Who is a saint?
a) All Christians are “saints”, or “holy ones” (literal translation), which means “set apart”. All believers are holy ones in the sense of a status which is given to us by virtue of our baptism into Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit. But on the other hand we are called to be “sanctified” or “holy-ized” which is a work in progress, or a “state of being” which we strive for by eliminating sin and conforming ourselves to the image of Christ. We are commanded to “cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (II Cor. 7:1). So holiness or being a holy one has also a sense of growth and progress. There are many passages that show us that certain people have progressed or exemplified themselves in this to the point that they can say “imitate my life as I have imitated Christ”.
1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.
1 Corinthians 4:16 Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.
Philippians 3:17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.
Philippians 4:9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Thus a saint is a person whose life is exemplary, that the Church can point to and say: “Imitate that person because they imitated Christ in a way that is worthy of following.” A person is not so much “declared” to be a saint as “recognized” as having been a worthy example to believers who need examples of how to live the Christian life. The Orthodox Church does not have a “legal set of rules” or “qualifications” for sainthood, but through the testimony of those who knew the person and the quality of their life (or death in the case of martyrdom), we come to honor someone as a holy person who is worthy of emulation by members of the Church. Just as non-Christians gain inspiration and encouragement from reading about the lives of “secular heroes”, the Church gains inspiration through the reading of the lives of the saints, both those who are living and striving to the goal of Christ, and those who are departed and have “finished the race and kept the faith to the end.”
DEFINITION OF A SAINT:
a) In the saint there exists nothing that is trivial, nothing coarse, nothing base, nothing affected (fake), nothing insincere. In him is the culmination of delicacy, sensibility, transparency, purity, reverence, attention before the mystery of his fellow men…comes into actual being, for he brings this forth from his communication with the supreme Person (God). The saint grasps the various conditions of the soul in others and avoids all that would upset them, although he does not avoid helping them overcome their weaknesses. He reads the least articulate needs of others and fulfills it promptly, just as he reads their impurities also, however skillfully hidden and through the delicate power of his own purity, exercising upon them a purifying action. From the saint there continually radiates a spirit of self-giving and of sacrifice for the sake of all, with no concern for himself, a spirit that gives warmth to others and assures them that they are not alone. … And yet there is no on more humble, more simple, no one more less artificial, less theatrical or hypocritical, no one more “natural” in his behavior, accepting all that is truly human and creating an atmosphere that is pure and familiar. The saint has overcome any duality within himself as St. Maximos the Confessor puts it. He has overcome the struggle between soul and body, the divergence between good intentions and deeds that do not correspond to them, between deceptive appearance and hidden thoughts, between what claims to be the case and what is the case. He has become simple, therefore, because he has surrendered himself entirely to God. That is why he can surrender himself entirely in communication with others.
b) The saint always lends courage; at times, through a humor marked by this same delicacy, he shrinks the delusions created by fears or pride or the passions. He smiles, but does not laugh sarcastically; he is serious but not frightened. He finds value in the most humble persons, considering them to be great mysteries created by God and destined to eternal communion with Him. Through humility the saint makes himself almost unobserved, but he appears when there is need for consolation, for encouragement or help. For him no difficulty is insurmountable, because he believes firmly in the help of God sought through prayer. He is the most human and humble of beings, yet at the same time of an appearance that is unusual and amazing and gives rise in others to the sense of discovering in him, and in themselves too, what is truly human. He is a presence simultaneously most dear, and unintentionally, most impressing, the one who draws the most attention. For you he becomes the most intimate one of all and the most understanding; you never feel more at ease than near him, yet at the same time he forces you into a corner and makes you see your moral inadequacies and failings. He overwhelms you with the simple greatness of his purity and with the warmth of his goodness and makes you ashamed of how far you have fallen away from what is truly human, of how far you have sunk in your impurity, artificiality, superficiality, and duplicity, for these appear in sharp relief in the comparison you make unwillingly between yourself and him. He exercises no worldly power, he gives no harsh commands, but you feel in him an unyielding firmness in his convictions, his life, in the advice he gives, and so his opinion about what you should do, expressed with delicacy or by a discreet look, becomes for you a command and to fulfill that command you find yourself capable of any effort or sacrifice….
