Saints in the Orthodox Church are revered and we have their icons. In one sense the whole people of God are saints, they have been made holy by God Himself and each and every one of us has a particular calling from God to serve Him. However, we do recognise certain people as being particularly holy and give them the title of saint.
The saints serve two big roles for us who form the Church in this life. They are intercessors and they are examples.
St John of Krondstadt, in “My Life in Christ” said this about the saints:
“What does the daily invocation of the saints signify — of different ones each day, during the whole year, and during our whole life? It signifies that God’s saints — as our brethren, but perfect — live, and are near us, ever ready to help us, by the grace of God. We live together with them in the house of our Heavenly Father, only in different parts of it. We live in the earthly, they in the heavenly half; but we can converse with them, and they with us. God’s saints are near to the believing heart, and are ready in a moment to help those who call upon them with faith and love.”
We are fortunate indeed we have people who are in God’s closer presence who will pray for us. In the courts people have advocates who will present the case and this means their point of view is put properly to the judge or magistrate. In dealings with any person in authority this is useful; it is how trades union workers deal with employment issues as well. In our dealings with spiritual matters we have also the Holy Spirit who is with us, giving guidance and comfort. We also have the whole Church and that includes the saints.
The saints also serve as models for us, examples of how we should behave. This is truly a blessing and it is particularly helpful because there is no one particular way for us to be Christian. We all serve God differently. St Paul famously said as much in his first letter to the Corinthians in chapter 12 “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.” The saints show this variety, different lives but the same Lord and the same holiness. It is sobering for clergy to find that there are comparatively few amongst the non-monastic clergy who have been so recognised.
It has been said that “The Church in The British Isles will only begin to grow when She begins again to venerate Her own Saints” (Saint Arsenios of Paros who reposed in 1877). Leaving aside any prophetic element St Arsenios was no doubt right. The Church needs to be able to address society in ways it can understand. It needs to rediscover how the Church has played a vital part in the history of these islands. We need to recover and build on our history as Orthodox in this country and who better than our local saints to assist in this? We need their prayers and we need to be aware that Orthodoxy is rightfully as much at home in Western Europe as it is in the Middle East or the Balkans. The Church is simply the Church and her roots are found in Britain as much as anywhere else.
St Aidan is not only a powerful intercessor, he also serves as an example. He was instrumental in building up Christianity in Northern Britain. He is a local saint to us. However we have many nationalities within our congregation and St Aidan was also a foreigner, an Irish man who had settled in a strange place., He trained in the monastery on Iona off the coast of Scotland and when he went to Northumbria he had to have someone translate his sermons. That the king was prepared to do this was an indication of the humility of Aidan and also the king’s own sanctity and concern for the Church. Then as now it is not a case of the British taking over the Church, rather the Orthodox Church is winning over the British.
St Aidan was famously generous. This may have been a little irritating to his supporter the king; he famously gave away an excellent horse the king had given him to a poor man. St Bede tells us: “he left the clergy a most salutary example of abstinence or continence; it was the highest commendation of his doctrine, with all men, that he taught no otherwise than he and his followers had lived; for he neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in distributing immediately among the poor whatsoever was given him by the kings or rich men of the world. He was wont to traverse both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity; and wherever in his way he saw any, either rich or poor, he invited them, if infidels, to embrace the mystery of the faith or if they were believers, to strengthen them in the faith, and to stir them up by words and actions to alms and good works.”
He also did two other things which especially endear him to me personally. One was his insistence that the Church deal with people gently, where they are. St. Aidan was not the first missionary sent to King Oswald, The first returned unsuccessful. Bede says: “It is reported, that when King Oswald had asked a bishop of the Scots to administer the word of faith to him and his nation, there was first sent to him another man of more austere disposition, who, meeting with no success, and being unregarded by the English people, returned home, and in an assembly of the elders reported, that he had not been able to do any good to the nation he had been sent to preach to, because they were uncivilized men, and of a stubborn and barbarous disposition.
.At a meeting, Aidan, who was also present in the council, said to the priest then spoken of, ‘I am of opinion, brother, that you were more severe to your unlearned hearers than you ought to have been and did not at first, conformably to the apostolic rule, give them the milk of more easy doctrine, till being by degrees nourished with the word of God, they should be capable of greater perfection, and be able to practice God’s sublimer precepts.’
St. Aidan also laid a deal of emphasis on education which is something we take seriously in this parish. St Aidan as a foreigner also brought great blessings to these islands. He still does. Some of us were blessed recently to go on pilgrimage to Northumbria. As ever it was wonderful to tread in the places the saints trod. At the Liturgy served on the island where St Aidan had a cell and St Cuthbert also retreated to pray, we started off with 14 people and a little later had something like 25 communicants. A group of other visitors arrived, and said they were Orthodox. As one of the party said, we were clearly doing God’s will in being there.
Lindisfarne, where St Aidan based himself is a small island off the Northumbrian coast. This was the centre and the root from which the gospel was once spread widely across Britain. The actions and mission of our patron lead to great things. To do the same is the challenge and the invitation facing us now, as Orthodoxy is re-established in these Islands. With the help of our patron we also can spread the Gospel again and many will be saved.
“O holy Bishop Aidan, Apostle of the North and light of the Celtic Church; glorious in humility, noble in poverty, zealous monk and loving missionary, intercede for us sinners that Christ our God may have mercy on our souls.”
St Aidan pray to God for us and for the mission of the Orthodox Church in our land.