Monday, July 07, 2008

From the Mailbag: Canonizing Uncanonized Saints

Q: I find that these unilateral glorifications [of saints] cause me no small disturbance. It would be more appropriate to say, in the case of those not yet revealed by God and recognized by the Church to be saints, "requiem aeternam" instead of "ora pro nobis," as we have no way of knowing with certainty greater than our own feeble reason whether or not they have indeed obtained boldness before the throne of the Most High.

A: Thank you for your comment, my friend; I truly appreciate your feedback, although I disagree with your sweeping conclusion. As the Most Unique School of Orthodoxy reminds us, this is precisely how (some) glorifications occur in Orthodoxy: a holy person is commemorated by a local following after his or her repose and later recognized by the Church. Here's a representative description:
For the first thousand years of the history of the Church saints were recognized without any formal rite of canonization. Local congregations of the faithful simply began to remember certain well-known Christians in their liturgical gatherings, to ask them for help in prayer, to visit their relics, which frequently remained vehicles of the Holy Spirit, curing the sick in soul and body, as they had during earthly life...

The Holy Orthodox Church never developed any comparable methods for canonizing her saints [to that of Roman Catholicism]. The situation remained very much determined by local practices, local cults, and local traditions. Holy men and women continued to be recognized as such during their own lifetime; they continued to be venerated (honored) after their death; Christian people continued to ask for their prayers and to visit their shrines.

In time, especially in the Slavic Churches, a more disciplined method of canonization became the rule, due to the influence of the example of the western Christians. But no Orthodox Church has developed a system as detailed and as legalistic as that of the western groups.
Although committees may ultimately confer church recognition of an individual's sainthood, that's far from endorsing the notion that one must wait for that recognition to ask for the prayers of a righteous Orthodox; in fact, as long as the individual in question was both righteous and Orthodox, it instructs the opposite. Without such a local cultus, the likelihood of Church recognition would be at best remote.

Your comment was not submitted to a post that had anything to do with asking for prayers of anyone, but I assume you were referring to the category on this blog called "saints (uncanonized)." As the name states, these are holy Orthodox people who are not yet canonized by the Church. You will note I have added only three names to this list:
All are long reposed; Dom Denis manifested the miraculous gift of healing; and I know at least two of the three had a cultus at the times of their deaths. And I stress, this is merely my private view (apparently shared by others); it's hardly a pronouncement that I feel must be shared by all. This blog doesn't take itself that seriously. I certainly respect your opinion.

Since we are on good terms, I don't mind telling you, as the Orthodox told the Non-Jurors, it appears you "were in great fear where no fear was." But it's hardly a big deal if you don't follow this practice, my friend.

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