Who ever approaches a saint discovers in him the peak of goodness, purity, and spiritual power covered over by the veil of humility. He is the illustration of the greatness and power of kenosis. From the saint there radiates an imperturbable quiet or peace and simultaneously a participation in the pain of others that reaches the point of tears. He is rooted in the loving and suffering stability of God Incarnate and rest in the eternity of the power and goodness of God….
Let us all strive to be a saint and live in a way that we can honestly say (with all humility) “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ”!
DEIFICATION AS THE PURPOSE OF MAN’S LIFE
The issue of the destiny of our lives is very serious, because it concerns the most important question for man: the purpose for which we are placed on earth. If man takes a correct stance on this subject, if he finds his actual destiny, he can then take also a correct stance regarding particular questions, and those that arise in his daily life, such as his relationships with other people, his studies, profession, marriage and the bearing and upbringing of children. However, if he does not take the correct stance on this basic issue, then he will also fail in his particular goals. Because what meaning can particular goals have, if human life as a whole has no meaning?
The purpose of our life is declared already by the first chapter of the Holy Bible, when the holy author tells us that God created man ‘in His image and likeness’. We thus ascertain the great love that the Triune God has for man: He does not wish him simply to be a being with certain gifts, certain qualities, a certain superiority over the rest of creation, but He wishes him to be a god by Grace.
Externally, man seems to be just a biological being, like other living beings, the animals. Of course, he is an animal, but ‘an animal … which can be deified through its inclination towards God’, as St. Gregory the Theologian characteristically says (Homily on the Epiphany MPG 36, 324, 13). He is the only being that stands apart from all creation; the only one which can become a god.
‘In His image’ refers to the gifts which God gave only to man, alone among all His creatures, so that he constitutes an image of God. These gifts are: a rational mind (gr. nous), conscience, and self-authority, in other words freedom, creativity, eros, and the yearning for the absolute and for God, personal self-awareness, and anything else which puts man above all other living beings in creation, and makes him a man and a personality. In other words, everything that makes man a person. These are the gifts of the ‘in His image’.
Having been formed ‘in His image’, man is called upon to be acquire the ‘in His likeness’, in other words, deification (gr. theosis). The Creator, God by nature, calls man to become a god by Grace.
The gifts of ‘in His image’ were given to man by God so that that he may ascend very high; so that through them he may attain a likeness to his God and Creator; so that he may have not an external, moral relationship, but a personal union with his Creator.
Perhaps it is very daring for us even to say or think that our purpose in life is to become gods by Grace. However, neither the Holy Bible nor the Church Fathers have hidden this from us.
Unfortunately, there exists ignorance in people outside the Church, but also in many within the Church, because they assume that the purpose of our life is, at best, simply moral improvement, to become better men, whereas this is not what is given to us by the Gospel, by the Tradition of the Church, and by the holy Fathers: that man should only improve, become more moral, more just, more self-controlled, more mindful. All these must be done, but they are not the great purpose, the final purpose for which our Maker and Creator formed man. What is this purpose? Deification (gr. theosis) – for man to be united with God, not in an external or a sentimental way, but ontologically, really.
This is how high Orthodox anthropology places humanity. If we compare the anthropologies of all the philosophies, social and psychological systems with Orthodox anthropology, we will ascertain very easily how poor these are; how they fail to respond to man’s great yearning for something very great and true in his life.
Since man is ‘called to be a god’, i.e. he was created to become a god, as long as he does not find himself on the path of deification (gr. theosis) he feels an emptiness within himself; that something is not going right; he feels no joy, even when he is trying to cover the emptiness with other activities. He may numb himself, create a fancy world, but at the same time poor, small and limited, and cage and imprison himself inside it. He may organise his life in such a way that he is never quiet, alone with himself. He can try, through noises, tension, television, radio, continuous information about this and that, as if with drugs, to forget, to not think, not worry, not remember that he is not on the right path, that he has strayed from his purpose.
In the end, however, the wretched, contemporary man finds no rest until he finds that ’something else’, the greatest thing that actually exists in his life, the truly beautiful and creative.
Can man unite with God? Can he commune with Him? Can he become a god by Grace?
THE INCARNATION OF GOD:
THE CAUSE OF MAN’S DEIFICATION
The Church Fathers say that God became man in order to make man a god. Man would not be able to attain deification (gr. theosis) if God had not become incarnate.
