January 24, 2005 Length: 54:10
In the first of a series on prayers to the saints, we begin to discuss how the Orthodox Church connects the dots of many aspects of what it means to be "in Christ" and a member of "the body of Christ." Are we worshipping the saints in prayer? Does Scripture forbid prayer to the dead? Can the living communicate with the dead? What is true prayer? These and many more issues will be discussed in light of Scripture over the next four programs.
Program Notes - January 23, 2005
Prayer to the Saints - Part 1: What is a Saint?
PRAYER TO THE SAINTS PART I
O heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth who art in all places and fillest all things, the Treasury of good things and Giver of life, come and abide in us and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O gracious Lord.
Good afternoon and welcome to this edition of Our Life in Christ. I’m your host today, Steve Robinson, as usual, in the studio with Bill Gould, as usual. I think I’m going to change your last name to “As Usual,” Bill.
Bill Gould: How are you doing today, Steve?
Mr. Robinson: Good. Lunch today, Bill, as usual. Come on over to my house today after the show, as usual. We’re doing a whole lot better than the people back east are.
Mr. Gould: Boy, did they get hit with a blizzard or what?
Mr. Robinson: My son sent me a picture of Boston. He said, “I’m up to my waste, W-A-S-T-E, in snow.” I said, “It must have been a big pile of waste, because it’s about three feet high.”
Mr. Gould: They were predicting that the snow was going to fall at a rate of three inches an hour.
Mr. Robinson: He said he shoveled all the steps to the dorm room at his college, and by the time he got done, it was covered again.
Mr. Gould: Wow.
Mr. Robinson: Oh, man. I did send that picture that I talked about last week, the one with the frost on the windshield.
Mr. Gould: Yes, and the green tree.
Mr. Robinson: I got an email back from one of our friends, and he said, “I have words for you that I cannot say or transmit on the internet.”
Mr. Gould: A little jealousy there, eh?
Mr. Robinson: A little bit of a blow below the belt for the folks back east. Anyway, Bill, today we’re going to begin a series today. This is probably going to end up being about four weeks, and it is a series on the prayer to the saints, or the intercession of the saints. As with everything that is Orthodox, you can’t really talk about one thing without talking about a whole lot of other stuff, because so much of this is interconnected with everything. This is something that just amazed me when I started reading the Fathers and looking at the theology of the Orthodox Church. Nothing is really discrete. Nothing’s a little package in and of itself, because [when] you start talking about the saints, you have to start talking about the Incarnation, you have to start talking about the nature of the human being, the soul, the body.
Mr. Gould: The nature of salvation.
Mr. Robinson: It just goes…
Mr. Gould: There’s so much richness that flows out of the Orthodox view of the saints.
Mr. Robinson: Of anything.
Mr. Gould: Well, of everything, of course, but especially this topic. There’s just so much that comes out of this. We’ll try to unpack it over the next few weeks.
Mr. Robinson: We’re going to have to ask our listeners to be patient with us in this, because we’re going to do what they said in Daniel. It’s going to be “line upon line, precept upon precept,” and there’s probably going to be some things that our listeners are going to be hearing us saying and they’re going to want to jump ahead and they’re going to want us to answer…
Mr. Gould: “What about this, what about this?”
Mr. Robinson: “What about this Scripture, what about that Scripture?” I guarantee you, we’re going to get to all those Scriptures. We’re going to get to all those passages in the course of the next four weeks. Hang with us here, because this is really important stuff. This is not just a topic that you can live with it, you can live without it, because it’s so central to our understanding, as you say, Bill, of even our salvation and what it means to be in communion with God and his body, what it means to be in communion with Christ and the body of Christ.
Mr. Gould: There is one body.
Mr. Robinson: There is one body, and it’s not divided between something there and something here. There is a body of Christ, and we are partakers of that; we are sharers of that. We’re jumping ahead already, Bill!
What we would like to do is begin our program today, as usual, with a saying from the Fathers. This is actually going to tie into day one of our topic in discussing what is a saint or who is a saint. Bill, let’s begin with the story from the Fathers. This is really good. I love this one.
Mr. Gould: This one is anonymous, but it’s a great story, so we’ll start.
One man asks an old man, “What is this Christian perfection we are seeking for?”
The old man replied, “Come, I will show you,” and took him to a fresh grave in the cemetery, and said to the dead man, “Brother, you are the worst pig that ever lived.”
