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The Saints

The doc­trine of the Church comes alive in the lives of the true believ­ers, the saints. The saints are those who lit­er­al­ly share the holi­ness of God. “Be holy, for I your God am holy” (Lev 11:44; 1 Pet 1:16). The lives of the saints bear wit­ness to the authen­tic­i­ty and truth of the Chris­t­ian gospel, the sure gift of God’s holi­ness to men.

In the Church there are dif­fer­ent clas­si­fi­ca­tions of saints. In addi­tion to the holy fathers who are quite specif­i­cal­ly glo­ri­fied for their teach­ing, there are a num­ber of clas­si­fi­ca­tions of the var­i­ous types of holy peo­ple accord­ing to the par­tic­u­lar aspects of their holiness.

Thus, there are the apos­tles who are sent to pro­claim the Chris­t­ian faith, the evan­ge­lists who specif­i­cal­ly announce and even write down the gospels, the prophets who are direct­ly inspired to speak God’s word to men. There are the con­fes­sors who suf­fer for the faith and the mar­tyrs who die for it. There are the so-called “holy ones”, the saints from among the monks and nuns; and the “right­eous” those from among the lay people.

In addi­tion, the church ser­vice books have a spe­cial title for saints from among the ordained cler­gy and anoth­er spe­cial title for the holy rulers and states­men. Also there is the strange clas­si­fi­ca­tion of the fools for Christ’s sake. These are they who through their total dis­re­gard for the things that peo­ple con­sid­er so necessary—clothes, food, mon­ey, hous­es, secu­ri­ty, pub­lic rep­u­ta­tion, etc.—have been able to wit­ness with­out com­pro­mise to the Chris­t­ian Gospel of the King­dom of Heav­en. They take their name from the sen­tence Of the Apos­tle Paul: “We are fools forChrist’s sake” (1 Cor 4:10; 3:18).

There are vol­umes on lives of the saints in the Ortho­dox tra­di­tion. They may be used very fruit­ful­ly for the dis­cov­ery of the mean­ing of the Chris­t­ian faith and life. In these “lives” the Chris­t­ian vision of God, man, and the world stands out very clear­ly. Because these vol­umes were writ­ten down in times quite dif­fer­ent from our own, it is nec­es­sary to read them care­ful­ly to dis­tin­guish the essen­tial points from the arti­fi­cial and some­times even fan­ci­ful embell­ish­ments which are often con­tained in them. In the Mid­dle Ages, for instance, it was cus­tom­ary to pat­tern the lives of saints after lit­er­ary works of pre­vi­ous times and even to dress up the lives of the less­er known saints after the man­ner of ear­li­er saints of the same type. It also was the cus­tom to add many ele­ments, par­tic­u­lar­ly super­nat­ur­al and mirac­u­lous events of the most extra­or­di­nary sort, to con­firm the true holi­ness of the saint, to gain strength for his spir­i­tu­al good­ness and truth, and to fos­ter imi­ta­tion of his virtues in the lives of the hear­ers and read­ers. In many cas­es the mirac­u­lous is added to stress the eth­i­cal right­eous­ness and inno­cence of the saint in the face of his detractors.

Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, it does not take much effort to dis­tin­guish the sound ker­nel of truth in the lives of the saints from the addi­tions made in the spir­it of piety and enthu­si­asm of the lat­er peri­ods; and the effort should be made to see the essen­tial truth which the lives con­tain. Also, the fact that ele­ments of a mirac­u­lous nature were added to the lives of saints dur­ing medieval times for the pur­pos­es of edi­fi­ca­tion, enter­tain­ment, and even amuse­ment should not lead to the con­clu­sion that all things mirac­u­lous in the lives of the saints are invent­ed for lit­er­ary or mor­al­iz­ing pur­pos­es. Again, a care­ful read­ing of the lives of the saints will almost always reveal what is authen­tic and true in the realm of the mirac­u­lous. Also, the point has been right­ly made that men can learn almost as much about the real mean­ing of Chris­tian­i­ty from the leg­ends of the saints pro­duced with­in the tra­di­tion of the Church as from the authen­tic lives themselves.