There are those moments that confront us now and again, that call into question why we do what we do as Orthodox Christians. How do we know that our prayers mean something, or that our sacrifice of praise at Church on Sunday is not some pantomime to make us feel important and special? How do we know that the faith handed down from generation to generation is divine and full of grace, made manifest by the Holy Spirit? In short, how do we know we are the Church?
Some of the answers to these kinds of questions are found the scriptures: the witness of a God who acts to save humanity from sin and ultimately death. That, along with holy tradition (the context in which we understand scripture and participate in the mysteries of God’s saving work), help humanity understand who God is, who Jesus Christ is and what is the Gospel; and by extension help us understand why we are Christians.
But as scripture can come across as “dead words” or a cultural artifact of a bygone era (as I have been told many times), and holy tradition can be misunderstood as simply the “laws of man”, and can come across as abstract concepts of data to process, and customs to follow, it is the men, women and children who have immersed themselves in scripture, and confessed Christ, who stand out as lights that bear witness to a living faith.
It is one thing to read about God. It is a completely other thing to encounter those who have been transformed and transfigured by God, by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. These are the saints.
From the greatest saint to the least, from those universally known (like St. Nicholas) to those known only to God, the saints are men, women and children who have striven to conquer the challenges of everyday life, fear, injustice, strife and violence, poverty and even death by marking every element of their lives with the love of God who Himself conquered all this by His passion and life-giving death on the cross.
This is something to consider as we bask in the warmth of Pentecost celebrated a week ago. For the saints are those who received the Holy Spirit, God Himself, as if mystically in the upper room on that holy Pentecost after the Lord’s Resurrection, and by the Holy Spirit demonstrated the power of scripture by living it, and manifesting the victory won by Christ by participating with Him, and bearing witness to the love of God poured out on all humanity. By the Spirit, they were (and are) those who confessed that love is stronger than hate, peace stronger than violence, long-suffering stronger than striking, kindness stronger than ambivalence, goodness stronger than wickedness, faithfulness stronger than fear, and self-control stronger than selfishness (Gal 5:22-23).
If their was any question about why we do what we do, the saints make real our purpose by showing us that it is “the Fathers good pleasure to give (us) the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32)
Maybe the questions should be: Do I pray and offer good works like a saint who in his or her love for humanity, makes real the love of God? Do I offer my sacrifice of praise like a saint, who even in death can offer thanksgiving to a God who defeats death by death and shares His victory of eternal life with us? Will I hand down to my family and friends a living faith and inheritance that bears witness to God’s saving work throughout the ages? In short, will I make real the Pentecostal miracle like a saint, and confess that Jesus is the Christ, who abides in us, that we might abide in Him (see 1 Jn. 4:15), and that no “height or depth nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm. 8:39)?