That’s pretty good.
“No one is as rotten as you.” Then the old man asked the young one, “What did he do?”
The young man said, “Nothing. He is dead.”
The old man looked again at the same grave and said, “You are the greatest person who ever was. No one is like you. You are the most wonderful, perfect person.” He then looked at the young man and asked, “What did he do?”
The young man again replied, “Nothing. He is dead.”
The old man then said, “Perfect. He lives only before the face of God. He is not living for what people say, whether they flatter, curse, or bless him. He lives before the face of God. Therefore, he is free and he already reigns.”
Mr. Robinson: Wow.
Mr. Gould: That’s awesome.
Mr. Robinson: That is amazing. Now, when you start thinking about the Christian life, and you start thinking about what it means to, what Christ said, “die to yourself,” this story, in a nutshell, just really wraps that up. You can take all of the scriptural admonitions. You can take all of the advice that Paul gives to people about not thinking more highly of yourself than you ought, not to be subject to flattery, not worry about what other people are saying about you, not judging your brother, being concerned about other people’s judgments of you, that everybody stands or falls before their own Lord, before Christ himself, not before me or you. Which is kind of a tough one, because I want people to stand or fall before me.
Mr. Gould: We’re all a little egomaniac, aren’t we?
Mr. Robinson: It’s the first temptation in the Garden: “You will be like God.” Boy, that’s still the temptation we all fall for. We want to be like God. We want people to stand or fall before our judgment of them and their lives, whatever they’re doing. On the other hand, because of our passion, because of our not dying to ourselves, not dying to our egos, we’re subject to flattery, we’re subject to the ego, we’re subject to insults…
Mr. Gould: ...and flattery. They can both be bad for us.
Mr. Robinson: This whole notion of a person reaching what is called in the Church Fathers “a state of dispassion,” of getting rid of this core of ego within ourselves, that causes us to respond to flattery or insults, that causes us to jump when people smile and say, “Ooh, look how wonderful you are. Look how terrible you are,” and not rely on the judgment of God, and not rely on our relationship to Christ, that’s the thing that we’ve got to get rid of. That’s the thing that we’ve got to rid ourselves of.
Mr. Gould: That’s right. Dead men don’t care if they’re insulted or if they’re flattered.
Mr. Robinson: That’s a hard lesson. That is really a tough lesson. I was a counselor for years and years. That was my master’s degree. So much of what you hear in counseling sessions is reactions to other people, reactions to flattery, reactions to insults, and most of the time it really boils down to: “He hurt my feelings. She hurt my feelings. They’re insulting me. They’re gossiping about me. They’re spreading lies about me.” You know what? It doesn’t really matter. It really doesn’t, in the long run, because you stand or fall before God.
If you read the Desert Fathers, and you read the stories and the lives of the saints, you find how people were slandered, how people were maligned, and how they were lied about, and they bore this gracefully. They didn’t go to defend themselves. They didn’t go to court and try to clear their names. They just said, “You know what? I’m all that, and worse. If you only knew.” They bore it humbly and left what Paul says in Romans 12, “Leave your vindication to God.” That’s what they did. They left their vindication to the Lord.
There’s stories of monks who raised children because a woman accuses them of fornication, and the monk raises this child as if it was his own when he knew and she knew it wasn’t true. He bore the insults, and he bore the derision and the ostracization of the Church, because he refused to justify himself before men. He knew that this was for his salvation, that this, if he could deal with this before the Lord alone, that he would be vindicated, and that God would save him through this experience. Wow. That’s hard. That is hard stuff.
Mr. Gould: I know I’m not there yet!
Mr. Robinson: No, not even. Not even close.
Mr. Gould: Hopefully a little closer, but not even close.
Mr. Robinson: If you want to get close, watch out, because God’s going to send you some tests, and that’s the tough part, because any time we want to grow, God’s going to send us the tools to grow with. If you want to grow in dispassion, God’s going to send you some thing that will rile your passions.
Bill, we’re coming up on our first break here. When we come back from our break, we will begin our discussion of the prayers and intercessions of the saints. We’ll talk about, first of all, who is a saint and what is a saint in the Orthodox Church.
