The Place of Lives of the Saints in the Spiritual Life

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My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

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THE PLACE OF LIVES OF SAINTS IN THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
By Saitn Justin Popovic

Saint Justin wrote: "What are Christians? Christians are Christ-bearers, and, by virtue of this, they are bearers and possessors of eternal life...The Saints are the most perfect Christians, for they have been sanctified to the highest degree with the podvigs of holy faith in the Risen and eternally Living Christ, and no death has power over them. Their life is entirely Christ's life; and their thought is entirely Christ's thought; and their perception is Christ perception. All that they have is first Christ's and then theirs...In them is nothing of themselves but rather wholly and in everything the Lord Christ."

The Saints live in Christ, but Christ also lives in them through His Divine Energies, His grace. And where Christ is, there is the Father and the Holy Spirit also. Christ says, "Abide in Me, and I in you; and elsewhere He says, If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him" (St. John 15:4; 14:23).

Thus, Saint Justin makes bold to say that the Lives of the Saints not only bear witness to the Life in Christ: they may even be said to be continuation of the Life of Christ on earth. "The Lives of the Saints," says Saint Justin, "are nothing else but the life of the Lord Christ, repeated in every Saint to a greater or lesser degree in this or that form. More precisely, it is the life of the Lord Christ continued through the Saints, the life of the Incarnate God the Logos/Word, the Godman Jesus Christ Who became man.'

This is an amazing thing that Saint Justin is saying: when we read the Lives of the Saints, we are reading the Life of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is itself should be enough to convince us of the importance of filling our souls with the Lives of the Saints.

Saint Justin also says that the Lives of the Saints are a continuation of the Acts of the Apostles. "What are the 'Acts of the Apostles'?" he asks. "They are the acts of Christ, with which the Holy Apostles do by the power of Christ, or better still: they do them by Christ Who is in them and acts through them. "And what are the 'Lives of the Apostles.' In them is found the same Gospel, the same life, the same Truth, the same righteousness, the same love, the same faith, the same eternity, the same 'power from on high,' the same God and Lord. "For the Lord Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8): the same for all peoples of all times, distributing and the same gifts and the same Divine Energies to all who believe in Him."

With these words of Saint Justin before us, we might well asks ourselves if Orthodox spiritual life is even possible without the testimony of the Lives of the Saints. The answer to this, I believe, must be "no." True spiritual life begins when we live in Christ and Christ lives in us, right here on this earth. And the Lives of the Saints bear witness to us that the Life of Christ on earth did not end with His Ascension into Heaven, nor with the martyrdom of His Apostles. His Life continues to this day in His Church, and is seen most brilliantly in His Saints. And we, too, in our own spiritual lives, are to enter in that continuing, never-ending Life.

I spoke recently to an Orthodox priest who had converted to Orthodoxy from Protestantism. He told me that, when he was received into the Church, the officiating priest told him: "You will never be truly orthodox without reading the Lives of the Saints." Later, when he himself became a priest, he found that the most pious people in the churches are those who read the Lives of the Saints, and that those who make the most progress in the spiritual life are those who read the Saints' Lives.

The Orthodox Faith is not, first of all, of the head. First of all, it is of the heart: it is felt and believed by the heart. Through the Lives of the Saints, we develop an Orthodox heart. Our monastery's co-founder, Fr. Seraphim Rose, emphasized constantly this "Orthodoxy of the heart," especially in his writings and talks at the end of his life; and he frequently referred to Lives of the Saints as a means of developing this.

HOW TO MAKE USE OF THE LIVES OF THE SAINTS

Having looked at the importance and meaning of the Lives of the Saints, let us look now at the various ways we can make use of them in our spiritual lives.

First, we look to the Saints as our examples. "Be ye imitators of me, as I also am of Christ" (I Corinthians 11:1), the Saints say to us along with the Holy Apostle Paul. As Christians, we want to grow in the likeness of Christ, to have that likeness shine in us. For this to occur, we need to look often to the Saints to see that shining likeness: we must look to them for real, practical examples of how to live. Saint Basil the Great gives this analogy:

"Just as painters, in working from models, constantly gaze at their exemplar and thus strive to transfer the expression of the original to their own artistry, so too he who is eager to make himself perfect in all kinds of virtue must gaze upon the Lives of the Saints as upon statues, so to speak, that move and act, and must make their excellence his own by imitation."

Secondly, we must look to the Saints as our heavenly friends, as our brothers and sisters in the Faith, and as our preceptors. We read about them not as people who are dead, but as people who are living. And this is even more immediate than just reading a biography about someone who is still alive. Let's say we are reading the biography of some famous living person. As we read it, we may dream of perhaps one day meeting this person, or perhaps of writing him a letter and having it actually reach him, and even of receiving a reply from him, despite the fact that he is so famous that thousands of people are probably writing to him. Reading the Lives of the Saints offers us much more than this, because the Saints are alive in God, and are not bound by time and space in the same way we are. We can address them in prayer immediately and at any time, even right in the middle of reading their Lives. And they will hear us. Besides our private prayers to them, the Church offers us many other ways of communing with them as our friends and honoring them as our preceptors. We sing their troparia (hymns), we venerate their holy icons, we perform services to them, and with a blessing from our Bishop we can even compose services in their honor.

As we read the Lives of the Saints each day, we will discover little by little those Saints whom our hearts go out to. They will become our close friends, those whom we pray to most of all, those in whom we confide our joys and sorrows. As Archimandrite Aimilianos, the present Abbot (Egoumenos) of the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petras on Mount Athos, writes: "These close friends will be the guides of our choice and a great comfort to us along the straight and narrow way that leads to Christ. We are not alone on the road or in the struggle. We have with us our Mother, the All-Holy Mother of God, our Guardian Angel, the Saints whose name we bear, and those close friends we have chosen out of the Great Multitude of Saints who stand before the Lamb (Christ) (Revelation 7:9). When we stumble through sin, they will raise us up again; when we are tempted to give up hope, they will remind us that they have suffered for Christ before us, and more than us; and that they are now the possessors of unending joy. So, upon the stony road of the present life, these holy companions will enable us to glimpse the Light of the Resurrection. Let us search, then, in the Lives of the Saints, for these close friends, and with all the Saints let us make our way to Christ."

Saint Justin also calls the Lives of the Saints "applied ethics." They are embodiments of the life of Divine virtue that is possible only in Jesus Christ. They are embodiments of the life of grace in the Church, through the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments), through the Life-Giving Body and Blood of the Lord Christ. (Source: The Orthodox Word, Vol. 37, No. 6-Dec 2001), pp. 261-281. Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, California)

(To be continued)

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

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry)
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George