|All Saints Byzantine Icon|
Revised from the Archives...
Aaaah, one of the most joyous holy days of the year -- All Saints' Day! On this day, we celebrate all of the holy people who, for the past two thousand years, have followed Christ with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength. This pilgrim pathway we walk in not an untrod road; Christians have walked this path, this Way, for two millennia and have given us encouragement, warnings, exhortation, and, most of all, the example of a beautifully Christ-led life. As Saint Paul taught the Church in Philippi, "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you" (Phil. 4:9, my emphasis). As Saint Paul exhorts the Church to follow his human example as a follower of Christ, so may we also look back through the ages to the examples of other saints, other holy people, and draw encouragement and lessons from their lives.
The term "Saints" seem to raise the hackles of many evangelicals -- but it doesn't have to be that way. The Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, and the "High Church" Anglicans seem to have the corner on the Saints of the Church, and many, if not most, of the Protestant community (especially evangelicals) misunderstand the concept and importance of Saints. Many believe, as I used to, that mistaken Christians pray *to* the Saints rather than praying to God. We'll get to that idea in a few minutes.
First of all, what is a "saint"? The Oxford Dictionary of Current English states that a saint is: 1) a holy or good person whom Christians believe will go to heaven after death. 2) a person of great goodness who is declared to be a saint by the Church after death. 3) (informal) a very good or kind person.
So, basically, if we love the Lord and have asked Him to live in our hearts, then we are saints! We see this use of "saint" often in the New Testament, especially in Saint Paul's Epistles.
Then there are the extraordinary saints, those who have lived lives of exemplary obedience to God, often to the death. The Church has designated these special people as "Saints." I find their stories extremely interesting and valuable in my own Christian life. In fact, I purchased a beautiful coffee table book called One Hundred Saints. The text is Butler's Lives of the Saints (1759), and it is gorgeously illustrated with artwork depicting each particular Saint's life. Some of my family and friends have wondered at my having such a book, but when I tell them that I purchased it at Bob Jones University, their objections are usually quelled. (Few people know that Bob Jones University has the largest collection of Christian art in the world outside of the Vatican, including room after room full of depictions of Saints and an entire room devoted to Byzantine icons, my favorites!) Although the artwork is breathtakingly beautiful, it is the text of the Saints' lives that captivate me most.
When I read about a particular Saint and their devotion (and often martyrdom) to Christ, I find that I am encouraged in dealing with my own difficulties. These Saints faced far more treacherous problems than I will likely be called upon to face, yet they demonstrate their love for Christ in remarkable ways through the strength of His Spirit. The stories of the Saints point me to Jesus, where my attention should be, and away from myself. Their examples glorify God and encourage me in loving and serving others in His Spirit.
Many believe that Catholic and Orthodox Christians "pray to the saints." In fact, some of their prayers sound very much like they are doing exactly that. But when I asked my Catholic friends about praying to the Saints, they gently corrected my misunderstanding. They replied that when Catholics "pray" to a Saint, they are asking that Saint to pray FOR them, just as we evangelicals might ask a close friend or a pastor to pray for us.
Then I asked, "Why would people in heaven pray? Aren't they in eternal bliss, not to be disturbed by sorrow, etc.? My Catholic friends replied with a Scripture reference: Revelation 5:8 which shows Saint John watching the Saints offer up their prayers to the Throne of Heaven. Well, for whom are the Saints praying? They can't be praying for people in heaven as they have no need of prayer. So the Saints must be praying for those still on earth, right? Yes, we pray to the Father and to the Son, but we also marshall our prayers by asking friends to pray for us, right? So why not ask someone (such as a Saint) to pray for us when they are right there in the Presence of our Father?
It makes sense to me, at least.
So the Saints inspire us to love God and others, and to show that love in ways that glorify Christ. If we want to, we can ask them for prayer, just as we would ask a dear friend or leader.
The Collect (a prayer to be prayed collectively, not only by a congregation but throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion) for All Saints' Day from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer is as follows (and is to be prayed daily throughout the Octave (for eight days, through next Thursday):
O Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And here is a more modern rendition of the Collect for All Saints from the 2011 Book of Common Prayer:
ALMIGHTY God, you have woven your disciples into one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of your Son, Christ our Lord; Give us grace to follow your Saints in righteous and holy living, and to come to the joy beyond words which you have prepared for those who truly love you; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
The Epistle Reading for this Holy Day can be found in seventh chapter of the Revelation to St. John, starting in the second verse. (Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17)
The Gospel Reading for All Saints' Day is written in the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, starting in the first verse. (Matthew 5:1-12, The Beatitudes).
|All Souls' Day (November 2)|
I hope to attend the All Souls' Day service on Thursday with Father Gregory of Blessed Trinity Anglican and the folks at Pepperwood Park. If I am not able to do so, at least this morning in our homeschool devotional time Benjamin and I will pray the Collect and read the Epistle and Gospel readings for this Holy Day. We will also discuss the Saints and what a blessing we can all be in helping and encouraging each other in this Christian life as well as looking back through the ages to find other wise and holy people who can also encourage us through their examples and, sometimes, through their own writings. We are so blessed to be able to share this pilgrim pathway with other believers, both in the present and from the past. What a beautiful gift from God to His saints!
As I read in Oswald Chamber's My Utmost for His Highest:
"There is no such thing as a private life -- 'a world within a world' -- for a man or woman who is brought into fellowship with Jesus Christ's sufferings. God breaks up the private life of His saints, and makes it a thoroughfare for the world on the one hand and for Himself on the other." ("Ye Are Not Your Own," November 1)
And as I also read in The Crozier Connection, the newsletter of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Mid-America Diocese of the Anglican Communion of North America for November of this year a letter from our Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Dr. Ray R. Sutton:
"Hebrews 12:1 specifically says, 'Seeing we also are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.' Clouds are obviously in the sky. Yet these are clouds in another world. They are heavenly clouds. These clouds are filled with 'witnesses,' those who have died in Christ. They are there, but they are not dead. They are alive through faith in the Resurrected, Living Jesus Christ. And significantly, we are surrounded by them, which means somehow we who believe in Christ in the present, are with them; and they are with us.... We are together in the present in a mysterious way. As such they of old are our contemporaries."
For Christians, all of our lives entwine around each others'. No one is separate; no one is alone. And today, All Saints' Day, is one day in which we can formally and joyfully celebrate our union as brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the ages.
And, as the daily Saint-of-the-Day e-mail from AmericanCatholic.org reminds us, this Solemnity doesn't just mark those Saints who have gone through the long process of being proclaimed "Saint" by the Roman Catholic Church; rather, "Today’s feast honors the obscure as well as the famous—the saints each of us have known." Amen and Amen!
A blessed All Saints' Day to you!
Soli Deo Gloria,