Mr. Robinson: Bill, the roller coaster is about to start. Keep your hands and feet in the gondola while it’s in motion. We are going to begin our series on the prayer to the saints. This is, as we said in our introduction, a huge, huge topic. We want to do this justice, because we could trot out a whole lot of very short and succinct passages and arguments and all of that, but, as with everything Orthodox, we really have a bigger picture. Part of what I would like to do and part of my goal on these programs is to try to give… I know it spans a matter of weeks, but we really need to see how these things fit in the context of the life of the Church in Christ. How these things really fit the big picture that the early Church Fathers saw about what our redemption in Christ really means, because it’s not just about me. It’s not just a personal relationship with Christ that comes down to me, God, and the Bible. It really is a whole lot bigger than that.
Mr. Gould: We were talking about the feast of the Theophany and how, when we talk about the waters and we talk about Christ sanctifying the waters, that’s really the whole cosmos.
Mr. Robinson: Redemption of the cosmos, and that event is commemorated in our Nativity hymns and our Theophany hymns. In fact, the hymn that just played in our break music is a hymn to St. Basil whom we’re going to quote here in a few minutes. This was written in the sixth century, maybe about a hundred years after his death. I think this gives us a sense of the piety of the Church in recognizing these people who lived the godly life, who gave themselves in service to God and to the Church and died in faith. These people are commemorated. These people are remembered, and they’re actually set forth before the Church as people that we ought to look to as examples for what it means to be a Christian.
That’s kind of what we want to talk about for the balance of the program, Bill, but before we start this specific discussion, let me give a real broad outline of where we’re going and what we’re going to talk about for the next few weeks and some of the issues we’re going to deal with. Of course, we’re going to talk about what is a saint, who is a saint, and then we’re going to talk about the state of the dead. Who are these people and what are they doing now that they’re dead? Then we’re going to talk about their relationship to us in Christ. What is the nature of the Church? What is the nature of the heavenly Jerusalem?
We’re going to be taking a look at the Book of Revelation, because the Book of Revelation gives us a glimpse of the Church, what is called the “Church Triumphant” in Protestant theology. The Orthodox Church doesn’t make this distinction between the militant and triumphant Church, because it’s the Church, but we’re going to talk about that.
Then we’re also going to talk about prayer. We’re going to talk about what it means to pray for somebody, to be an intercessor. Then we’re also going to talk about the big, big nugget: what is a mediator and how does Christ’s mediation for us as Christians fit into the idea of us interceding for one another?
Mr. Gould: We do believe that there is one mediator between God and man. That’s Jesus.
Mr. Robinson: We’ll probably repeat that over and over again.
Mr. Gould: We’ll be saying that a few times.
Mr. Robinson: The big picture here, Bill, is: why do we have this issue at all? Why is this really a late-breaking something on the scene of Church history? Because up until even the Protestant Reformation, there really wasn’t an issue with this concept of the intercession of the saints. We’re going to talk about Church history also at some point in the future, probably week two, I would imagine we’d get into that. It wasn’t until the Protestant Reformation that the concept of the intercession of the saints was really called into question, and even Luther basically said, “Well, it’s okay… but… it’s one of those iffy things that we rather you not do, but if you do do, it’s all right.” And it’s after Luther that people really hammered on that.
Mr. Gould: They were concerned with communicating with the dead.
Mr. Robinson: We’re going to talk about necromancy, and we’re going to talk about spiritism and those kinds of things, all the topics. We’re going to cover them, folks.
What is the problem here with this topic? I’ve kind of broken it down into five main problems, and we’re going to address all of these problems. First of all, I think the main problem with us approaching this issue is that most of us haven’t underlined enough Scriptures. I always say, “Orthodoxy is all the Scriptures that you didn’t underline plus the ones that you did, and the ones that you don’t have any cross-references for in the margins of your Bible.” Really, the intercession of the saints is there; it’s just that we have all these passages that talk about it that we haven’t underlined because we had no clue how to fit those into a picture of what it means to be a Christian. We’re going to talk about those passages that you don’t have underlined in your Bible.
We’re also going to talk about muddy thinking. We’re going to talk about not defining biblical terms in biblical ways by biblical definitions. There’s a lot of words used in the Scriptures that a lot of people just kind of use interchangeably that are not used interchangeably in the Scriptures, and “mediator” and “intercessor” is one of those. We’re going to talk about the difference between those. “Mediation” being ascribed to Christ alone, “intercession” being ascribed to a lot of people, including Christ and the Holy Spirit. But muddy thinking—it’s rampant out there. So we’re going to talk about defining biblical terms in biblical ways with biblical passages.
