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The Canonization of Saints


Holiness is not simply righteousness, for which the righteous merit the enjoyment of blessedness in the Kingdom of God, but rather such a height of righteousness that men are filled with the Grace of God to such an extent, that it flows from them, upon those who associate with them. Great is their blessedness, which proceeds from personal experience of the Glory of God. Being filled also with love for men, which proceeds from love of God, they are responsive to men's needs and upon their supplication, they also appear as intercessors and defenders before God.

At the time of the high spiritual fervor in the first centuries of persecutions against Christians, such were the "martyrs also. The martyr's death became a door to the higher Mansions, and Christians at once began to invoke them as holy men pleasing to God. Miracles and signs confirmed this faith of the Christians and were a proof of their sanctity.

Subsequently, the great ascetics likewise, began to be revered. No one decreed the veneration as saints such as Anthony the Great, Macarius the Great, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, Nicholas the Wonder-worker, and many others like them, but East and West equally revered them. Their sanctity can be denied only by those who do not believe in sanctity.

The choir of saints pleasing to God grew unceasingly; in every place, where Christians were, its own new ascetics appeared, also. However, the general life of Christians began to decline; the spiritual burning began to grow faint. There no longer was a clear sense of what Divine righteousness was. So the general consciousness of the faithful could not always distinguish who was a righteous man and pleasing to God. In some places, there appeared dubious persons who by false ascetic exploits attracted a part of the flock. For this reason, the Church authority began to keep watch over the veneration of saints, showing concern to guard the flocks from superstition. The life of ascetics revered by the faithful began to be investigated, and the accounts of their miracles to be verified. Towards the time of the baptism of Russia, it had already been established that the acknowledgement of a new saint was to be performed by the Church authority. The decree of the Church authority, of course, was disseminated to the region within its jurisdiction; but other places, too, usually acknowledged a canonization performed elsewhere, even though they did not enter it into their own calendars. After all, the Church authority only testified of sanctity. Righteous men became saints not by the decree of the earthly Church authority, but by the mercy and grace of God. The Church showed approval by the praising in church and the invocation in prayer of a new saint.

Which authority should and could do this was not precisely determined; in any case it was an episcopal authority.

There have been canonizations performed by the higher Church authority of an entire Local Church, and the names of the newly canonized were then entered into the Church calendar of that entire Church. Others were canonized in one or another locality and their veneration gradually spread to other places. Ordinarily, the canonization was performed in the place where the righteous one lived or suffered. But it also happened in other ways. Thus, the youth George from the city of Kratov (Serbia), who suffered at the hands of the Turks in Sofia (Sredets) (Bulgaria) in 1515, was canonized within fourteen years in Novgorod. Notwithstanding the fact that his fellow-countrymen also revered him as a new martyr, and that a Church service to him was compiled by his spiritual father, they did not dare to show this openly, fearing the Turks. Therefore, in Novgorod, which had trading connections with these places, by order of the Archbishop a service was compiled and the memory of the martyr George the New began to be revered, and from there it was spread to all of Russia. Later when Serbia and Bulgaria were freed from Turkish slavery, they began to use the Service compiled in Russia, and the Service compiled originally in Sofia remains to this day on a library shelf.

In the last two centuries, when Russia lived in glory and prosperity, the canonization of new saints was usually performed quite solemnly by the decree of the Higher Authority. Sometimes (but not always) taking place throughout the whole of Russia, especially in the place where the wonderworking relics were obtained. However, this does not alter the general order in the Church. If the Russian people under the godless yoke of power today cannot openly praise and invoke a Saint of God, glorified by God, it is the duty of the part of the Russian Church that is free, to universally revere and invoke a Wonderworker like St. Nicholas, who is revered in the whole world, to pray to St. John the Righteous one [of Kronstadt] for the correction of our life and the cessation of calamities which (according to prophecy) have befallen our Fatherland.

May the Lord grant, that that longed-for day come, when from the Carpathians to the Pacific Ocean will thunder out: "We magnify thee, O righteous Father John, and we venerate thy holy memory, for thou dost pray for us to Christ our God!"

 

Editorís note: This sermon was occasioned by the canonization in 1964, by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, of the Righteous Father John of Kronstadt, one of the greatest wonderworkers in the history of the Orthodox Church and the public refusal of the American "Metropolia" to accept it, supposedly on the grounds that it could only be performed by the whole Russian Church in Russia.

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