In the years before Christ, many wise and virtuous people had appeared. For example, the ancient Greeks had reached quite high standards of philosophy about the good and about God. Their philosophy, in fact, contained seeds of the truth, the so-called ’spermaticos logos’. They were very religious people, after all; they were not at all atheist, as some of our contemporaries are trying to present them, who do not know the facts well. But of course they did not know the true God; they were idolaters, yet very pious and god-fearing people. For this reason, by attempting to remove its faith in God from the psyche of our devout people, even without their consent, educators, teachers, politicians and civil governors act in a way inconsistent to the memory of the Greek nation, and so they commit “hubris” (gr. hybris) in the ancient meaning of the word. In essence, they attempt its de-hellenization, because the Tradition of the Greeks, throughout our ancient, recent and modern history, is a Tradition of piety and respect for God, on which all the worldwide cultural contribution of Hellenism was and is based.
In the philosophy of the ancient Greeks we discern a certain yearning for the unknown God; a yearning for the experience of God. They were faithful and pious, but they did not have the correct and completed knowledge of God; Communion with God was lacking. Deification (gr. theosis) was not possible for them.
In the Old Testament, we also find just and virtuous people. But the full union with God, Theosis, becomes possible, is attained, with the incarnation of the Divine Logos.
This is the purpose of the incarnation of God. If the purpose of man’s life was simply to become morally better, there would be no need for Christ to come into the world, for all these events of divine Providence to take place; for the incarnation of God; the cross, the death and resurrection of the Lord; all that we Christians believe (gr. pistis) to have happened by Christ. The human race could have been taught to become morally better by the prophets, the philosophers, the righteous men and teachers, just as well.
We know that Adam and Eve were beguiled by the devil and wanted to become gods, but not in collaboration with God; not through humility, obedience, or love; but relying on their own power, their own will, egotistically and autonomously. That is to say that the essence of the fall is egotism. Thus, by adopting egotism and self-reliance, they separated themselves from God, and instead of attaining deification (gr. theosis), they attained exactly the opposite: spiritual death.
As the Church Fathers say, God is life. So, whoever is separated from God is separated from life. Therefore, death and spiritual mortification are the outcome of the disobedience of the first-created.
We all know the consequences of the fall. Separation from God cast man into a carnal, bestial and demonic life. The brilliant creation of God fell seriously ill, almost to death. What had been made ‘in His image’ was sullied. Since the fall, man no longer has the preconditions for proceeding to deification (gr. theosis), as he had before he sinned. In this situation of grave illness, almost dead, he can no longer re-orient himself towards God. Thus there is a need for a new root for humanity; a need for a new man, who will be healthy and able to redirect the freedom of man towards God.
This new root, the new man, is the God-man, Jesus Christ, the Son and Logos of God, who incarnates to become the new root, the new beginning, the new leaven of humanity
With the incarnation of the Logos a second communion between God and humanity is realised. The first such communion was in Paradise. This, however, was broken. Man was separated from God. The all-good God then provided for another, a second communion, which can no longer be severed, that is, a union of God and men. Because this, the second communion of God and men happens in the person of Christ.
The God-man Christ, the Son and Logos of God the Father, has two perfect natures: divine and human. These two perfect natures are joined ‘without change, without confusion, without separation, and without division’ in the one person of Christ, according to the famous definition of the Fourth Holy Œcumenical Council at Chalcedon, which, in summary, constitutes the theological armor of our Orthodox Church, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, against Christological heresies of all kinds throughout all ages. Thus, we have one Christ with two natures, divine and human.
Now then, by means of the union of the two natures in the person of Christ, human nature is irrevocably united with devine nature. Because Christ is the eternal God-man. As the God-man, He ascended to heaven. As the God-man, He sits on the right hand of the Father. As the God-man, He will come to judge the world at the Second Coming. Threfore, human nature is now enthroned in the bosom of the Holy Trinity. No longer can anything cut off human nature from God. So, now, after the incarnation of the Lord – no matter how much we as men sin, no matter how much we detach ourselves from God – if, through repentance, we wish to unite again with God, we can succeed. We can unite with Him and so become gods by Grace.
