As of December, 2009, this blog is inactive at this location. All posts have been transferred to the new location here. You are very welcome to read and comment.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Saints


All Saints of Britain, pray for us!

The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,

and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster,
and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace.
For though in the sight of others they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality.
Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt-offering he accepted them.
In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
and will run like sparks through the stubble.
Those who trust in him will understand truth,
and the faithful will abide with him in love,
because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones,
and he watches over his elect. - Wisdom 3: 1-9

There seems to be a gradual increase in the "acceptability" of the veneration of the Saints in the wider Christian world. While I find it upsetting that I even have to phrase it in terms of acceptability, I cannot help but welcome this progression. It is right and proper that the Saints ought to be venerated by all Christians and the Anglo-Catholic movement has done so much in the spread of this basic aspect of Christianity into traditions that perhaps would otherwise not have even considered it.

However, while I see the good in this shift, I cannot help but wonder whether the necessarily apologetic manner in which it has been achieved has not had some unfortunate results as well. Firstly, I do not decry for a moment the efforts of those who have restored this practice to its proper place in the lives of many Christians. This was done often amidst much opposition and so had to presented in many cases as an "optional extra", something that "some people might find helpful".

However, the result is that, the Saints are often presented as examples to follow, good people who found God's favour. Of course, the Saints certainly are those things but it hardly stops there, and traditions that fail to recognise this often treat the Saints as no different from notable historical figures who were also good people. Strange practices begin to occur such as the inclusion of the names of people like Mahatma Gandhi and Chief Seattle in the Litany of the Saints - people whose lives certainly showed something of the love that comes from God but who we can hardly know have attained unto Sainthood. At the same time, people refuse to venerate the Sainted Royal Martyrs of Russia because of negative aspects of their earthly lives. I could understand both practices if Sainthood were merely about having lived an exemplary life but the reality is that this sort of thing betrays a gross misunderstanding of what a Saint actually is in the Christian tradition. The Saints are not merely role models. If that were their purpose, many of them wouldn't be Saints.

What we need to always remember is that the Saints are those who have reached the fullness of God's will for each of us. By God's grace, through the life in Christ in the Church, and through their persistent struggles, they have completed their deification. From the Most Holy, Most Pure, Most Blessed and glorious Lady, theMother of God and ever-virgin Mary to Saint Euphrosynos the Cook, they have nurtured the image of God planted in their hearts from the dawn of their existence and have reached the full realisation of the likeness of God. They fully share in the divine nature, in the energies of God - in his holiness, his knowledge, his wisdom, his love. A proper understanding of this should do away with any sense of having to justify their veneration. It ceases to be merely acceptable and becomes right and proper in the life of the Christian.

Certainly, there will be those Saints whose earthly lives touch us personally more than others due to the depth of the holiness of God that was apparent even in their lives here on earth. There will be those whose lives make us realise so very easily that they, too, were imperfect, as indeed we are. While this is all extremely useful as a pointer to what God would have us be, and the possibility of our reaching that despite our unworthiness, none of this detracts from their present state, which is the reason why we venerate them.

And so we pray to the Saints, we ask for their protection, their guidance, their assistance on our journey of theosis, and we ask for their prayers to God in whose nature they dwell.

All Saints of Britain, pray for us!

5 comments:

seasick said...

Hmmm. I suppose it comes back to authority and the nature of the Church again. :)

For me, it makes no sense to suggest that there are saints who can't be venerated (assuming, for the moment, one accepts the general principle). However, I might want in certain cases (and making no comment as to the Sainted Royal Martyrs of Russia or any of the other saints you mentioned because I don't know anything about them*) to dispute whether they were properly called saints (which, of course, is where the authority point comes in).

Mark

*With the exception, obviously, of Our Lady, of whom I have heard, but whose saintliness it will not surprise you to discover I do not dispute in the slightest.

Michael said...