Along with that is imprecise use of language. That goes along with defining words. Part of it, too, is an ignorance of early Church history. Again, the Fathers, how they approached this, how they saw this big picture.
Mr. Gould: They didn’t make this stuff up.
Mr. Robinson: No.
Mr. Gould: It was part of the apostolic tradition.
Mr. Robinson: And it was part of Jewish tradition before it was part of apostolic tradition. We can go to the Scriptures for that, too. All these things kind of play into it.
Then, of course, the big, big red flag, the goofy-meter that gets pegged on red, and that’s Rome-o-phobia. I think most of us function under a real, real knee-jerk reaction against anything that sounds like it’s Roman Catholic. We’ve got to get beyond knee-jerk reaction and to what the Church taught and what the Church has practiced from apostolic times to guide our faith, to guide our practice, to guide what we do as Christians and not let a reaction to something that we know maybe a little bit, maybe a lot about, guide us as Christians.
That’s kind of the big, big picture, Bill. Let’s talk about, first, the primary definition: what is a saint? Who is a saint?
Mr. Gould: I think, again, we go to the Scriptures, and most people would say that if you’re united to Christ, if you’re a believer, you’ve made a confession of faith, that you could be called, just by a strict, New-Testament definition, you could be called a saint. I think that we would agree with that. We’re not going to sit here and argue that point. As a matter of fact, St. Basil, when he writes in his Against Eunomius letter, he says that Paul refers to all those who are united with God who is the being of life and the truth, he calls them saints. So St. Basil the Great affirms it, one of our great Church Fathers.
Mr. Robinson: We can go to the Scriptures, and at the beginning of almost every Pauline epistle, the beginning of almost every epistle that Paul writes to a church, he addresses it “to the saints at Corinth, to the saints at Ephesus, to the saints at Philippi,” and the word “saints” is literally “holy ones.” That’s basically all it means. These people are holy.
Mr. Gould: He uses it as a collective term to describe the Church.
Mr. Robinson: What does it mean to be holy? Well, here, right out of the gate, we have to define this rather precisely and in some ways that it’s actually used in Scripture. In the general Protestant sensibility, to be holy means that you are justified, you are declared righteous, you are declared not-guilty before the tribunal of God by the atoning death of Jesus Christ. This makes you holy; this makes you set apart.
Mr. Gould: It’s sort of a position that you attain to, perhaps even immediately because of your belief in the Gospel.
Mr. Robinson: And you are, in a sense, set apart to Christ by the fact of his death for your sins. In that sense, yes, absolutely. There is a sense in which we are set apart in Christ by the virtue of his death and his resurrection and our union with him in that death.
Mr. Gould: If you’ve been graced with the Holy Spirit, you are a saint.
Mr. Robinson: You are holy, because you have the Holy Spirit. But there is also another sense in which the word “holy” is used, and that is what is called a sanctification. The word “sanctification” literally means holy-fication. Sanctus is the Latin word for “holy” which comes from agios which is the Greek word. Basically, the process, in Protestant thought, of sanctification is the process of becoming holy.
Mr. Gould: So there’s an immediate result of one’s belief and one’s being blessed by the Holy Spirit, but then in the Orthodox way of looking at it…
Mr. Robinson: ...and in the biblical way…
Mr. Gould: ...and in the biblical way, there’s this idea that we grow up in holiness. It isn’t just all dumped on us all at once, and I think that’s pretty evident to most people. They’re not holy…
Mr. Robinson: When we come back from the break, Bill, we’re going to talk about [this]. I have a quote here from Dumitru Stăniloae, a great [Romanian] theologian, and we’re going to talk about what is a saint or what does a saint look like, and then we’re going to talk a little bit about what it means to grow up in Christ. What is it that we’re striving to attain to? What does it mean to become holy? When we come back from the break, we’re going to talk about: what does a saint look like?
Mr. Robinson: Before the break, Bill, we were talking about what is a saint. We’re going to talk a little bit more about what does a saint look like, and then we’re going to talk a bit about the Orthodox understanding of sainthood. Why do we call some people who have died “saints”? What’s the relationship of what it means to live on earth as a saint in Christ?
