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Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky
Orthodox dogmatic theology

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The glorification of Saints


What, in essence, is the Church's formal glorification of saints? In the Holy, Catholic, Orthodox

Church the prayerful memory of each of her members who has departed in faith, hope,

and repentance is cherished. This commemoration of the majority of the departed is limited,

comparatively, to the narrow circle of the “Church of the home,” or, in general, to persons of

close blood relation or acquainted with the departed. It is expressed by prayer for the departed,

prayer for the remission of sins, that “his soul be numbered among the righteous,” that “his repose

be with the saints.” This is a spiritual, prayerful thread which binds those on earth to the de-parted; it is an expression of love which is beneficial both for the departed and, likewise, for

those who pray for him. If, after death, he is not deprived of the vision of the glory of God because

of his personal sins, he responds with his own prayer for those close to him on earth.

Persons who are great in their Christian spirit, glorious in their service to the Church, beacons

illumining the world, leave behind themselves a memory which is not confined to a narrow

circle of people, but which is known throughout the whole Church, local or universal. Confidence

in their having attained the glory of the Lord and the power of their prayers, even after

death, is so strong and unquestioned that the thought of their earthly brethren is not channeled

into prayer for the forgiveness of their sins (since they are holy before the Lord without such), but

towards praise of their struggles, towards accepting their lives as models for ourselves, towards

requesting their prayers for us.

In witness to the profound certainty of the Church that a reposed righteous man is with the

Lord, in the choir of the saints in the heavenly Church, she composes an act of “numbering

among the saints,” or of “glorification.” By this the Church gives her blessing for the change

from prayers for the reposed to prayer requesting for us his prayerful assistance before the throne

of God. The unanimous voice of the Church, expressed through the lips of her hierarchs, the conciliatory

voice, confirms the conviction of her ordinary members concerning the sanctity of the

righteous man. Such is the essence of the act of glorification itself. Nothing in the Church should

be arbitrary, but “proper and orderly.” The concern of the Church in regard to this is expressed in

offering a uniform prayerful supplication to the righteous one.

At times the commemoration of a departed righteous one does not extend beyond the

bounds of a particular province. Other saints of God become famous and renowned throughout

the Church even during their earthly activity; they are her glory and show themselves to be pillars

of the Church. An ecclesiastical resolution on their glorification confirms this commemoration

forever in its proper domain, i.e., in the local Church which has made the resolution, or throughout

the universal Church.

The assembly of saints in the heavenly Church of all times is great and beyond enumeration.

The names of certain saints are known on earth; others remain unknown. The saints are like stars

— those closest to us are more clearly seen; yet, countless other points of light exist through

space, beyond the eye's reach. Thus, in the Church's commemoration, saints are glorified in large

groups and whole assemblies, as well as individually. Such are the commemorations of martyrs

that were slain by the hundreds and thousands, the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils, and, finally,

the general celebrations of “all saints,” both annual (the first Sunday after Pentecost; the

second Sunday after Pentecost for all the saints of Russia), and weekly (every Saturday).

How has and does the Church's glorification of her great and glorious hierarchs, ascetics,

and others recognized as saints, occur? On the basis of what principles, by what criteria, by what

rite — in general, and in individual cases? Research by Prof. E. Golubinsky, The History of the

Canonization of Saints in the Russian Church (2nd ed., Moscow: University Press, 1903), is

dedicated to these questions. In the following exposition we will, for the most part, make use of

Professor Golubinsky's treatise.

While using the term canonization of the saints, Prof. Golubinsky admits in the first lines of

his book that, although this term is etymologically derived from the Greek word canon, it forms a

part of the terminology of the Latin Church and is not employed by the Orthodox Greeks. This is

an indication that we need not use it; and indeed, in his own time Prof. Golubinsky was reproached

for using it too assiduously, especially since the spirit and character of Orthodox glori-fication is somewhat different from the canonization of the Roman confession. The Roman

Church's canonization, in its contemporary form, consists of a solemn proclamation by the pope:

“We resolve and determine that Blessed N. is a saint, and we enter him in the catalogue of the

saints, commanding the whole Church to honor his memory with reverence...” The Orthodox

numbering among the choir of the saints” has no special, fixed formula, but its sense might be

expressed thus: “We confess that N. is in (numbered with) the choir of the saints of God.”

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