On Learning About the Saints

In the Orthodox Church, we are each admonished to learn about the saints. We quote the Holy Fathers and are encouraged to study the lives of all the saints who have gone on before us. But do we ever take a moment to consider why are we encouraged to do this? What value is there in learning about the life of someone who lived so long (years or even millennia) before us?

This blog post will take a look at a few of the reasons why we should learn about the saints; through the words of Holy Fathers and saints.

When we learn about the saints, we can see that they struggled, too.

What is important is not victory or the position of a victor, but rather the labor of striving towards God and devotion to Him.” ~St. John Maximovitch

“…You have seen that on the icons of the saints, the Lord Jesus Christ is represented above, with the imperial globe in one hand and with the other extended in blessing. This is taken from reality. From heaven the Lord ever watches over those who combat for His sake upon earth, He helps them actively, as the almighty King, in their struggle with the enemies of salvation, blesses His wrestlers with ‘peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,’ and bestows the crown of life upon them after they have finished their earthly exploits.” ~St. John of Krondstadt

We can observe the ways in which the saints succeeded (and sometimes also failed!), and learn from them.

“The saints were people like all of us. Many of them came out of great sins, but by repentance they attained the Kingdom of Heaven. And everyone who comes there comes through repentance, which the merciful Lord has given us through His sufferings.” ~St. Silouan the Athonite

“…some falls and relapses of the former sinful life are inevitable. Do not let this disturb you, do not despond. Rome was not built in a day. Everything takes time. It is through many trials and great struggle that we each enter the Kingdom of God…
Sometimes this process of rising proceeds quickly, at times it slows down…Do not be discouraged when you see no improvement. One thing is needful: try to live according to the Gospel commandments…
If you do succumb [to sin], repent before the Lord, ask forgiveness, and rise to fight again. And so until death.” ~Abbot Nikon

“He also said concerning Abba Pior that every day he made a new beginning.” ~Abba Poeman

We can use the saints’ lives as a guide and/or measuring stick to help ourselves stay on track.

“We should always be on the lookout to compare ourselves with the Saints and the lights who have gone before us. If we do, we will discover that we have scarcely begun the ascetic life, that we have hardly kept our vow in a holy manner, and that our thinking is still rooted in the world.” ~St. John Climacus

“A person can become a saint anywhere. He can become a saint in Omonia Square [in Athens, synonymous with vice and corruption], if he wants. At your work, whatever it may be, you can become saints – through meekness, patience and love. Make a new start every day, with new resolution, with enthusiasm and love, prayer and silence – not with anxiety so that you get a pain in the chest. If it happens, for example, that you are given tasks to do that fall outside the remit of your duties it is not right for you to protest and become irritated and complain. Such vexations do you harm. Look on all things as opportunities to be sanctified.” ~St. Porphyrios

We can ask the saints to pray for us.

“Many think that the saints are far from us. But they are far from those who distance themselves from them, and very close to those keep the commandments of Christ and have the grace of the Holy Spirit. In the heavens, all things are moved by the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit is on earth too. He lives in our Church. He lives in the Mysteries. He is in the Holy Scriptures. He is in the souls of the faithful. The Holy Spirit unites all things, and therefore the saints are close to us. And when we pray to them, then the Holy Spirit hears our prayers, and our souls feel that they are praying for us.” ~St. Silouan the Athonite

“’I love them that love me, and glorify them that glorify me.’ (Proverbs 8:17, I Kings 2:30,) says the Lord of His saints. The Lord gave the Holy Spirit to the saints, and they love us in the Holy Spirit. The saints hear our prayers and have the power from God to help us. The entire Christian race knows this.” ~St. Silouan the Athonite

“Call with faith upon the Mother of God and the Saints and pray to them. They hear our prayers and know even our inmost thoughts. And marvel not at this. Heaven and all the saints live by the Holy Spirit and in all the world there is naught hidden by the Holy Spirit. Once upon a time I did not understand how it was that the holy inhabitants of heaven could see our lives. But when the Mother of God brought my sins home to me I realized that they see us in the Holy Spirit and know our entire lives.” ~St. Silouan the Athonite

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, of Thy Most Pure Mother, and of all the Saints, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Here are a few more quotes from saints about why we can/should learn about and from the saints, as well as a few resources to help us begin the learning!

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“In them [the Lives of the Saints] it is clearly and obviously demonstrated: There is no spiritual death from which one cannot be resurrected by the Divine power of the risen and ascended Lord Christ; there is no torment, there is no misfortune, there is no misery, there is no suffering which the Lord will not change either gradually or all at once into quite, compunctionate joy because of faith in Him. And again there are countless soul-stirring examples of how a sinner becomes a righteous man in the lives of the Saints: how a thief, a fornicator, a drunkard, a sensualist, a murderer, and adulterer becomes a holy man─there are many, many example of this in the Lives of the Saints; how a selfish egoistical, unbelieving, atheistic, proud, avaricious, lustful, evil, wicked, depraved, angry, spiteful, quarrelsome, malicious, envious, malevolent, boastful, vainglorious, unmerciful, gluttonous man becomes a man of God─there are many, many example of this in the Lives of the Saints.

