Content: Introduction. Witness of the Early Church. Martyrs and Ascetics. Russian Practice. Higher Authority Needed. Conclusion.
Bishop Alexander of the Russian Orthodox church
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 departed; 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 glorification 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.”
IN THE FIRST CENTURIES of the Christian Church, three basic types of saints were recognized. These were: a) the Old Testament patriarchs, prophets (among whom St. John the Forerunner is pre‑eminent) and the New Testament apostles; b) the martyrs, who gained crowns of glory through the shedding of their blood; and c) outstanding hierarchs who served the Church, as well as people acclaimed for their personal struggle (the righteous and the ascetics). As concerns the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, membership in any one of these categories carried with it recognition as a saint.
It is known from history that prayer meetings were held in honor of the martyrs as early as the first quarter of the second century (cf. St. Ignatius of Antioch). In all probability, they were begun in the period immediately following the first persecution of the Christians — that of Nero. It is apparent that no special ecclesiastical decree was required to authorize the prayerful veneration of this or that particular martyr. A martyr's death itself testified to the reception of a heavenly crown. But the numbering of departed hierarchs and ascetics among the choir of the saints was done individually, and was naturally carried out on the basis of each one's personal worthiness.
It is impossible to give a general answer as to which criteria the Church employed for recognition of saints belonging to this third classification. As regards the ascetics in particular, without a doubt the fundamental, general basis of their glorification was and still is the working of miracles. This is because supernatural evidence is free from human whim or bias. Prof. Golubinsky considers this indication the sole basis for the glorification of ascetics in the history of ecclesiastical canonization. Despite his opinion, however, one may conclude that the commemoration of the great Christian desert dwellers of old, the leaders and guides of monasticism, was kept by the Church for their didactic gifts and their lofty spiritual attainments, apart from a strict dependence on whether they were glorified with the gift of working miracles. They were numbered among the choirs of the saints strictly for their ascetic life, without any particular reference to such a criterion [miracle working].
The ancient Church's glorification of holy hierarchs should be viewed somewhat differently. Their lofty service itself was the basis of their glorification, just as the martyrs' holy ends were for them. In the Carthaginian Calendar, which dates from the seventh century, there is the superscription: “Here are recorded the birthdays (i.e., the dates of martyrdom) of the martyrs and the days of the repose of bishops whose annual commemoration the Church of Carthage celebrates.” Thus, judging from ancient Greek liturgical calendars, one may surmise that in the Greek Church all Orthodox bishops who did not sully themselves in any way were numbered amongst the choir of the local saints of their diocese, on the basis of the belief that as intercessors before God in this life by their vocation, they remain such even in the life beyond the grave. In the ecclesiastical calendars of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, all the patriarchs of Constantinople who occupied that see between AD 315 (St. Metrophanes) and 1025 (St. Eustathius), with the exception of those that were heretics or for one canonical reason or another were deposed, are recorded in the list of the saints. This compilation, however, was scarcely done in the sequence in which the patriarchs occupied their see. In all probability, the most renowned bishops were recognized as saints immediately following their repose; in the other cases, this inclusion was carried out at some other time.
The names of all departed bishops were entered in the local diptychs — the lists of the departed which were read aloud at the divine services, and every year, on the date of the repose of each of them, their commemoration was kept with special solemnity. Sozomen, the church historian, states that in individual churches or dioceses, the celebrations of their local martyrs and the commemoration of their former priests (i.e., their hierarchs) were observed. Herein he uses the term “celebration” in reference to the memory of the martyrs, but “commemoration” in reference to the hierarchs, leaving it to be understood that in the ancient Church the latter events (if one may speak of an overall plan and not of individual cases) were of lesser stature than the former. Prof. Golubinsky conjectures that, as regards hierarchs, after a certain number of years of fervent prayer for them, the annual celebration of their memory was transformed into a day of prayer to them. According to the testimony of Symeon of Thessalonica, from the earliest times in Constantinople the hierarchs were interred within the sanctuary of the largest church, that of the Apostles, like the relics of the saints, because of the Grace of the divine priesthood.
In the Greek Church, until the eleventh century, only a very few of the choir of hierarchs were saints universally venerated throughout the entire Church. The greater portion of the hierarchs remained local saints of the individual Churches (i.e., dioceses), and each individual diocese/Church celebrated only its own local hierarchs, with a very small number of hierarchs venerated universally throughout the Church. With the eleventh century the transformation of the choirs of hierarchs from local to universal came about, as a result of which there are a great number of names. This was probably the reason why, from that century on, the numbering of hierarchs among the choirs of the saints was carried out more strictly, and as a criterion for the numbering of any of the patriarchs of Constantinople among the saints it was declared necessary to have irrefutable evidence of their miracles, as was also required for the glorification of ascetics.