Mr. Gould: When we were talking about how holiness is something that, again, we can say that if we’re blessed with the grace of the Holy Spirit we can call ourselves saints, but there’s also a process of growing up in holiness. There’s a scripture in II Corinthians 7:1 that I think is appropriate. It says, “Therefore, having these promises”—and, of course, [these are] the promises of the Gospel, the promises of holiness—“let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
We might remember what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount when he said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Mr. Robinson: We’ve always taken that to be a positional statement rather than a process statement, because we’re so afraid of the consequences of looking at that as process.
Mr. Gould: You mean we actually have to change.
Mr. Robinson: We actually have to repent. We actually have to add virtue to our knowledge, and we have to add chastity and humility and all these things to our lives. Well, that’s ultimately what an Orthodox understanding of salvation is about. We don’t make these fine distinctions between justification, sanctification, although those have some merit in terms of trying to dissect and explain things, but we look at salvation as this process of becoming perfect, becoming Christ-like. The goal of our lives is to be like Christ.
Mr. Gould: That would be a good definition of a saint: one whose goal is to be perfect, to become like Jesus Christ.
Mr. Robinson: And a person who attains that at the end of his life is a person who is recognized as a person who has done what Paul says in II Corinthians 7:1, that he has, in fact, laid aside the filthiness of the flesh; he has become perfected in holiness through his striving, through his effort, through his working out his salvation with fear and trembling before God, and he has finished the race, as Paul says in Hebrews and in II Timothy.
Mr. Gould: And also through his sufferings, and that’s something else we’re going to talk about.
Mr. Robinson: Fulfilling the sufferings of Christ.
But, Bill, let’s talk about: what does a saint look like? I found this a few months ago, and I typed it up today because it’s such a beautiful passage about what a saint looks like, because they’re recognizable here. These people exist on earth.
Mr. Gould: They’re alive.
Mr. Robinson: They’re alive. This was such a great description, because when we meet these people, we somehow instinctually know this. The Spirit guides us to see these people, and if our hearts are open and our eyes are open, we see this.
Mr. Gould: Again, you have the author’s name for this.
Mr. Robinson: Dumitru Stăniloae. We’ll post this on our website with a footnote.
In the saint there exists nothing that is trivial, nothing coarse, nothing base, nothing affected or fake, nothing insincere. In him the culmination of delicacy, sensibility, transparency, purity, reverence, attention before the mystery of his fellow men ... comes into his actual being, for he brings this forth from his communication with the supreme Person [God].
Obviously, a saint is someone who is a prayer, a man of prayer or a woman of prayer, a person of prayer.
Mr. Robinson: Someone who is in constant communion with 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-articulated need of others and fulfills it promptly, just as he reads their impurities too, however skillfully hidden, and, through the delicate power itself of his own purity, exercising upon them a purifying action.
Mr. Robinson: This is scary, Bill. Most of us have met people who just seemed to see into your life, that there’s just something about them that they can just look at you and uncover all of your falsehood, uncover all of your fakeness. They just seem to have this sense of who you really are and what you really need. It’s not just about uncovering sin in your life, but it’s also reaching out to you and just recognizing that you have a need.
Mr. Gould: It just seems to me that if you just hang out with a saint, it says that he will have the action of purifying your life as well. That’s pretty neat.
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 one more humble, more simple, no one less artificial, less theatrical or hypocritical, no one more “natural” in his behavior, accepting of all that is truly human and creating an atmosphere that is pure and familiar. The saint has overcome any duality in himself, as Saint 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.
Mr. Robinson: That’s a mouthful, Bill.
Mr. Gould: You know it!
Mr. Robinson: Because what this is talking about is, through our communion with God and through this openness that we have with the Holy Spirit, this openness that we have with God about ourselves, about our own shortcomings, and being humble before God, this gives us the spirit to be able to see into other people’s lives, to be able to discern in other people’s lives what is false. If we overcome, as St. Maximos says, the duality within ourselves—and that’s another whole program about the five divisions within the human being that Jesus Christ overcomes, that we overcome through Christ—but what he’s saying here is that through this becoming holy, through this purifying of ourselves, through this becoming a saint, we overcome those divisions within ourselves, and then our lives become a help and a way for other people to overcome that division within themselves.
It’s all about communion. It’s all about being in communion with one another through Christ, through God. It goes back to what St. Augustine said: [a] solo Christian is no Christian. Everything in our salvation is about relationships. We cannot be saved alone, and the saint is the one who has communion with God, and, through communion with God, has communion with other people, as imperfect and as much of a sinner as we may be.
Mr. Gould: We’re not done yet!
