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Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky
Orthodox dogmatic theology

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Martyrs and Ascetics.

Under Turkish rule, the Greek Church had no small number of martyrs who were put to

death for their exceptional zeal for the Christian faith and for publicly denouncing Islam. The

later Greek Church, and the universal Church with her, has regarded and continues to accept her

martyrs just as the ancient Church regarded the martyrs of the early Christian era, acknowledging

martyrdom as sufficient foundation for glorification, irrespective of the gift of working miracles,

although miracles did have a place in many cases. A great many Greek martyrs were not proclaimed

as saints in any official manner and were often honored as “zealots,” without any deliberate

inquest or proclamation on the part of the Great Church of Constantinople, for such would

have been difficult to carry out under the conditions of the Turkish Yoke. St. Nicephorus of

Chios, who composed a “General Service to Any New Martyr,” explaining the need for such a

service, states: “Inasmuch as the majority of the new martyrs do not have a service to celebrate,

and whereas many people are desirous of such a service — one, to honor his fellow countryman;

another, to honor someone known to him personally; yet another, to honor someone who has

helped him in some need, I have therefore composed a general service for any new martyr. May

he that so desires sing such a service to that martyr for whom he has a veneration.” The author of

A History of the Canonization of the Saints in the Russian Church believes that generally martyrs

honored without official glorification were also intended in the above case. Whether or not his

supposition is accurate is difficult to determine.

As before, in the Eastern Church the criterion that had to be met for the glorification of ascetics,

be they hierarchs or monastics, was the gift of working miracles. Patriarch Nectarius of

Jerusalem (reigned 1661-1669), gives lucid testimony concerning this. He writes: “Three things

witness to true sanctity in people: 1) irreproachable Orthodoxy, 2) perfection in all the virtues,

which are crowned by standing up for the faith, even unto the shedding of one's blood, and finally,

3) the manifestation by God of supernatural signs and wonders.” In addition to this, Patriarch

Nectarius indicates that at that time, when abuses in reporting miracles and virtues were

common occurrences, yet often other signs were required, i.e. the incorruption of bodies or a fragrance

emanating from the bones.In the East, the right to glorify a saint for local veneration belongs to the metropolitans of

the metropolitan sees; for general veneration throughout the Church of Constantinople, the patriarch

of Constantinople with his synod of bishops gives the blessing. Athos, apparently, constitutes

an exception in this regard, glorifying its own ascetics for local veneration on the Holy

Mountain through the personal authority of the brotherhoods, or of individual monasteries, or by

the synodia of the Protaton for the entire Athonite community. Also, the gift of working miracles

can hardly be considered obligatory as a basis for glorification, yet one may deem an ascetic life,

confirmed afterwards by the sign of fragrance emanating from the bones, as such a basis.

From the compilation of documents of the Patriarchate of Constantinople relating to the

glorification of the saints, which is appended to the second edition of A History of the Canonization

of the Saints in the Russian Church, one may form for oneself an idea as to how glorification

has been carried out.

From the fourteenth century a decree has come down to us from Patriarch John XIV

(reigned 1333-47) addressed to Theognostus, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia (reigned

1328-53, resident in Moscow), dated July of 1339, concerning the numbering of his predecessor,

St. Peter, Metropolitan of Moscow (reigned 1308-26), among the saints: “...We have received the

letter of Thy Holiness, together with the notification and attestation concerning the hierarch of

the holy Church who was before thee, that after death he hath been glorified by God and shown

to be one of His true favorites, and that great miracles are worked by him and every disease is

healed. And we rejoiced concerning this and were exceedingly glad of spirit, and rendered unto

God fitting glorification. And in as much as Thy Holiness hath sought guidance from us as to

how to act with such holy relics, we reply: Thy Holiness doth thyself know, nor art thou ignorant

of the manner of ritual and custom the Church of God holdeth to in such cases. Having received a

firm and incontestable attestation concerning this Saint, let Thy Holiness in the present event act

in accordance with the Church's rite. Honor and bless God's favored one with hymnody and sacred

doxologies, and bequeath these to the future ages, to the praise and glory of God, Who glorifieth

them that glorify Him...”

In the eulogy of Patriarch Philotheus of Constantinople (reigned 1354-55, 1364-76) for St.