In local Churches (dioceses) the right to recognize individuals as saints belonged to their bishops and their clergy or officials subject to their authority. It is also quite possible that the bishops did not perform such an act without the knowledge and consent of the metropolitan and the synod of bishops of the metropolitan province. At times the laity determined beforehand the future glorification of ascetics, even while the latter were still alive, and in witness of their determination erected churches dedicated to such ascetics, apparently in the certainty that the blessing of the hierarchy would be forthcoming.
When Symeon the Pious, St. Symeon the New Theologian's elder and guide, reposed in the Lord after forty‑five years of ascetic labor, St. Symeon, knowing the intensity of his struggles, his purity of heart, his closeness to God and the Grace of the Holy Spirit which overshadowed him, composed in his honor a eulogy, as well as hymns and canons, and celebrated his memory yearly with great solemnity, having painted an icon of him as a saint. Others, perhaps, both within and outside the monastery, followed his example, for he had many disciples and admirers among monastics and laity alike. St. Sergius II, then Patriarch of Constantinople (reigned 999‑1019), heard of this, summoned St. Symeon to appear before him, and questioned him concerning the feast and the Saint who was being so honored. But perceiving that Symeon the Pious had led such an exalted life, he did not prohibit the veneration of his memory, and even sent lamps and incense in Symeon's memory. Sixteen years passed without incident. But later, a certain influential retired metropolitan who resided in Constantinople objected to any veneration conducted on private initiative. Such a thing seemed to him blasphemous and contrary to church order. A few parish priests and some layfolk agreed with him, and disturbances began over this point, lasting for about two years. To attain their goal, St. Symeon's opponents did not stop at slander, directed at both the Saint and his elder. St. Symeon was ordered to appear before the patriarch and his synod to give an explanation. His reply was that, following the precepts of the apostles and the holy fathers, he could not refrain from honoring his elder, that he did not compel others to do so, that he was acting according to his own conscience, and that others could do as they deemed best. Satisfied by this apologia, they nevertheless ordered St. Symeon henceforth to celebrate the memory of his elder as modestly as possible, without any solemnity. The controversy continued for about six years, however, and a full‑scale vendetta was launched against the icon of Symeon the Pious, in which he was depicted in the company of other saints, with an inscription referring to him as a “saint,” and overshadowed by Christ the Lord in an attitude of blessing. The result of this was that, for peace of mind and the establishment of peace, St. Symeon decided to leave Constantinople and settled in a remote spot near the ancient church of St. Marina, where he later built a monastery. Concerning the question of the veneration itself, the previous decree remained in force, viz. the celebration was permitted so long as it was not conducted with solemnity (cf. “Life of St. Symeon the New Theologian” in his Discourses, ed. Bishop Theophan, 2 vols. [Moscow: Ephimov Press, 1892], Vol. 1, pp. 3‑20).
The incident cited above demonstrates, from one point of view, that knowledge of an ascetic's righteous life in and of itself leads to a firm conviction regarding his sojourn in the company of the saints after his death and to his veneration; on the other hand, it witnesses to the fact that, at that time (the 11th century), the custom and procedures of the Church required definite confirmation by higher church authorities and a special synodal decree sanctioning public veneration.
In the future the Greek Church was to know two classifications of newly glorified saints: 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.
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 the days 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 teacher of 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 that region. 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 book.
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 thereafter.
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 Synod — The Church Register and the Diocesan Registers — these were not published at all.
IN THE RUSSIAN CHURCH, as in the Orthodox East, the wider the area of the proposed veneration, the higher the ecclesiastical authority needed to confirm it.
When, in 1715, the priest and parishioners of the Church of the Resurrection in Totma (Vologda Province) turned to the archbishop of Veliky Ustiug with the request that, in view of the many miracles which had occurred at the grave of Maximus, a priest and “fool for Christ” of the town, who had reposed in 1650, the archbishop blessed the construction of a church dedicated to St. Paraskeva over his grave, “as was customary for the saints of God, and also to construct over his relics a sarcophagus and a holy icon to cover it.” In reply to this request, the archbishop decreed “that a monument be constructed in that church and that molebens be chanted to St. Maximus in a holy manner, as for the other favorites of God.” Thus, one may conclude that the archbishop blessed the local veneration on his own personal authority.
As examples of how a synodal execution of matters pertaining to the righteous departed came about, we shall cite several extracts from acts related to the glorification of saints “of all Russia.”
