Very Reverend Ihor Kutash
Our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Word of the Father, assumed our flesh by becomingthe Son of the Virgin Mary to redeem, transfigure and divinize us through the Holy Spirit.
The goal of the Christian life is sanctification through the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. We are called to be Temples of the Spirit and Bearers of Christ to the glory of God the Father.
From Her earliest days, the Christian Church has honoured and venerated those of Her sons and daughters who have entered fully into the Redemption of Christ by being transfigured by the Holy Spirit through the Mysteries of the Church, prayer, good works, and their heroic witness to Christ before the world.
These the Church has called "Saints," and many of these were acknowledged as such while still alive. The beginnings of the cult of Christian Saints is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles where people tried to jump into the shadow of St Peter as he walked in the hope of experiencing a healing, or took handkerchiefs touched to the body of St Paul.
Relics of the Apostles and the Martyrs were especially venerated as a way of honouring the Grace and Presence of the Holy Spirit in the Saints. This is also a way of acknowledging the reality of the Incarnation of the Son of God and the Orthodox Doctrine of His Salvation. Through Christ, we become vessels of salvific Divine Grace that is communicated to the world. To venerate a Saint is to deepen our relationship with Christ and those Members of the Church, in whom Christ lives, who have already realized in their lives what we are hoping to realize in the same God and Lord.
Although we are all called to be saints, special heroes were set aside for honour by the Church. Such Saints were acknowledged by the fact of their witness to Christ unto death, i.e. by their martyrdom. St Stephen the Protomartyr was so honoured from the beginning. A Church suffering martyrdom is buoyed by the witness and veneration of Her Martyrs who serve to encourage Christians to be faithful and true to Christ to the end.
Later, Confessors, or those who suffered for Christ, but survived their suffering for Christ were honoured as another category of Saints. The Most Holy Mother of God came to be honoured not only as a Saint (for She is truly the "Saint of Saints"), but, even more importantly, as a crucial aspect of the very Incarnation of God. The Church paid tribute to the Holy Ones of the Old Testament, the Patriarchs and the Prophets.
Later still, the Bishops or Hierarchs of the Church, entrusted as they were with the responsibility to pray for everyone, were honoured as Saints after their repose in the Lord in the Church's belief that they continued in this their noble calling in Heaven. Venerable Monks and Nuns of the Desert came next, who witnessed to Christ with their asceticism. Fools for Christ's Sake, who witnessed to Christ with their disdain for worldly honour and others followed in the Choirs of Saints of the Christian Church.
Saints were always acknowledged as such locally, by their own Church and the people they knew and who felt the Presence of Jesus through their lives and afterwards by their intercession before the Throne of God Almighty.
A local Bishop, for example, would declare one of his parishioners to be a Saint, based on the fact of martyrdom, miracles, incorruption of relics and other criteria. A festival in honour of the Saint would be declared, his or her relics would be translated into a Shrine, their Icon would be written, Church Services would be sung in their honour and Churches could be built under their patronage. In Christian Ethiopia, for example, Saints continue to be glorified solely through the act of building a Church in their honour.
The cult of local Saints could then be adopted at the regional and national levels. Churches of other countries or Rites could place the names of Saints in their own Calendars and Patriarchs could glorify locally-venerated Saints for the universal Church. Orthodox Patriarchs today glorify Saints both for specific localities and for their Churches.
The cult of Saints may "grow" and extend itself throughout the Church, as happened with the Martyrs. St George is the only Martyr, however, who is recognized universally, which means that there is no Church anywhere in the world that does not have him in their Calendar.
The Roman Catholic system of canonization of Saints differs from that of the glorification of Saints by Orthodoxy and the difference lies mainly in how both understand what a Saint is.
The Roman Catholic understanding of sanctity is focused primarily in the notion of "righteousness" or the sinlessness and personal virtue of a candidate for sainthood. Roman Catholic canonization is therefore a very human, juridical process that relies heavily on rationalistic means to determine sanctity. Even miracles are determined through the efforts of medical teams etc. Canonization is ultimately a judgement on the righteousness of a saint's life.
