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Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky
Orthodox dogmatic theology

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Russian Practice.

The removal of bodies from the ground began in the early Church times. As is known from

documents from the second century, Christians gathered yearly at the tombs of the martyrs on thedays of their repose to celebrate these days with solemnity. St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory

the Theologian mention the exhumation of the relics of the saints. In his Life of St. Anthony, St.

Athanasius reports the extraordinary reverence the Christians of Egypt had for martyrs' remains.

It is well known that Emperor Constantius (reigned 337-61), son of St. Constantine the Great,

enshrined the relics of the Apostles Andrew, Luke and Timothy in the Church of the Holy Apostles,

in the years 356 and 357.

In the matter of the glorification of saints, the Russian Church has followed the belief and

practice of the Churches of the East. The general rules regarding this have been and remain the

following: the basis for the numbering of one of God's departed favorites among the choir of the

saints was the gift of working miracles, either during his lifetime, as in the majority of cases, or

after death. In the ancient Church, as has been stated, exalted service to the Church or a martyr's

end were in and of themselves such bases. In the Russian Church similar occasions of ecclesiastical

glorification, aside from the working of miracles were but rare exceptions.

The following differ according to the degree of the territorial extent of veneration: 1) local

saints in a more narrow sense, whose celebration began only on the very site of their burial, be

that in a monastery or a parish church (of which there are several examples); 2) local saints in a

wider sense, i.e., those whose veneration was limited virtually by the boundaries of the diocese;

and finally 3) universal or general saints of the Church, whose celebration was begun throughout

the Russian Church. The right of glorifying local saints of the first and second categories belongs

to the diocesan bishop, apparently with the assent of the metropolitan or patriarch; the right to

general glorification belongs to the head of the Russian Church. The execution of the glorification

of the saints consisted of receiving accounts of miracles and of a corresponding verification

of these testimonies. The essence of glorification of the saints lies in initiating an annual celebration

of a saint's memory on the day of his repose or on the day of the uncovering of his relics, or

both. For the celebration of a saint's memory a service to him is required, as well as a written

life.” The ecclesiastical authorities saw to it that the services and the readings from the Prologue

(Synaxarion) concerning the saint were composed “according to pattern,” i.e., that they conformed

to a set form and were satisfactory from the literary stylistic point of view.

The veneration of a newly-glorified saint began with a special, solemn divine service in the

church at which or within which the bodily remains of God's saint were located.

From ancient times until the present, the glorification of the saints has been conducted in

the same manner in the Russian Church; for this reason there have been no periods in its history

which might have depended on a change of condition or of the method by which the glorification

was carried out. Regardless of an official glorification, and in other cases before the glorification,

there existed yet a “veneration” of the departed virtuous ascetics. In many instances a chapel was

erected over the grave of the departed, and in it there was set a grave slab or reliquary (if the departed

one was interred within a church, the reliquary was positioned over the place of burial;

usually this “cenotaph” was an empty sarcophagus which held no body, since the body was underground).

Pannikhidas were chanted at the tomb and, at times even molebens to the departed.

Such a capricious declaration of such a person as a “saint” by the chanting of molebens has been

forbidden by the ecclesiastical authorities as illicit. There have been cases in the life of the Russian

Church when services have been composed to saints not yet glorified by a special synodal

decision; these have passed into private use. Thus, in the sixteenth century, Photius, a monk of

the monastery of Volokolamsk, composed a service to the departed Joseph of Volotsk and submitted

it to Metropolitan Macarius of Moscow (reigned 1543-64). “The great beacon and teacherof the whole world, His Eminence Metropolitan Macarius,” the superscription of the service

states, “having reviewed this service, blessed the Elder Photius to use it in his cell prayers until

the celebration of a synodal exposition.” Similar occasions of the blessing by the higher ecclesiastical

authorities of personal initiative in the composing of services to ascetics as yet not glorified

by a synodal decree were hardly frequent. In one of the sborniki (anthologies) of St. Cyril's

White Lake Monastery is found an article “On the Vainglory of Young Monks that Compose

New Canons and Lives of the Saints.” The anonymous author of the article opposed monks who,

striving for earthly glory and desirous of attracting the attention of those in authority, compose

canons to, and lives of, the departed whom God hath not glorified.” In his conclusion, the author

admonishes compilers of canons and lives, saying: “O ye childish ones, do not compose new

canons and lives to be sung by individuals at home or in monastic cells, without the blessing of

the Church.”

In essence there is no distinction between saints celebrated by the whole Church and local

saints. Saints of both classes are glorified by a resolution of hierarchal authority. The faithful turn

to both with their prayerful entreaties for assistance. The Church calls both “saints.” In the Russian

Church, as among the Orthodox Churches of the East, local saints in many instances pass on

to the category of saints of the universal Church. One of the marks distinguishing universally

venerated saints from local ones is that the names of saints generally revered are included in the

divine service books. It is true that, until the mid-sixteenth century, there were in general no

names of Russian saints in the official listings, but after the sixteenth century they began to appear.