By the same token in the Lives of the Saints there are very many marvelous examples of how a youth becomes a holy youth, a maiden becomes a holy maiden, an old man becomes a holy old man, how an old woman becomes a holy old woman, how a child becomes a holy child, how parents become holy parents, how a son becomes a holy son, how a daughter becomes a holy daughter, how a family becomes a holy family, how a community becomes a holy community, how a priest becomes a holy priest, how a bishop becomes a holy bishop, how a shepherd becomes a holy shepherd, how a peasant becomes a holy peasant, how an emperor becomes a holy emperor, how a cowherd becomes a holy cowherd, how a worker becomes a holy worker, how a judge becomes a holy judge, how a teacher becomes a holy teacher, how an instructor becomes a holy instructor, how a soldier becomes holy soldier, how an officer becomes a holy officer, how a ruler becomes a holy ruler, how a scribe becomes a holy scribe, how a merchant becomes a holy merchant, how a monk becomes a holy monk, how an architect becomes a holy architect, how a doctor becomes a holy doctor, how a tax collector becomes a holy tax collector, how a pupil becomes a holy pupil, how an artisan becomes holy artisan, how a philosopher becomes a holy philosopher, how a scientist becomes a holy scientist, how a statesman becomes a holy statesman, how a minister becomes a holy minister, how a poor man becomes a holy poor man, how a rich man becomes a holy rich man, how a slave becomes a holy slave, how a master becomes a holy master, how a married couple becomes a holy married couple, how an author becomes a holy author, how an artist becomes a holy artist…” ~St. Justin Popovich

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“If you wish, the Lives of the Saints are a sort of Orthodox Encyclopedia. In them can be found everything which is necessary for the soul which hungers and thirsts for eternal righteousness and eternal truth in this life, and which hungers and thirsts for Divine immortality and eternal life. If faith is what you need, there you will find it in abundance: and you will feed your soul with food which will never make it hungry. If you need love, truth, righteousness, hope, meekness, humility, repentance, prayer, or whatever virtue or podvig, in them, the Lives of the Saints, you will find a countless number of holy teachers for every podvig and will obtain grace-filled help for every virtue.” ~St. Justin Popovich

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The Saints hear our prayers and are possessed from God of the strength to help us. The whole Christian race knows this. Fr. Roman told me that when he was a boy he had to cross the river Don in the winter, and his horse fell through the ice and was just about to go under, dragging the sledge with it. He was a little boy at the time and he cried at the top of his voice, ‘St. Nicholas, help me pull the horse out!’ And he tugged at the bridle and pulled the horse and sledge out from under the ice. And when Fr. Matthew, who came from my village, was a little boy he used to graze his father’s sheep like the Prophet David. He was no bigger than a sheep himself. His elder brother was working on the other side of a large field and suddenly he saw a pack of wolves rushing at Misha—Fr. Matthew’s name in the world–and little Misha cried out, ‘St. Nicholas, help!’ and no sooner had the words left his lips than the wolves turned back and did no harm either to him or his flock. And for a long time after that the people of the village would smile and say, ‘Our Misha was terribly frightened by a pack of wolves but St. Nicholas rescued him!’ And we know of many an instance where the Saints come to our help the moment we call upon them. Thus, it is evident that all heaven hears our prayers. – St. Silouan the Athonite

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“St. Marcella and her compatriot Christian widows and young women adopted a plain manner of dress, in contrast to the sumptuous clothing their patrician status demanded. This group became known as the ‘Brown Dress Society’ in Rome. The 300-400s AD were the formation period of monasticism in the Church. Repeatedly in hagiography, women and men were noted to have shunned ‘costly array’ when they entered a celibate life, dedicated to Christ… Put your hair up and your work clothes on, because life is messy!” ~From the introduction to this wonderful new blog about the lives of women saints: https://browndressproject.com/

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Find a calendar/schedule of Orthodox Christian children’s book about saints and their corresponding feastdays here: https://www.pinterest.com/pisc304/reading-through-the-year-of-grace/

What saints’ stories do you recommend to the community?

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Here are a few resources that you may find helpful in your quest to learn about the saints.

Some of the back issues of Little Falcons magazines focus on saints. Find “Mary the Theotokos” (issue #80) and “Heroes” (issue #38) among other back issues here: http://www.littlefalcons.net/

Traveling Companions, by Christopher Moorey, is an alphabetical index of many saints of the Church. Easy to read and understand, this book can be used by adults or children, and introduces the reader to a saint for almost every day of the year (and several saints, on some days!). http://store.ancientfaith.com/traveling-companions/

Christ in His Saints, by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, showcases the lives of about 150 saints and heroes found in the Holy Scriptures. The writing style is geared towards older children and adults. http://store.ancientfaith.com/christ-in-his-saints

What other saint resources do you recommend that the rest of the community read?

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Take a few minutes each day to listen to Deacon Jerome Atherholt’s podcast about one of the saints of the day. http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/saintoftheday

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Find a series of blog posts about recent saints, beginning here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/saints-of-recent-decades-an-introduction/

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Learn the troparion to some of the saints, so that you can sing them on the day when we commemorate them. Here is a recording that could help to that end, with a few of them: http://eikona.com/great-saints-major-feasts/
And here are the words for others, for you to chant: http://www.saintromanos.com/downloads.html

What troparia are your favorites?

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