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 all 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.
Mr. Robinson: And there again, the person who prays is the theologian. The theologian is the one who has communion. The theologian is the one who has this relationship with God and this relationship with the rest of humanity through Christ.
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 most naturally human.
That is really good.
Mr. Robinson: We’re going to talk about that in relation to St. Paul when we’re done with this quote.
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 low 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.
Mr. Robinson: Now that... I don’t know if you’ve ever met somebody like that, Bill. I’ve met a handful of people like that in my life, that you just stand next to them and you feel like a slug. It’s not because they’re condemning, and it’s not because they’re judgmental. It’s just that they radiate Christ in a way that you know you do not. Their lives are convicting, but it’s not a condemnation of you. I just imagine this is how Christ was when he walked the earth: when he met the woman at the well, when he met the publicans and the whores. They were drawn to him, and yet at the same time they were convicted by him.
He exercises no worldly power; he gives no harsh commands, but you feel in him an unyielding firmness in his convictions, in 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. ...
Whoever 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 in kenosis.
We ought to probably define what that is.
Mr. Robinson: Kenosis is the self-emptying of Christ. Philippians 2: “He emptied himself and took on the form of a servant.”
Mr. Gould: It’s the Greek word for that.
From the saint there radiates an imperturbable quiet or peace and simultaneously a participation in the pain of others that reaches to the point of tears. He is rooted in the loving and suffering stability of God incarnate [Jesus] and rests in the eternity of the power and goodness of God…
Mr. Robinson: When we come back from the break, we’re going to talk about what this means for me and you.
Mr. Robinson: For those of you who heard our last segment, and we talked about Dumitru Stăniloae’s definition of what a saint looks like, I want all of our listeners to gather around the radio and repeat after me:
Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.
Bill, you didn’t say anything!
Mr. Gould: I couldn’t say that.
Mr. Robinson: Yeah, that’s a tough one.
Mr. Gould: In other words, if I think of myself as a saint from a positional standpoint, it’s a little more difficult for me to claim that I’m a saint if I take…
Mr. Robinson: ...a sanctification viewpoint of it.
Mr. Gould: That’s right.
Mr. Robinson: This points out the definition of a saint in the Orthodox Church, because we do have a calling to be holy. We are called holy. We are a holy priesthood. We are a holy people. We are a holy nation. We are set apart in Christ. And yet we are striving to this perfection. We are striving to be Christ-like. We are striving to run the race. We are striving to rid ourselves, to lay aside every weight of sin that so easily entraps us and encompasses us.
Mr. Gould: As we said in segment one, that we’re to cleanse ourselves from all unholiness.
Mr. Robinson: In the fear of God. So what we have, then, is this sense in which we are to be moving forward to the image of God in which we are created. We are to be moving forward into this fullness of what it means to be a true and real and complete human being, because that’s what Christ was. He was the God-man. He was fully what we were intended to be as a human being. This is what we’re striving for. This is what is so amazing about this description of what a saint looks like, because it describes the fullness of what it means to be a complete and whole—and the term “salvation” literally means “healed”—human being.
Mr. Gould: Completely restored to really what we were meant to be.
Mr. Robinson: But that doesn’t happen positionally. It happens through striving. It happens through obedience. It happens through repentance. It happens through…
Mr. Gould: Suffering.
Mr. Robinson: Exactly. Taking up the cross. Denying ourselves, which is what our first reading of the Fathers was about. Let’s take a look at some passages from Paul, because this is not something we can take lightly. This is the goal of our lives. Bill, you’ve got I Corinthians there?
Mr. Gould: I Corinthians 4:14:
I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children, I warn you, for though you might have ten thousand instructors—which we have a lot of in the Church, lots of instructors—yet you do not have many fathers, for in Christ I have begotten you through the Gospel. Therefore I urge you: imitate me.
Mr. Robinson: Here’s Paul saying, “I am your father in the Gospel,” and as you imitate your imitate your earthly father, you emulate him, you try to be like him: imitate Paul. He’s got another one in Corinthians also.
Just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many that they may be saved, imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.
Two directions to the Corinthians, to imitate him. He must have felt pretty confident about standing up and saying, “Hey, imitate me.”
Mr. Robinson: And that’s a challenge. I think we as Christians cannot take that lightly, because if we cannot say, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ,” then maybe we need to reassess where we are spiritually. Paul, in Philippians, has a couple of admonishments here. He says:
Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.
