Friday, October 5, 2018

The West That Could Have Been, Part 7: The Saints and Christian National Identity

A healthy Christian country will produce saints.  Such a statement is not likely to be gainsaid by Protestants, Roman Catholics, or Orthodox.  But what does this word mean?  What is a saint?  Do all three have the same thing in mind?

They do not.

The Protestants, in their reductionist tendency, have made all Christians saints.

For the Roman Catholics, it is a matter of legalism (acquiring an excess of merits, etc.):

In Catholic theology, the term ‘Saint’ is reserved for those individuals who have led a holy and exemplary life and have now entered Heaven.

For the Orthodox, saintliness is more than trusting in Christ to save us from the Father’s wrath (Protestants) or keeping His (or the Pope’s) commandments (Roman Catholics).  St John Maximovitch says,

"Holiness is not simply righteousness, for which the righteous merit the enjoyment of blessedness in the Kingdom of God, but rather such a height of righteousness that men are filled with the grace of God to the extent that it flows from them upon those who associate with them. Great is their blessedness; it proceeds from personal experience of the Glory of God. Being filled also with love for men, which proceeds from love of God, they are responsive to men's needs, and upon their supplication they appear also as intercessors and defenders for them before God."

A saint, in the Orthodox understanding of the word, is a man or woman who has achieved his end in this life:  the acquisition of the Holy Ghost, union with the Uncreated Grace that flows from Him.  There is no greater accomplishment than this for a man, thereby making the saints the greatest fruit that any national culture can bring forth.  If a people is not bearing Orthodox saints, it is not living in its full maturity, whatever else they may be producing, whether literature, paintings, trillions in GDP, or what have you.

The saints of a nation, in fact, are the most perfect expressions of its folkways.  Being both born and raised in that particular culture and also thoroughly filled with God’s Grace, all that is good in their native culture will shine with an unclouded light in their lives.  But without the saints, national identity is distorted or forgotten:

At no time in the history of Western nations has the rediscovery of Western holiness been so important. The saints carry the soul or spiritual identity, the 'hypostasis', of each people they come from. It is no coincidence that at a time when the saints of Western Europe have been forgotten, the nations of Western Europe appear to be losing their identities in globalizing movements.

Furthermore, the saints of a nation are the surety for the salvation of the whole people.  They are their kinsmen; they know their customs, their strengths and weaknesses.  But in addition to this, they have attained holiness, healing of soul and body, the Grace of the Holy Ghost.  They are thus faithful guides who show their countrymen how to do the same, i.e., how to overcome sin and be united to God.  By their life and teaching, they have fashioned a ladder for each of their respective peoples to ascend to God.  It is the height of folly and disrespect for us to kick them away and try to fashion new ones from our own imaginations.  Only by honoring them, learning how they lived, and walking in their ways can we hope to see a long-lasting Christian revival in the West:

Among others, St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco strongly encouraged the renewed veneration of the saints and martyrs of Orthodox England, reminding the faithful that it is only through the prayers of the saints of their land that the Church will be restored there . . . .

--Fr Geoffrey Korz, Saint Herman Calendar 2010: Orthodox Saints of Anglo-Saxon England, Platina, Cal., p. 54

As Fr. Spyridon recalled, St. John [Maximovitch] acted as if the ancient local Saints were present wherever he walked. Before leaving Trieste, he contacted local Roman Catholic clergy, acquiring from them various permits so that the Orthodox church in Trieste would have free access to the relics and sites of the Saints. Then he gave Fr. Spyridon strict instructions on how to commemorate the Saints, how he should take his parishioners to the shrines of all local Saints on their feast days, venerate them, sing services to them, and so on. St. John said that no services should be conducted without first addressing these local Saints, and no Liturgies performed without first commemorating them at the proskomedia.(3)

While in Western Europe, St. John collected the Lives and icons of Orthodox Saints from many different Western European countries, who lived before the time of the schism of the Latin Church. Since most of these Saints were included in no Orthodox Calendar of Saints, St. John compiled a list of these Saints with information about their lives, and submitted this to his Synod of Bishops for inclusion in the Orthodox Calendar.

Since he was an Apostle of Christ, St. John called upon each local Saint he learned about to provide heavenly help in evangelizing new lands. As Archbishop of San Francisco, he called upon all the Saints of America, including the most local of all Saints, the Native American St. Peter the Aleut, who was martyred in California.

