Thursday, October 27, 2016

Celebrating the Saints

Upon entering an Orthodox Church building one is able to identify the great veneration the Orthodox have to Christ, the Mother of God and the countless Saints, which adorn the whole interior of the Church. The Orthodox, therefore, tend to also celebrate their memory greatly. On the feast day of the Saint, whoever has the saint’s name celebrates. This celebration (the nameday) is more important than the birthday of a person, showing great veneration to the certain Saint, God and the Church. St John of Damascus, who wrote three treatises in defence of icons, explains, in regards to the significance of the Saints:

‘If you raise temples to the saints of God, then put up trophies to them as well. Of old a temple was not erected in the name of human beings, nor was the death of just ones celebrated, but they were buried, and anyone who touched a corpse was reckoned unclean, even Moses himself. Now the memorials of the saints are celebrated. The corpse of Jacob was buried, but that of Stephen is celebrated . . . it is impossible not to celebrate the memorials of the saints, for the choir of the holy apostles and the god-bearing fathers enjoins that these should take place. For from the time when God the Word became flesh, and was made like us in every respect save sin, and was united without confusion with what is ours, and unchangingly deified the flesh through the unconfused co-inherence of his divinity and his flesh one with another, we have been truly sanctified. And from the time when the Son of God and God, being free from suffering in his divinity, suffered in what he had assumed and paid our debt by pouring out a worthy and admirable ransom (for the Son’s blood was appealing to the Father and worthy of respect), we have truly been set free. And from the time when he descended into Hades and preached forgiveness to the souls, who had been bound as captives there for all eternity, like sight to the blind, and, having bound the strong one by his excess of power, rose again and gave incorruption to the flesh that he had assumed from us, we have been made truly incorruptible. From the time we were born of water and the Spirit, we have truly been adopted as sons and become heirs of God. Henceforth Paul calls the faithful holy. Henceforth we do not mourn for the saints, but we celebrate their death. Henceforth, “we are not under the law, but under grace,” “having been justified through faith,” and knowing the only true God – “for the law is not laid down for the just” – we are no longer enslaved by the elements of the law as children, but being restored to perfect manhood we are nourished with solid food, no longer prone to idolatry. For the law is good, like a lamp shining in a squalid place, but only until the day dawns. For already the morning star has risen in our hearts and the living water of the knowledge of God has covered the seas of the nations and all have come to know the Lord. “The old things have passed away, and behold everything is new.” The divine apostle therefore said to Peter, the supreme chief of the apostles, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” and to the Galatians he wrote, “I testify to everyone who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law.”’ (Treatise I, 21).

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