Friday, July 23, 2010

God is Magnified in His Saints

I didn't intend to be gone quite this long, but life is not all blogging. Sometimes it takes us by surprise, and reality happens while we are attempting to do something else. Initially this post was meant to be about the saints, and so it will be. But the fact is, the saints were real people who lived real lives. They weren't the plaster statues or the colorful icons which we can see in various types of Churches. Each of those images has a story behind it, and we do a disservice to ourselves to ignore both the stories and the saints.

When real life happens to them, they respond to that life with the Grace given to them by God according to where they are in their walk of transformation with Him.
Recently, I was reading a book on the Orthodox Church, and the discussion of the devotion to Saints came up. Fr. Anthony Coniaris was very clear and concise in what he stated. He stated that honoring the Saints is devotion to the completed work of Salvation.
It is true that we honor the saints because they are God's workmanship. They have been formed in His Love, and now are with Christ at the Father's Throne, continually glorifying God. But when we give them honor, we are honoring something that God has done. Without this, we take away from the honor that should be given to God.
St. Peter tells us that we are to be partakers of the Divine Nature (2 Peter 1:4), and the Theology of the Christian East adopts this into a beautifully mystical and practical ascetic life which is tailor made for each of us by a wise spiritual father and/or mother, and which is to open us up to the Grace of God.
One may wonder why the saints put so much stress on working to be transformed, a work which belongs to God alone, but there is one way that I find to think about this which is very helpful personally. If I allow God to do this to me, then I am passive but not really cooperating actively. He can do it, but I haven't invested myself into it. If I become involved in His work, I begin to invest myself in this work of His, and begin a practice of living like Him, which disposes my fleshly existence to cooperate more than if I don't get involved. Any suffering which takes place because of this can be likened to the suffering I might endure in exercising (lifting weights, doing pushups, etc.). There is a yield that happens when one works side by side with God which doesn't happen if one simply watches it happen.

I also like to think of it with this image. If I sit and watch my father do his work from the sidelines, I can become bored very quickly. But suppose that my father tells me as he is pushing a lawn mower or roto-tiller "Put your hand on one of the handles and push." Suddenly, this becomes an opportunity for bonding, and growing, and it is something which we are doing together. In truth, I am not pushing very hard, even though I am pushing with all my might. My dad is providing the real power, but I am now invested. I am cooperating. I am joined with Him. I can become like Him by sharing in what He is doing. He can empower Me to Grow into His full stature. But it is Him doing the work in which I am sharing.

To worship God is to honor all the work that He has done. This includes the work which He has completed in the Saints who have passed into Glory before us. If they have become Holy, it is only because He Who Is Holy has worked His Holiness in them. He has Transformed them. He has Transfigured them. They didn't let this happen in a passive manner, however. They opened themselves up to His work. They said Yes. They grew in Love of Him and of their neighbor. And once they passed into Glory, they did not stop loving their neighbors. They continued. Part of Love is to assist in the provision for the good of the ones who are beloved. They could not be said to love if that stopped once they arrived in heaven, nor could they be said to love God if they did not love their neighbor once they arrived in heaven. Therefore, they must continue to communicate with us by joining us when we pray, and for us by their prayers on our behalf. This is the only way that heaven could possibly be. Therefore, when we ask the intercession of saints out of our love for them who are our neighbors, and they intercede for us in their love for God, it is not worship being given to the saints, but the natural life of the Church of God in action, whereby love is being shown within a community whose worship is directed whole heartedly at God, in love of neighbor and of self.

God is glorified in His saints; all of them without exception. By not honoring them, we deny Him the worship which He deserves, for they are His workmanship.