Archbishop John had an especially great devotion to St. Herman of Alaska as a patron of the American Orthodox mission. He sought to have St. Herman canonized, and this occurred four years after St. John’s repose, in 1970.

On June 28, 1966, St. John came to the Orthodox bookshop in San Francisco that had been started with his blessing by our St. Herman Brotherhood. After he had blessed the shop and printing room with the miracle-working Kursk Icon of the Mother of God, he proceeded to talk to the brothers about Saints of various lands. As Fr. Seraphim Rose later recalled: “He promised to give us a list of canonized Romanian Saints and disciples of Paisius Velichkovsky. He mentioned having compiled (when in France) a list of Western pre-schism Saints, which he presented to the Holy Synod.” (4)

In particular, St. John talked to the brothers in the shop about St. Alban, the first martyr of Britain. Out of his little portfolio he pulled a short Life of the Saint, together with a picture postcard of a Gothic cathedral in the town of St. Albans near London, in which the Saint had been buried. St. John looked into the brothers’ eyes to see if they got the point. St. Alban, like most of the Saints of Western Europe, was not in the Orthodox Calendar; and St. John was letting them know that he should be venerated by Orthodox Christians, especially in English-speaking lands.

Fr Andrew adds,

The restoration of the veneration of the saints of the West would lead to a threefold restoration:

The restoration of the unity in diversity of the Trinitarian God worshipped by the saints.

The restoration of the principle of the Incarnation of the Son of God, of the Life in Christ.

The restoration of the knowledge in the West of the Holy Spirit Who proceeds from the Father and comes through the Son.

The restoration of the veneration of the saints, the spiritual founders of the West will bring with it the restoration of the nations of the West in the knowledge that we are now in the latter times, for our preparation for what is to come can only come through the saints:

'And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled'.
Rev. 6, 11

Remembering the saints is not an optional extra for Christians.  It is an integral part of the life in Christ, of the journey toward salvation - for individuals, families, and nations.  In the narrower sense of national identity, it is also imperative:  Sweden without the veneration of St Sigfrid is not truly Sweden; France without the veneration of St Martin is not truly France; Switzerland without the veneration of St Gall is not truly Switzerland; etc.

The South has Lee and Jackson, Simms, Timrod, and Hayne, Taylor and Charles Carroll, and others like them.  They are blessings in many ways, men of great virtue and character whom we would do well to study and imitate.  But they are not saints.  We do not pray to them; we do not ask salvation or miracles of them.  If those in Dixie wish to have a Christian future, they must turn their inner eyes back to the lands of their forebears in Western Europe and Africa, rediscover the saints they loved and venerated, and bring that same love and devotion for them to their own homes and churches on this side of the Atlantic.

Aeneas, in a praiseworthy act of heathen piety, took his father’s household gods with him as he fled from Troy to Rome.  The South, in an act of Christian piety, ought to do the same with the veneration of the Orthodox saints of her forefathers.  Those saints are unquestionably a part of the Southerner’s inheritance - an extremely important part.

Lord Jesus Christ, through the prayers of our holy mothers and fathers, save us sinners here at the South, unworthy though we be!


A deeper look at a national saint:

Hieromartyr Boniface, Archbishop and Enlightener of Germany

June 5 (+754)

St. Boniface, the greatest of the missionaries to Germany, was an Anglo-Saxon born in Wessex.  His missionary labors on the continent covered a vast territory:  West Frisia (present-day Netherlands), the lands of the Hessians and Thuringians in the center of Germany, Bavaria in the southeast, and part of Austria.  Here he encountered and overcame virulent paganism, which included human sacrifice, magic, and demon worship.  A turning point occurred when he felled the Oak of Geismar, which was sacred to the Germans.  It fell at one light stroke of his axe, which convinced the Germans that his God was more powerful than the gods they worshipped.  He established a network of churches, monasteries for men and women, and bishoprics, in order to establish and disseminate the Faith; and he and his companions traveled throughout the countryside adding members to the Body of Christ.  He was martyred in old age in Doccum (Netherlands).  His relics are now in Fulda, Germany, both in the church and in the Cathedral Treasury.

--Saint Herman Calendar 2006: Saints of the German-Speaking Lands, Platina, Cal., p. 46

--Holy icon of the Mother of God, Queen of Germany, with St Boniface (right) and St Matthias the Holy Apostle (left), whose relics rest in Trier.  From the St Spyridon Skete in Germany,


All editions of the Saint Herman Calendar referenced in these posts are available at


Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!

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