Regarding the institution of the general ecclesiastical celebration of the memory of St. Joseph of Volotsk, the following statement is found in one of the anthologies of Volokolamsk: “By order of the right‑believing and Christ‑loving Sovereign Autocrat, Tsar, and Great Prince Feodor Ivanovich of All Russia, and with the blessing of his father, His Holiness Job, first Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, the troparion, kontakion, stichera and canon, and the whole service for the Liturgy to our venerable father and Abbot Joseph of Volotsk were corrected under Abbot Joasaph on June 1, 7099 (i.e., 1591). And the Sovereign Autocrat, Tsar, and Great Prince Feodor Ivanovich of All Russia, and His Holiness Job, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, and the whole council, in general assembly witnessed the singing of the troparion, the kontakion, the stichera, the canon, and the service at Liturgy to the venerable Joseph. On the advice of the whole council, the Tsar and the Patriarch commanded the service to be chanted and celebrated in all places on September 9, the day of the repose of our venerable father Joseph the Wonderworker, which is the day of the commemoration of the holy and righteous ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna. The Sovereign, Tsar and Great Prince Feodor Ivanovich commanded that in the printed menaion and in all menaia on the same day the kontakion, stichera, canon, and all the service to the venerable Joseph be printed, together with that of the feast of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos and that of the Ancestors of God, thus instituting and confirming that this feast be celebrated in this manner, unchanging, in all places, forever. Amen.” The veneration of St. Joseph was thrice instituted — twice locally, once generally. His relics were not uncovered and have remained until the present day beneath a slab.
From a decree of Patriarch Job (reigned 1586‑1605) dated 1600 and located in the Korniliev Monastery in Vologda Province, we know how the establishment of the general veneration of St. Cornelius of Komel came about. Abbot Joseph of the Korniliev Monastery reported to the patriarch that a side chapel had been constructed in the monastery in honor of St. Cornelius, that it had not been consecrated yet, and that “for many years they that requested healing from St. Cornelius had received it, and the blind, the lame and they that were afflicted with divers ailments were cured.” With this, Abbot Joseph submitted to the patriarch in council the stichera, canon, and life of St. Cornelius. The patriarch, bishops, and all others attending the council questioned Archbishop Jonah of Vologda concerning the miracles of St. Cornelius and received a reply from him to the effect that “at the reliquary of St. Cornelius the Wonderworker many ineffable miracles take place, and it is well known that the miracles worked by him are not false.” Later, they all listened to the stichera, canon, and life of St. Cornelius and found the life to be written “according to the image and likeness.” After this, the patriarch and the council referred the matter on to Tsar Boris Feodorovich Godunov (reigned 1598‑1605), and the sovereign, having conferred with the patriarch and the council, commanded that “Vespers be celebrated and the All‑night Vigil, and the Liturgy of God be served in the catholic and apostolic church of the Most Pure Theotokos, dedicated to Her Dormition, in the capital city of Moscow, on the day of the commemoration of the Holy Martyr Patricius, Bishop of Prusa, May 19, and in the cathedrals of the metropolitan provinces, the archepiscopal and episcopal sees throughout all of Great Russia, as is done for the rest of the saints; and in the monastery of St. Cornelius, and at the cathedral church of Sophia the Wisdom of God in Vologda, and in the suburbs, and in the holy churches of God in outlying districts and throughout the surrounding cities and all the territory subject to the archbishop of Vologda, it is commanded to celebrate the memory of Cornelius the Wonderworker on May 19.”
We see from these extracts that the institution of the glorification of God's saints was treated with great attention and zeal. More than once the ecclesiastical authority denied requests for the glorification of the revered departed if it did not see incontestable and firm proof on which to base such a glorification.
The words of synodal decrees concerning glorification of the saints clearly show us the Orthodox understanding of this action as a universal, conciliar confession on the part of the Church of a firm belief or certainty that God has glorified His favorite in the heavens, and that therefore we must glorify him also, joyously on earth. This thought is expressed in the acts of the Synodal period, as has been fully and exactly noted.
In the official account of the glorification of the Holy Hierarch St. Metrophanes of Voronezh, we read: “When by the investigation which had been conducted a true act of God, Who is wondrous in His saints, became sufficiently apparent to the Holy Synod in the incorruption of the body of the Holy Hierarch Metrophanes and the healings that took place through his relics, the Holy Synod no longer delayed in solemnly revealing to the Church this gift of God, i.e., with a hierarchal blessing it permitted what until that time had been an act of personal zeal, the calling upon the intercession of our father among the saints Metrophanes in his prayers to God, and the placing of the wonder‑working and healing relics of his body as a candle, not under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that all may be illumined. The annual ecclesiastical celebration of this Holy Hierarch has been fixed on the date of his repose — November 23.”
