Monday, May 31, 2010
The Sunday of All Saints
On the Western Calendar, the feast of all Saints is celebrated on November 1. On the Eastern Calendar, the festival is the last Sunday of the Pentecostarion, one week after the Great Feast of Pentecost. According to legend, this feast was established after a certain Roman (i.e. Byzantine) Emperor lost his wife and asked the Patriarch of Constantinople to have her glorified as a saint. The Patriarch responded that though the woman was certainly good and saintly, glorification and commemoration on the Church calendar are not done by simple request even if the one making the request is God's viceroy on Earth (as the Emperor was known in the Byzantine Theocracy). However, the Patriarch convened a local council which decided that a certain day should be set aside for the commemoration of all saints, those who are famous pillars of the Church such as the Theotokos, the Forerunner, St. Basil the Great to those who are not so famous pillars such as our mothers and fathers and all who have completed the course of this life in the faith. This day commemorates those saints whom we know and who are known only to God. We commemorate them all and we beseech them for their continued intercessions on our behalf (which they do anyway).
This festival is aptly placed a week after Pentecost. The troparion of the feast of Pentecost says that "through them (i.e. the Apostles who are called fishermen) thou hast drawn the world into Thy net." Those whom we glorify as saints have been drawn into the net by the Apostles' and subsequent generations' preaching and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This feast then is an extension of the feast of Pentecost.
The word saint is often used in a way that can be quite contentious between members of different Christian confessions. For Protestants, the predominant definition of a saint is anyone who has died in the Lord. For Catholics and Orthodox, the predominant definition of a saint is someone who has been glorified and honored by the Church. Catholics and Orthodox won't balk at the Protestant definition as an addendum to their own addition but Protestants will often balk at the Catholic and Orthodox definition because they, mistakenly, attribute the honor and veneration paid to saints as idolatry if not outright polytheism. I once remember a story that my Lutheran grandmother (herself born and raised in Germany prior to coming here in the 1950s) refused to attend a Lutheran Church because its name was taken from St. John. "Lutherans don't have saints," she said.
I don't want to get into all the arguments as to how the Orthodox veneration of the saints is not an heretical practice. I will say that if the Word of God (Christ and also His icon of Scripture) is the basis of the faith then the gift and seal of the Holy Spirit is the means to live the faith (hence, tradition). We commemorate our brothers and sisters who have lived the faith and even in death are still are brothers and sisters in the kingdom. Every Liturgy, Office or pray we pray is not done by us alone but by the bodiless powers and by the saints as well, offering prayers before the dread judgment seat of Christ. We are not alone; the saints will not let us be alone. When we pray, they are there with us. When the Priest begins the Liturgy with "Blessed is the Kingdom..." we are no longer on earth. We are translated, mystically, to the heavenly abode where we stand alongside those who have departed the faith. Our prayers become one and the same. When we commemorate the saints, we are commemorating those standing right next to us, both manifest and unseen.
Through the prayers of all the saints, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy upon us and save us.