Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Being Enemies of the Saints

Jesus came down to earth for our salvation. By this we mean the deification of man, our theosis, our sanctification, becoming thus gods, not in nature, but by participation. Therefore, the Saints we venerate in the Church is not going against His plan for us. By venerating the Saints, we venerate God, who has given us the blessing to be in communion with Him, and therefore to be sanctified by participating in His glory. Therefore, people who do not venerate the Saints, do not venerate God and do not fully understand the truth of the purpose of Christ’s life on this world. His Crucifixion and Resurrection are pointless if we are not permitted to be part of His Church, to be in communion with God. Interestingly enough, St Symeon the New Theologian explains: “it would be considered heresy and a subversion of Scripture to claim that later generations do not have access to the Holy Spirit or cannot acquire the same vision of God as given to the early Apostles, Fathers, and saints.”[1] Therefore, the existence and veneration of the Saints is key for our faith and our understanding of our relationship with God. Saints are to be considered exactly what they are, i.e. as the army of the Lord and as His friends. ‘You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.’ (Jn. 15:14-15). St John of Damascus explains:

‘But then they say, Make an image of Christ and of his Mother who gave birth to God, and let that suffice. What an absurdity! You confess clearly that you are an enemy of the saints! For if you make an image of Christ, but in no wise of the saints, it is clear that you do not prohibit the image, but rather the honour due to the saints, something that no one has ever dared to do or undertake with such brazenness. For to make an image of Christ as glorified and yet spurn the image of the saints as without glory is to endeavour to show that the truth is false. “For I live,” says the Lord, “and I shall glorify those who glorify me,” and the divine apostle, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, an heir of God through Christ,” and “if we suffer together [with him], so that we are glorified together.” You are not waging a war against images, but against the saints. John the theologian, who learnt on Christ’s breast, therefore says, that “we shall be like him.” For just as iron plunged in fire does not become fire by nature, but by union and burning and participation, so what is deified does not become God by nature, but by participation. I am not speaking of the flesh of the incarnate Son of God for that is called God immutably by hypostatic union and participation in the divine nature, not anointed by the energy of God as with each of the prophets, but by the presence of the whole of the one who anoints. Because by deification the saints are gods, it is said that “God stands in the company of gods, in the midst he discriminates between the gods,” when God stands in the midst of the gods, distinguishing their several worth, as Gregory the Theologian interprets it.’ (Treatise I, 19).

[1] Bartholomew, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch, Encountering the Mystery – Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today, (New York, Doubleday, 2008), p.41

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