The decree on the glorification of St. Tikhon of Zadonsk says: “The memory of His Grace Tikhon, Bishop of Voronezh ... has been honored with reverence among the Russian Orthodox people who have streamed to the Monastery of Zadonsk and the grave of the Hierarch from far‑distant places in a great multitude, praying for the repose of the soul of this hierarch and hoping for his prayerful intercession before God. Memory of the lofty Christian virtues with which he shone throughout his earthly life, news of the evangelical wisdom remaining in his divinely illuminated writings, and the miraculous healings of divers ailments performed at his grave have drawn many believers to the veneration of the Holy Hierarch. On all of this a pious hope was founded that this Hierarch who has been glorified by God be numbered among the choir of the saints. Even at the end of the last [18th] century such a hope was expressed in petitions submitted to His Imperial Highness and to the Most Holy Synod.” Archbishop Anthony of Voronezh, on the very day of his [St. Tikhon's] repose, wrote a letter to Emperor Nicholas concerning the universal fervent desire of innumerable pilgrims “that this great beacon of faith and good works which now lies beneath a bushel, be set before the eyes of all.” The Synod, in its report to the sovereign, announced its decision, beginning it with the following words: “Recognizing the late Bishop Tikhon of Voronezh as among the choir of the saints that have been glorified by the Grace of God through the fragrance of sanctity, and his incorrupt body as holy relics.”
The resolution concerning the glorification of St. Seraphim of Sarov is expressed in like manner: “Recognizing the pious elder Seraphim, who reposed at the Hermitage of Sarov, as being in the choir of saints glorified by the Grace of God.”
As is well known, and still remembered by certain people, in the last decades before Russia's downfall, the glorification of saints of the Russian Church, such as St. Theodosius of Chernigov, St. Seraphim of Sarov and later cases, were great national religious festivities, at the center of which was the uncovering of the relics of these saints of God. Generally, the glorification of Russian saints from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries was marked by the uncovering of their holy relics. This shows that these two acts were closely bound internally, although, as has been said, the uncovering of the relics was not an absolutely essential condition and did not always follow immediately after the act of glorification.
FROM ALL THAT HAS BEEN SAID, we may draw several conclusions. Essentially, according to the understanding of the Church and according to the principles of the glorification of saints, the glorification of saints has always been the same in the Orthodox Church. In these questions, the Eastern Orthodox Churches of the second millennium have followed the tradition of the Church of the first millennium and its ancient period. The Russian Church of the pre‑Petrine era followed the path of the Greek Church; while the Russian Church of the post‑Petrine era remained faithful to the customs of the pre‑Petrine era. The glorification of the saints consisted and consists of a general statement of faith by the Church that God Himself has united the departed one to the assembly of His saints. This faith is founded on the facts of a death by martyrdom, or upon a righteous life which is apparent to the whole Church, or upon the glorification of the saint of God by instances of wonderworking during his lifetime or at his tomb. Glorification is usually an expression of the voice of the people of the Church, to whom the higher ecclesiastical authority, after due verification, gives synodally the final word, establishment, recognition, confirmation and the sanction of the Church.
The glorification of the saints is among the most important activities of the Church. In its basic, elementary aspect, glorification consists of turning from prayers “for the dead” to requests for a saint's intercession before God, and in his prayerful glorification by services from the general menaion or with specially composed services. The glorification of a saint and the uncovering of his relics do not constitute a single, inseparable act, although they often are performed together. The Orthodox Church does not maintain that it is essential that a fixed period of time pass between the repose of a righteous man and his numbering among the choir of the saints, as is accepted in the Roman confession, which has instituted a period of several decades (usually fifty years from the date of death for “beatification,” a process which corresponds roughly to local veneration, and eighty years for canonization).
In the miracles worked through the prayers or at the tombs of the righteous of God, the Orthodox Church sees the will of God in the glorification of these strugglers. When no such signs exist, the Church does not see the will of God in their solemn glorification, as one of the resolutions of Patriarch Adrian of Moscow (reigned 1690‑1700) expresses in regard to a certain request for glorification: “If our Lord God, the Creator of all, glorifieth anyone in this life, and after his death declareth this to His people through many miracles, then the miracles of this person become clearly known, for many holy wonderworkers were found in the Holy Church, whose memories the Church always hymns and their relics it contains. They that are not known, whom God Almighty Himself hath not been well pleased to glorify with signs and wonders, even if such lived righteously and in a holy manner, are not such as the Church glorifieth. The names of many are not remembered, and the whole world cannot contain the books of their names that could be written.”
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