Here he not only says, “Follow me,” but “follow those who follow my example, who walk after the pattern that they have in us.” So this isn’t just…
Mr. Gould: It’s not just the knowledge.
Mr. Robinson: No, it’s the walk.
Mr. Gould: It’s not just the mentally or intellectually.
Mr. Robinson: It’s the walk. This is Philippians 4:9:
The things that you have learned and received and heard and seen…
There we go, Bill: it’s not just the intellectual knowledge. It’s not what you’ve been taught. It’s what you’ve received, it’s what you’ve heard and seen in me.
Practice these things—don’t just believe them; Practice them—and the God of peace will be with you.
This is what the Christian life is all about. It is the striving toward being what we are in fact called to be, what we are set apart to be.
Mr. Gould: In the Orthodox Church we call it theosis, and we talked about the kenosis, which is the humbling of Christ, coming down and taking on flesh, but then also our goal is to become like God.
Mr. Robinson: And theosis is the word in II Peter that talks about becoming a partaker of the divine nature. We become a partaker of the divine nature by eliminating the human nature…
Mr. Gould: Our fallen nature.
Mr. Robinson: ...our fallen nature from ourselves and becoming what we are truly meant to be as human beings. So we lay aside the sin, and we uncover that which is of God within us. This is ultimately what a saint is. When we, the Orthodox Church, look at somebody and says, “This person has died, and this person is to be regarded or revered as a saint,” basically all we’re saying is that this person has finished the race; he’s completed the course; his life was such that he could say and we could say, “Be imitators of him as he was of Christ.”
That’s all it is.
Mr. Gould: But it’s a lot.
Mr. Robinson: Oh, yeah! It’s an incredible accomplishment. For me to say that about myself is one thing, but when I die, for all of my acquaintances, for the people who knew me, for the people closest to me, for my closest brothers and sisters in Christ who knew me intimately, like you do, Bill, at my death, to point to me and say, “Be imitators of Steve as he was of Christ” ...
Mr. Gould: Steve, we’re not quite there yet, buddy.
Mr. Robinson: No! And I wouldn’t ask you to say that, because then you’d be lying! And I wouldn’t lie about you at your funeral either! [laughter]
Mr. Gould: I don’t have to worry about anybody calling me a saint.
Mr. Robinson: But that’s really what it’s about. That’s really what being declared a saint by the Church is about. We don’t have all of the machinery behind being canonized a saint that some of the other churches do. Basically, it’s a grassroots movement. The people who knew the person well regard them as somebody worthy of imitation, worthy of honoring as somebody who has lived a life that is worthy of imitating. Then that spreads, and that person is renowned.
Mr. Gould: It is reviewed by the hierarchy of the Church, but it is a grassroots movement. Nobody fills out paperwork or anything like that.
Mr. Robinson: Basically what the Orthodox Church does in declaring or revering or recognizing somebody as a saint is kind of what happens at a funeral in a Protestant or Evangelical church. I’ve been to lots of funerals. I’ve done a couple. Basically, when somebody dies in faith, and you know that person to be a good person, that they’ve lived a godly life, the preacher says, “Brother Bob…
Mr. Gould: “...went to be with the Lord.”
Mr. Robinson: “Brother Jim Bob has gone to be with the Lord. He is with Christ.” We don’t have any problem saying that. We don’t have any problem acknowledging that a person has lived a godly life. Of course, we’re leaving all the final judgment in the hands of the Lord, leaving the final judgment in the hands of God, but insofar as we know, we can say that person lived a godly life; that person is worthy of imitation. His life was, as Paul would say, a righteous life, a good life.
Mr. Gould: An example.
Mr. Robinson: An example for us. This is what a saint is in the Orthodox Church. It’s somebody that the Church universally, beginning with the person’s closest friends and family and acquaintances and all that, has said, “This person has lived the Christian life. Follow him.”
That establishes for us a real foundation for what we’re going to talk about next week, which is going to be—okay, the guy’s a saint. He’s dead. Now what’s his relationship to us who are still alive? Next week, we’re going to talk about: what’s the state of the dead? And what relationship do we have to them in the Church?
Mr. Gould: Is it a sin to communicate with the dead?
Mr. Robinson: We’ll probably talk about the witch of Endor in Samuel and all of that, too, in that context.
Thank you for listening today. Have a blessed week, and try to be a saint.