canonization of the Roman confession. The Latins canonization, in its contemporary form, consists of a solemn proclamation by the Pope: "We resolve and determine that Blessed (Name) is a saint, and we enter him in the catalogue of the saints, commanding the whole Church to honor his memory with reverence..." The Orthodox "numbering among the choir of the Saints" has no special, fixed formula, but its sense might be expressed thus: "We confess that (name) is in (numbered with) the choir of the Saints of God. "

(To be continued: Witness of the Early Church)


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


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

+Father George