The Orthodox Church glorifies Her Saints. This is a mystical, as opposed to a juridical, act. While righteousness is important, the Orthodox Church understands a Saint as being a Vessel and Temple of the Holy Spirit upon whom God deigns to pour the Oil of His Gladness and divinization.
Martyrdom, miracles, the incorruption of Relics - these point to the Presence of the Holy Spirit in the Saint and to the fact that God has already glorified His servant(s) in Heaven. Once the Orthodox Church through Her Hierarchs and Laity has determined that this is so, then the Church simply follows suit and does what God has already done, She glorifies God's servant!
Rather than read a "Bull of Canonization," the most important act in the Glorification of the Saint is that conducted through the liturgy. Once the Saint has been liturgically glorified through the Prayer of the Church and the blessing of His or Her Icon, the Saint is formally recognized as such.
Other Churches may include a locally glorified Saint in their calendars. For example, St John the Ukrainian Confessor was glorified three times, by the Church of Greece, Constantinople and Russia. A Church need not go through a liturgical Glorification to acknowledge a Saint. The inclusion of a Saint by the Bishops into the Calendar is itself a formal way of doing this.
Another example is that of St John Maximovitch (II) Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco. The cult of this popular Ukrainian Saint and Apostle to the Diaspora is so strong that Churches of different jurisdictions and nationalities have included Him in their Calendars. One Episcopalian parish in the U.S. has also raised the possibility of declaring St John their official church patron!
St Paisius Velichkovsky, the teacher of the Jesus Prayer, was locally glorified on Mount Athos, then in Rumania and then in Ukraine and Russia. The Saints of the Kyiv Caves Lavra were glorified by the Kyiv Caves Monastery alone. It was St Peter Mohyla, Metropolitan of Kyiv, who glorified them for His Church and all other Orthodox Churches later adopted the Kyiv Caves Saints for their Calendars.
The fact of a Saint's formal glorification in one Church does not mean that the Saint's cult is to be practiced by the entire Church. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Popes have centralized the canonization process and so when a Pope canonizes someone, he commands the entire church to venerate him or her. That does not mean, however, that the entire church must have special devotion to the new saint, only that the saint is placed on the universal Catholic calendar.
The French Catholic Jesuit Martyrs of North America have a feast day observed universally on October 19th, but continue to be honoured locally in Canada on September 26th. Recognizing the need for greater local emphasis in the matter of canonization, the current Pope, John Paul II, has facilitated the process of beatification (local canonization) and has declared over a thousand saints since the beginning of his pontificate.
When Pope Urban VIII, in the seventeenth century, ordered that all beatifications and canonizations were to be reserved to the pope alone, Italian and other Catholic bishops continued to beatify their local saints and, in time, a number of these were accepted into the universal Roman calendar. If martyrs were venerated for a long time, Rome simply ratified the fact of their cult, as happened in the case of the English martyrs.
The Glorification of Saints and their Veneration is a celebration of the Gifts of God to humanity through the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the action of the Holy Spirit in the Body of Christ which is the Church.
The Orthodox Church is characterized by its social spirituality which here means the community of Saints in Heaven and the community of Christians on earth. The great devotion to the Holy Trinity in the Orthodox Church itself reflects Her social conception of God. This separates the Orthodox Church from any other faith or religion anywhere.
The cult of saints is not extraneous to our Christian lives, since sanctification is the destiny to which we are all called to the Glory of God the Father, through Christ and in the Holy Spirit. We rely on the prayers of the Saints at all times, just as we rely on the prayers of one another. We cannot be saved in isolation from the other Members of the Body of Christ, whether they are in Heaven or on Earth, just as we cannot be saved cut off from the Body of Christ which is the Church. At the end of the world, it is said that the final Icon of the Holy Spirit will be the Choir of All Saints.
As a Saint once related, he invoked all the saints to "Pray unto God for me a sinner." He at once experienced a vision, where he saw all the Angels and Saints in Heaven fall to their knees before the Divine Throne, and say together in unison, "Lord have mercy upon Thy servant!" May God grant us all the intercession of His Holy Saints and grant us also the grace to venerate these Holy Temples of His Presence wherein He dwells!