Sunday, 9 March 2014

Recently I was asked the question "The practice of veneration of the Saint's still gets me. I am Protestant and I have been trying to understand better the veneration of Saint's. I've talked to both Catholic's and Orthodox Christians and studied the topic on my own but still have problems with it. Can you explain it some more."

This is the response I gave:

The very basis of veneration in this sense is not to revere the person or object as a God (we do not have a Golden Calf in Orthodoxy) but to revere what it represents. The word Proskynesis itself comes from the Persian concept of showing veneration to those of higher rank, as opposed to a form of worship.

We venerate Saints for the Holiness they attained and lives they led through serving God, not as demigods or equals of God in either place of Worship (Laria is for God alone). As Professor Serge Verhovsky famously stated multiple times in his classrooms “The Holy Fathers are not Holy Spirits.” We accept that these people are humans and worked within the limits that they were given in their human nature, yet they are given these veneration (Proskynesis) which is "paid to all those endowed with some dignity" (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 3) for the Holiness that was granted to them and in doing so we glorify God himself. for what he did through them.

If one can celebrate the life of a great thinker in the secular sense, for their contributions to society, we can certainly celebrate the life and contribution of a Saint and also venerate (through Proskynesis) them for gifts of God they produced for us. These people guided the Church through God’s will and we respect that as one would respect anyone who was a vessel for God’s work, remembering that he alone works all things.

As well as this, the lives of the Saints are a witness to the amazing place of the Holy Spirit in our lives and this is not simply a view of the Saints of the ancient past. We hear stories of modern Saints and Martyrs who have worked wonders and some who are not yet named as Martyrs by the Church. These people are venerated (Proskynesis) for their work through the Holy Spirit and not for their own sake. I would personally say that they would themselves be utterly opposed to anyone venerating them for their own sake, rather than for the way in which the spirit worked through them.

The place of asking Reposed Saints for intercessory prayers is also a logical matter of the Saint being a conduit for the worship of God rather than an end in itself. Interestingly, the word Cemetery (a term which came from Early Christianity) means ‘sleeping ground’ and this concept is common in Orthodox prayers for the departed which speak of those being ‘given rest’ or bring ‘in a place where the just repose.’ Saints who were great and showed their philanthropy in life are also motivated to charity in the next and thus we ask them to pray to God for us in the same way that we would do if they were alive also.

To quote the Blackwell introduction to the Orthodox Church (McGuckin), The Orthodox regard it as natural that the Great Saints should continue to exercise loving benevolence in this way since "it shows in a very practical way that Christ arranges our salvation not in a narrowly individual manner, but in a way that is deeply interconnected with the family of souls around us with whom we live and interact." That which St Symeon the New Theologians called ‘the Golden Chain’ of Charity between those in the Church.  It is because of this that we ask for their prayers.
It is through God that these people did their works and we grant Him all worship (Latria) for this. That fact does not mean that we cannot grant those he worked through a manner of veneration (Proskynesis) for what they did, as they served us and were gracious in the way their lived their lives which makes them a model for our own lives.

I hope this answers your question in some way.
Dcn. Daniel

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