THE PLACE OF MAN’S DEIFICATION
Those who wish to unite with Christ, and, through Jesus Christ, with God the Father, recognise that this union is realized in the body of Christ, which is our Holy Orthodox Church. A union, Of course, not with the Divine essence, but with the deified human nature of Christ. But this union with Christ is not external, nor is it simply moral.
We are not followers of Christ in the way that some perhaps follow a philosopher or a teacher. We are members of Christ’s body, the Church. The Church is the body of Christ, the real body, not a moral one, as some theologians have mistakenly written, not having looked deeply into the spirit of the Holy Church. In spite our unworthiness and sinfulness, Christ takes us Christians and incorporates us into His body. He makes us members of Himself. And so we become real members of the body of Christ, not just morally. As the Apostle Paul puts it, ‘We are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones’ (Eph. 5:30).
Certainly, depending on the spiritual state of Christians, they are sometimes living members of Christ’s body, and at other times dead. Yet, even as dead members, they do not cease to be members of Christ’s body. For example, someone who is baptised has become a member of Christ’s body. If he does not confess, does not take Communion, does not live a spiritual life, he is a dead member of Christ’s body. But when he repents, he immediately receives divine life. This permeates him and he becomes a living member of Christ’s body. He does not need to be re-baptised. Someone who has never been baptised, however, is not a member of Christ’s body, even if he lives a life which is moral by human standards. He needs to be baptised in order to become a member of Christ’s body, to become incorporated into Christ.
So, because we are members of Christ’s body, Christ’s life is offered to us and it becomes our life. And thus we are enlivened, saved, and deified. We could not be deified, had Christ not made us members of His Holy body.
We could not be saved if the Holy Mysteries of the Church did not exist, which make us one body with Christ, and by which, according to the Church Fathers, we share the same flesh and the same blood as Christ, in other words, to become one body and one blood with Christ.
What a great blessing that we partake of the immaculate Mysteries! Christ becomes ours; Christ’s life becomes ours; His blood becomes our blood. This is why St. John Chrysostom says that God has nothing more to give man than what he gives him in Holy Communion. Neither can man ask for anything beyond what he receives from Christ in Holy Communion.
This way then, having been baptised, chrismated, and having confessed, we commune through the Body and Blood of the Lord, and we too become gods by Grace; we unite with God; we are no longer strangers, but His intimates.
Inside the Church in which we unite with God, we live this new reality which Christ brought to the world: the new creation. This is the life of the Church, of Christ, which becomes ours as a gift from the Holy Spirit.
Everything in the Church leads to deification (gr. theosis). The Holy Liturgy, the Mysteries, divine Worship, the Gospel sermon, the fasting; they all lead to this one thing. The Church is the sole place of deification.
The Church is not a social, cultural, or historical institution, and it does not resemble any other institution in the world. It is not like the different establishments of the world. Perhaps the world has fine establishments, fine organisations, fine institutions and other fine things. But our Orthodox Church is the inimitable, the sole place for the communication of God with man; of man’s deification. Only within the Church can man become a god, and nowhere else. Neither in universities, nor in social service foundations, nor in any of the fine and good things that the world has. All these, however good they may be, they are not able to offer what the Church offers.
This is why, no matter how much worldly institutions and systems progress, they can never replace the Church.
It is possible that we weak and sinful men go through crises and difficulties from time to time within the Church. It is possible even for scandals to happen in the bosom of the Church. All these happen in the Church because we are as yet on the way to Theosis, and it is very natural that human weaknesses still exist. We are becoming gods, but not yet. So, no matter how often these things occur, we will not leave the Church, because within the Church we have the only possibility to unite with God.
For example, when we go to Church to attend the service, we may meet people there who do not pay attention to the holy service; who hold conversations and distract our attention. Then along comes a seemingly reasonable thought which says: ‘What do you gain by coming to Church? Might it not be better to sit at home in greater peace and comfort?’
We, However, must prudently contradict this evil thought: ‘Yes, perhaps on the one hand I will have more outward peace at home, but I will not have God’s Grace to deify and sanctify me. I will not have Christ, Who is present in His Church. I will not have His Holy Body and His precious Blood, which are on the holy Altar in His holy Church. I will not partake in the Mystical Supper of the Holy Liturgy. I will be cut off from my fellow brethren in Christ, together with whom we form Christ’s body.’
So, nomatter what happens, we will not leave the Church, because only within it do we find the path to deification (gr. theosis).