All Saints of Britain, pray for us!
The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster,
and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace.
For though in the sight of others they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality.
Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt-offering he accepted them.
In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
and will run like sparks through the stubble.
Those who trust in him will understand truth,
and the faithful will abide with him in love,
because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones,
and he watches over his elect. - Wisdom 3: 1-9
There seems to be a gradual increase in the "acceptability" of the veneration of the Saints in the wider Christian world. While I find it upsetting that I even have to phrase it in terms of acceptability, I cannot help but welcome this progression. It is right and proper that the Saints ought to be venerated by all Christians and the Anglo-Catholic movement has done so much in the spread of this basic aspect of Christianity into traditions that perhaps would otherwise not have even considered it.
However, while I see the good in this shift, I cannot help but wonder whether the necessarily apologetic manner in which it has been achieved has not had some unfortunate results as well. Firstly, I do not decry for a moment the efforts of those who have restored this practice to its proper place in the lives of many Christians. This was done often amidst much opposition and so had to presented in many cases as an "optional extra", something that "some people might find helpful".
However, the result is that, the Saints are often presented as examples to follow, good people who found God's favour. Of course, the Saints certainly are those things but it hardly stops there, and traditions that fail to recognise this often treat the Saints as no different from notable historical figures who were also good people. Strange practices begin to occur such as the inclusion of the names of people like Mahatma Gandhi and Chief Seattle in the Litany of the Saints - people whose lives certainly showed something of the love that comes from God but who we can hardly know have attained unto Sainthood. At the same time, people refuse to venerate the Sainted Royal Martyrs of Russia because of negative aspects of their earthly lives. I could understand both practices if Sainthood were merely about having lived an exemplary life but the reality is that this sort of thing betrays a gross misunderstanding of what a Saint actually is in the Christian tradition. The Saints are not merely role models. If that were their purpose, many of them wouldn't be Saints.
What we need to always remember is that the Saints are those who have reached the fullness of God's will for each of us. By God's grace, through the life in Christ in the Church, and through their persistent struggles, they have completed their deification. From the Most Holy, Most Pure, Most Blessed and glorious Lady, theMother of God and ever-virgin Mary to Saint Euphrosynos the Cook, they have nurtured the image of God planted in their hearts from the dawn of their existence and have reached the full realisation of the likeness of God. They fully share in the divine nature, in the energies of God - in his holiness, his knowledge, his wisdom, his love. A proper understanding of this should do away with any sense of having to justify their veneration. It ceases to be merely acceptable and becomes right and proper in the life of the Christian.
Certainly, there will be those Saints whose earthly lives touch us personally more than others due to the depth of the holiness of God that was apparent even in their lives here on earth. There will be those whose lives make us realise so very easily that they, too, were imperfect, as indeed we are. While this is all extremely useful as a pointer to what God would have us be, and the possibility of our reaching that despite our unworthiness, none of this detracts from their present state, which is the reason why we venerate them.
And so we pray to the Saints, we ask for their protection, their guidance, their assistance on our journey of theosis, and we ask for their prayers to God in whose nature they dwell.
All Saints of Britain, pray for us!
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