Gregory of Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, concerning the numbering of the Archbishop

among the choir of the saints, after an account of ten miracles performed at the saint's tomb, we

read: “Hence [i.e., owing to the fact that many miracles had taken place at the Archbishop's

tomb], the most God-loving and pre-eminent of them here present [the citizens of Thessalonica],

and especially of them that are priests, having taken counsel together, have set up a sacred icon of

Gregory and are celebrating a radiant festival for all the people on the day of his repose, and are

hastening to erect a church for him, for he is a glorious disciple of Christ. They are not waiting

for the assemblies of great men or any general councils to proclaim him [a saint], for such things

sometimes are a hindrance, a burden, an obstacle and a care, and are all too human, but they are

content, as is laudable, with a proclamation from on high, with the luminous and irrefutable contemplation

of his works, and with faith.” From the discourse of Patriarch Philotheus it is clear

that: 1) St. Gregory Palamas was numbered among the saints because of the miracles performed

at his tomb, and 2) his glorification was performed by the Metropolitan of Thessalonica.

Decrees of much later origin clearly speak of special inquiries of synods relative to glorification.

Thus, in a decree of Patriarch Cyril I (reigned 1621-23, 1624-32, 1632-33, 1633-34,

1637-38) concerning the glorification of St. Gerasimus of Cephalonia, following a dogmatic explanation

of the Orthodox teaching concerning the Saint, we find: “And we, on the one hand,ready before God to render unto divine men the honor that befitteth them in recompense, and on

the other hand, caring for the common good of the faithful, in accordance with the divine fathers

that were before us, and following the universal practice of the Church, we do synodally resolve,

appoint and command in the Holy Spirit, with the approval also of the blessed Patriarchs of Antioch

and Jerusalem who live in Constantinople, of the most sacred metropolitan, and our beloved

brethren, the archbishops and bishops, most honored in the Holy Spirit, of the most worthy

and learned clergy, that the above-named St. Gerasimus be venerated yearly with sacred services

and psalmody, and be reckoned in the number of the venerable and holy men, henceforth and

forevermore, not only on the island of Cephalonia, but throughout the Church of the pious, from

one end of the world to the other. But he that doth not accept this synodal decision, or that hath in

general dared to gainsay it, after the first and second admonition let him be cut off from the

community of the pious, and let him be unto all as a heathen and a publican, in accordance with

the word of the Gospel.” There follows the signatures of the three patriarchs and seven other

hierarchs. In the copy which bears the seal, the request addressed to the Patriarch by the inhabitants

of the island of Cephalonia is placed before the decree. Therein, they request, through the

mediation of a certain bishop, that a decree be issued by the Patriarch, authorizing the veneration

of Gerasimus, and that he be included in the list of venerable and holy men.

Another decree of the same Patriarch, dated 1633, concerning the numbering of St. John of

Crete and his ninety-eight fellow ascetics among the choir of the saints, contains a dogmatic explanation

followed by this statement: “In as much that long before our time, in the divinely built

city of Crete, the venerable John the desert-dweller and his fellow ascetics, ninety-eight in number

shone forth... whose life the Lord hath glorified with miracles... having assembled in the Holy

Spirit all the hierarchs to be found in Constantinople, and having called upon the Promised One

to be with us all our days, we do ordain that these holy ones be glorified with yearly festivals and

sacred hymnody, and be numbered among the rest of the saints, both on the island of Crete, and

in all the churches throughout the whole world. Strange and surpassingly foolish it would be if

God were wondrously to glorify them as saints and we were not to delight in honoring them, or

were even to deprive ourselves of the benefit derived therefrom, especially since we are needful

of such intercessors...” This decree ends with the signatures of twenty-one hierarchs.

The act of numbering among the choirs of the saints is, for the most part, combined with the

uncovering of relics of the righteous one who is being glorified. In these cases one must then distinguish

three specific acts. The examination of the relics may be reckoned as one of the actions

that precede the act of glorification, on par with the verification of the accounts of his miracles.

Then follows the synodal decision concerning the glorification. In our day, the solemn removal

of the relics is usually one of the first sacred actions in the realization of the act of the glorification

which will take place. With the removal of the relics and the enshrining of them in a specially

prepared place in a church, the prayerful commemoration in honor of the newly-glorified

favorite of God begins. However, the presence of relics and their actual uncovering are not absolutely

essential to a glorification. The relics of many saints have not been preserved. As regards

the relics of a considerable number of ancient saints, certain of these constitute entire bodies

bones with flesh; others — bones devoid of flesh.

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