In the Book of Epistles (Apostol) printed in Moscow at the end of the sixteenth century,

there are seven Russian saints to be found: St. Sergius of Radonezh, St. Peter, Metropolitan of

Moscow, St. Alexis, Metropolitan of Moscow, St. Leontius, Bishop of Rostov, St. Cyril of Byelozersk,

the Holy Great Prince Vladimir, and the Holy Passionbearers Boris and Gleb. But beginning

with the first printed Liturgikon (Sluzhebnik) of 1602, a required listing of generally celebrated

saints was introduced into the monthly listings in the Typicon and in the lists of saints in

other liturgical books. During the Synodal period, in the Holy Synod's resolutions concerning

general ecclesiastical glorification, the following indication is found on several occasions: “...and

in the printed church books permission is required to insert names into the lists with the rest.”

In the Russian Church, the first to be numbered among the choir of the saints were the holy

princes Boris and Gleb (named Roman and David at their baptism); there then followed St.

Theodosius of the Kiev Caves Lavra; then, perhaps, St. Nicetas, Bishop of Novgorod, and the

holy Great Princess Olga. In all, until the sixteenth century, there were about seventy names of

glorified Russian saints, of whom twenty-two were celebrated by the whole Russian Church. The

Councils of 1547 and 1549, convoked under the presidency of Metropolitan Macarius, instituted

the celebration of several new saints, and raised the rank of others by adding thirty-nine names to

the twenty-two that were already receiving general veneration, bringing the number of the latter

to sixty-one. Between these councils and the establishment of the Holy Synod, as many as one

hundred and fifty new glorifications took place in Muscovite Russia, of which the exact dates of

about a third of them are known; of the remainder indirect references, such as the construction of

churches and side altars dedicated to them, and some passing mention in literature of the period,

provide us with evidence of some official sanctioning of their veneration.

The names of the saints of south-west Russia should be placed in a category of their own,

headed by the saints of the Kiev Caves Lavra. Historical circumstances, particularly the subjugation

by foreign powers (Lithuania and Poland), resulted in far fewer glorifications of saints in thatregion. A general service to saints of the Kiev Caves was commissioned by Metropolitan Peter

Moghila (ruled 1633-46), to whom it was presented in 1643. Prior to this, but also under Peter

Moghila, the Patericon of the Caves was compiled, as well as an account of the miracles performed

at the Lavra and in its caves during the forty-four years preceding the compilation of the


From the life of St. Job of Pochaev, written by his disciple and assistant in governing the

Monastery of Pochaev, we know how the glorification of the venerable one came about, whose

memory is especially revered in the Russian diaspora. The uncovering of his relics was performed

seven years after the saint's repose, by Metropolitan Dionysius (Balaban) of Kiev

(reigned 1657-63). The immediate cause of this was a thrice-repeated apparition of the venerable

Job to the Metropolitan while he was asleep, informing him that it was pleasing to God that his

relics be uncovered. After the third apparition, the Metropolitan (who apparently knew St. Job

and the Monastery of Pochaev from his tenure as Bishop of Lutsk) “thus understood that this

matter was in accordance with the Providence of God and, not delaying, he hastened to the Monastery

of Pochaev, taking with him Kyr Theophanes (Krekhovetsky), Archimandrite of the

Obruchsky Monastery, who happened to be with him at the time. Arriving at the monastery with

all his clergy, he inquired earnestly concerning the honorable and pure life of St. Job in detail.

Ascertaining that this was a good work and pleasing unto God, he straightway commanded, with

the consent of the brethren, that the saint's tomb be opened. Therein, in a state of incorruption, as

though at the hour of burial, they uncovered the relics of the venerable one, which were full of an

inconceivably sweet fragrance. In the company of a multitude of people, they bore the relics with

fitting honor to the great Church of the Life-creating Trinity, and there, in the narthex, positioned

the reliquary, in the year of our Lord 1659, on the twenty-ninth day of August. Then did a vast

multitude of people afflicted with diverse ailments receive healing, for St. Job was in this life

adorned with every virtue; and thus, after death, ceased not to do good unto them that approached

him with faith” (cf. The Service of the Venerable Job and His Life, Jordanville, NY).

After the unification of Muscovite and Kievan Russia, Russia's saints should then have been

referred to as “saints of all Russia” — both those of Northern and Western Russia. This was in

fact the practice, though it was not until 1762 that a decree was published by the Holy Synod

permitting the insertion of the names of Kievan saints into the general monthly listings at Moscow,

and allowing their services to be printed in the Menaion. This decree was repeated twice


In the Synodal period, the following saints were glorified for the veneration of the whole

Church (they are presented in chronological order, according to the dates of their glorifications):

St. Demetrius, Metropolitan of Rostov; St. Innocent, first Bishop of Irkutsk; St. Metrophanes,

first Bishop of Voronezh; St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, Bishop of Voronezh; St. Theodosius,

Archbishop of Chernigov; St. Seraphim of Sarov; St. Joasaph, Bishop of Belgorod; St. Hermogenes,

Patriarch of Moscow; St. Pitirim, Bishop of Tambov; St. John, Metropolitan of Tobolsk;

St. Joseph, Bishop of Astrakhan.

There were also local glorifications of saints during the Synodal period. But even for this

era there are no accurate lists or reliable facts concerning the circumstances and dates of their

glorification, as the decisions for local canonization were made without formal proclamation in

the general record of the Holy Synod's decrees, for until the appearance of the official publications

of the SynodThe Church Register and the Diocesan Registers — these were not published

at all.

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