The Glorification of Saints (Part II)

Hieromartyr maxim Sandovich

Hieromartyr maxim Sandovich

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

by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky

Witness of the Early Church

In the first centuries of the Christian Church, three-basic types of saints were recognized. These were a) The Old Testament Patriarchs, Prophets [among whom St. John the Forerunner and Baptist is pre-eminent] and the New Testament Apostles; b) the Martyrs, who gained crowns of glory through the shedding of their blood, and c) outstanding hierarchs [Bishops] who served the Church, as well as people acclaimed for their personal struggle [the righteous and the ascetics]. As concerns the Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, and Martyrs, membership in any one of these categories carried with it recognition as a saint.

It is known from history that prayer meetings were held in honor of the Martyrs as early as the first quarter of the 2nd century (cf. St. Ignatius of Antioch). In all probability, they were begun in the period immediately following the first persecution of the Christians--that of Nero, Roman emperor. It is apparent that no special ecclesiastical decree was required to authorize the prayerful veneration of this or that particular Martyr. A Martyr's death itself testified to be the reception of a heavenly crown. But the numbering of departed hierarchs and ascetics among the choir of the saints was done individually, and was naturally carried out on the basis of each one's personal worthiness.

It is impossible to give a general answer as to which criteria the Church employed for recognition of saints belonging to this third classification. As regards the ascetics in particular, without a doubt the fundamental, general basis of their glorification was and still is the working of miracles. This is because supernatural evidence is free from human whim or bias. Professor Golubinksy considers this indication the sole basis for the glorification of ascetics in the history of ecclesiastical canonization. Despite his opinion, however, one may conclude that the commemoration of the great Christian desert dwellers of old, the leaders and guides of Monasticism, was kept by the Church for their didactic gifts and their lofty spiritual attainment, apart from a strict dependence on whether they were glorified with the gift of working miracles. They were numbered among the choirs of the saints strictly for their ascetic life, without any particular reference to such a criterion [miracle working].

The ancient Church's glorification of holy hierarchs should be viewed somewhat differently. Their lofty service itself was the basis of their glorification, just as the Martyr's holy ends were for them. In the Carthaginian Calendar, which dates from the 7th century, there is the superscription: "Here are recorded the birthdays (i.e., the dates of martyrdom) of the Martyrs and the days of the repose of bishops whose annual commemoration the Church of Carthage celebrates." Thus, judging from ancient Greek liturgical calendars, one may surmise that in the Greek Church all Orthodox bishops who did not sully themselves in any way were numbered amongst the choir of the local saints of their diocese, on the basis of the belief that as intercessors before God in this life by their vocation, they remain such even in the life beyond the grave. In the ecclesiastical calendars of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, all the Patriarchs of Constantinople who occupied that see between AD 315 (St. Metrophanes) and 1025 (St. Eustathius), with the exception of those that were heretics or for one canonical reason or another were deposed, are recorded in the list of the saints. In all probability, the most renowned bishops were recognized as saints immediately following their repose, in the other cases, this inclusion was carried out at some other time.

The names of all departed bishops were entered in the local diptychs--the lists of the departed were read aloud at the Divine Services, and every year, on the date of the repose of each of them, their commemoration was kept with special solemnity. Someone, the Church Historian, states that in individual Churches or Dioceses, the celebration of their local Martyrs and the commemoration of their former Priests (i.e., their Hierarchs [Bishops]) were observed. Herein he uses the term "celebration" in reference to the memory of the martyrs, but "commemoration" in reference to the Hierarchs, leaving it to be understood that in the ancient Church the latter events (if one may speak of an overall plan and not of individual cases) were of lesser stature than the former. Professor Golubinsky conjectures that, as regards hierarchs, after a certain number of years of fervent prayer for them, the annual celebration of their memory was transformed into a day of prayer to them. According to the testimony of St. Symeon of Thessaloniki, from the earliest times in Constantinople the hierarchs were interred within the sanctuary of the largest church, that of the Apostles, like the holy relics of the saints, because of the Grace of the Divine Priesthood.

In the Greek Church, until the 11th century, only a very few of the choir of hierarchs were saints universally venerated throughout the entire Church. The greater portion of the hierarchs remained local saints of the individual Churches (i.e., dioceses), and each individual diocese/Church celebrated only its own local hierarchs, with a very small number of hierarchs venerated universally throughout the Church. With the 11th century the transformation of the choirs of hierarchs from local to universal came about, as a result of which there are a great number of names. This was probably the reason why, from that century on, the numbering of hierarchs among the choirs of the saints was carried out more strictly, and as a criterion for the numbering of any of the Patriarchs of Constantinople among the saints it was declared necessary to have irrefutable evidence of their miracles, as was also required for the glorification of ascetics.

In local Churches (Dioceses) the right to recognize individuals as saints belonged to their bishops and their clergy or officials subject to their authority. It is also quite possible that the bishops did not perform such an act without the knowledge and consent of the Metropolitan and the Synod of Bishops of the Metropolitan Province. At times the Laity (Christians) determined beforehand the future glorification of ascetics, even while the latter were still alive, and in witness of their determination erected churches dedicated to such ascetics, apparently in the certainty that the blessing of the hierarchy would be forthcoming.

In the future the Greek Church was to know two classifications of newly glorified saints: martyrs and ascetics.

(To be continued: Martyrs and Ascetics)


"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