The Saints Invade the Present
In the last few years, the Orthodox Church has declared as Saints several men who were known to her devout members, as pious and sincere Christians. They included Russians, Serbians, and in rapid succession three from Greece – Saint Nicholas Planas (March 2012), Saint Porphyrios of Kafsokalivia (December 2013), who lived most of his life in Athens, and Saint Paisios of Mount Athos (January 2015).
The announcement by the Ecumenical Patriarchate caused a surge in popular piety, as all three Greek Saints were very close to the people through most of their lives, were well known almost to everyone in Greece, and were revered as Saints even before their elevation to Sainthood.
It is felt that this column should voice its view on the matter of spiritual standing, knowledge and even the state of piety of our people. One cannot help but feel disappointed, as he faces the degree of ignorance of our people regarding their Faith, the lack of understanding of its relevance to their daily lives, and their practice a superficial Christianity, consisting only in keeping the most elementary religious duties. Certainly, on hearing the news about the recent Saints, the majority of the Church people here were very pleased, particularly regarding Saint Paisios, who in 1977 had visited Australia.
But, the above announcement produced no obvious improvement on the spiritual state of our people. In fact, spiritual life remains something strange when you talk to most of them, whilst the question of Sainthood remains a forgotten dream.
And yet the Saints are not meant to be “a blast from the past”, as devoted people who lived in previous periods of history. The most serious problem as Christians is that we consider Saints to be either irrelevant, and worse, unnecessary in our lives. And yet the Saints are the most genuine people that lived. They are free of all passions, do not sin willingly, they are concerned more about others than themselves, God Himself rests in their heart: that is, God has nothing to complain about them. They are the pinnacle that human nature can reach. That is why the Church urges us to know the story of their life, their teaching, their behaviour – because they are our role-models. Through them we discover the nature of a genuine man, and to a degree what God is like.
Over the years, we have restricted the Saints to the four walls of our Churches. Their icons are hung around in beautiful golden frames, and we admire the art of painting as well as the golden frame! But the Saints are not dead: they are very much alive. They appear to people who honour them, they perform miracles even in our days, and are in constant communion with God Himself, who reveals to them divine truths (St.Basil the Great, St.Gregory the theologian, St.Paisios, visited many times by Panagia, and many others). After all, we have the assurance of God that they are alive, when He confirmed to Moses in the desert, that “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am not a God of the dead, but of the living” (Exodus 3:6).
The Saints are not only to be revered, they are meant to move about among us, to teach us, to help us and to save us. They have a lot to tell us about their lives, their virtues, their miracles and their teachings. Our relationship with the Saints of God should be the source of our strength in life.
Source: August-September 2015 Lychnos Edition