Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Our Life with the Saints

The Orthodox Christian Church is the mystical community of saints, united by Christ and indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Each one of us, part of the one Church founded by Christ, is individually called to be holy and to live a holy life. Those of us in the world who are running the spiritual race with endurance, however imperfectly, are joined and encouraged by the Saints who have victoriously finished the race and now dwell with Christ in heaven. They surround us as a “great cloud of witnesses,” constantly praying for us (Hebrews 12.1-2).

As we ask our brothers and sisters in Christ here on the earth to pray for us, we also ask the Saints in heaven to pray. We ask them to intercede on our behalf for the "salvation of our souls," a salvation that ultimately means a rescue from sin and death to live forever in the eternal kingdom of heaven. Salvation, however, is not just “otherworldly,” pertaining only to our life after we depart this temporary world. Salvation also includes our practical, earthy needs: physical healing, spiritual guidance, purification from self-centered attitudes, freedom from anxiety, depression, and addiction, along with rescue from war, hunger, floods, temptations, unemployment, accidents, crime, persecution, conflict in our relationships, and help with our other daily needs. Salvation encompasses the whole life of the whole person, in the next life and also in the life we live every day.

Heaven is filled with Saints whose prayers for us rise to God like offerings of incense (Revelation 5.8). They embodied Christ when they lived on the earth, demonstrating for us how to follow Him. They immersed themselves in prayer, showing us how we should pray. Now they pray for us from above. Men are among the Saints, as well as women. Both children and adults are present. Several were monarchs. Many lived with simplicity in poverty. Patriarchs who pastored nations are present with reclusive hermits. Monks stand alongside married couples. There are murdered martyrs, tortured confessors, and others who fell asleep peacefully, completing a long life. Men and women who died during the time of the Apostles stand beside the multitudes who have died in the past century. All of the Saints in heaven and all of the saints on the earth are united in Christ as one Church, undivided. Although we are now separated by a thin veil preventing our eyes from seeing our family members in heaven, we still mystically live and worship together as one body, one family, joined together by the Holy Spirit.

Icons of the Saints that encourage us to emulate their lives fill Orthodox churches. The Saints always point us to Christ and reveal the light of Christ in their own lives, offering us an example of how to live in the world. In Orthodox churches, lamps often hang in front of icons of the Saints. (These icons present the Saints, not as they appeared on the earth, but as holy ones now dwelling in Christ’s eternal presence.) The lamp’s light reminds us that a Saint is only a Saint because Christ, who is the True Light, illumines his or her life as a beacon in the world to radiate truth, love, faith, and peace to all. By following their Christ-like examples, helped by their prayerful intercessions, we strive for the goal of spiritual purification so that the divine light of Christ Himself will shrine brightly through us to illuminate the world around us.

With all the Saints, let us commend ourselves and our whole lives to Christ our God.

O God, save thy people, and bless thine inheritance. Visit thy world with mercies and bounties. Exalt the estate of Orthodox Christians, and send down upon us thy rich mercies. Through the intercessions of our all-immaculate Lady Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary; by the might of the precious and life-giving Cross; by the protection of the honorable Bodiless Powers of heaven; at the supplication of the honorable, glorious Prophet, Fore-runner and baptist John; of the holy, glorious, all-laudable Apostles; of our Fathers among the Saints, great Hierarchs and Ecumenical Teachers, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom; of our Holy Father Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lucia, the Wonder-worker; of the holy, glorious and right-victorious Martyrs; of our venerable and God-bearing Fathers; of the holy and righteous ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna; of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, whose memory we celebrate, and of all thy Saints, we beseech thee, O most merciful Lord, hearken unto the petitions of us sinners who make our supplications unto thee, and have mercy upon us.

Through the mercies and bounties and compassion of thine Only-begotten Son, with whom thou art blessed, together with thy all-holy, and good, and life-giving Spirit; now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
-A prayer from Orthros, Antiochian Orthodox Christian Service Book, 67-68.

Copyright © 2005 by Dana S. Kees. Adapted from "Our Life with the Saints," The Mystery of You: A Collection of Writings, Vol. 1, Copyright © 2004 by the same author. (Icon from the IconoGraphics Colorworks Collection, Used by permission.)