:-D

I suppose you're right about the authority thing. How do we know who has reached Sainthood? Are there many, many more souls than the Church is aware of who have quietly led godly lives, working out their salvation and reaching Sainthood? I'm sure ther are.

I'd be very interested to hear from some of our more established Orthodox folk how Saints are glorified. I know that the jurisdiction that person was attached to does it and it is then (or ought to be) universally recognised but what is the actual process?

Does Methodism entertain the concept of Sainthood, Mark? One thing I always struggled with as an Anglican was the apparent differentiation between the Saints before the reformation and those worthies who have been added to the Kalendar since then. There is one publication (perhaps Exciting Holiness or possibly the introduction to the Common Worship Kalendar) that refers to the "Saints" and the "Worthies". The Liturgical Commission got round it by just dropping the title "Saint" altogether in the Kalendar proper, which many weren't happy with. How is it dealt with in the Methodist church?

seasick said...

I don't think Methodism has any (coherent) position. It is largely left to individual piety, and "in the pews" you will find a great spectrum of opinion. Certainly we have no means of declaring anyone to be a saint. At Wesley's time, he was very keen to revive the feasts and fasts of the primitive (as he called it) Church. As his ministry developed and he was increasingly concerned with simply teaching the very basics of the faith (generally by open-air preaching), that was laid on one side. In the 19th century, Methodism became rather more closely aligned to non-conformism in general than perhaps it ought to have done to be true to its Wesleyan identity, and I imagine most if not all Methodists would have thought saints a dangerous Romish idea or some such.

In present times however, there are increasingly many Methodist churches named for saints[1], and the Methodist Worship Book once more[2] entertains the concept that the Eucharist may be celebrated for a saints day (not that this was prohibited before - that's not the way we do things - but that it wasn't mentioned). The Calendar in the Methodist Prayer Handbook includes saints days, but they are just what you might call the Prayer Book saints, and John and Charles Wesley, of course (whose status is not defined!) I think it will be a while before anything really definitive comes from the Conference though.

Mark

1. Which historically they were not, because the first Methodist buildings were merely meeting-and-preaching houses. They were intended to be supplementary to Parish Churches, of which the early Methodists were supposed to be faithful attenders. When Methodists were refused the sacraments, things changed, and Methodist buildings and societies gradually began to function more as churches. One could argue that this process is still carrying on.

2. The liturgy of the Methodist church was for a long time essentially 1662.

Michael said...

Thanks for that. In my home town, the local Methodist church was St Andrew's. We had good relations with them. It was only when I went to a friend's confirmation at another Methodist church that I learnt of the tradition of naming churches after the place or street name. I think there's something to be said for this, to be honest. It was interesting that my friend thought it strange to have a Methodist church named after a Saint, (even though her mum worked there as a lay worker, it seems she had never thought much about it). Incidentally, I got her a copy of the Methodist Worship Book as a present.

I remember coming across a copy of the Methodist Hymn Book in St Kitts. It had the 1662 Communion rite at the back, along with some Anglican chants and a few other bits that I recognised as being from the Prayer Book. I have a copy of it now but in another edition, without the supplementary material, which is a shame, as it would be rather a good thing to have. This was all before the days of Hymns and Psalms, of course. At the time, I didn't think it strange because I grew up with Hymns Ancient and Modern: Standard Edition (with the Book of Common Prayer) all bound in a single volume. Apparently, the entire Province of the West Indies uses it and is the sole reason it is still in print. I should try to get my hands on a copy. It has the glorious, Christians, sing the Incarnation, which is a catechism in itself and has a glorious tune (if you'll pardon the quality on the Cyberhymnal).

Ahhh, them were' days.

Ian said...

Thanks for that history and information, Mark: thank you.

As a side issue, I'm sure you're aware of the similarities between Wesleyan Spirituality and Orthodoxy as well: I'm reading a book on it at the moment, oddly enough.


And thanks for Christians, sing the Incarnation Michael: I'd never heard of it before.