On this second Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost, the Orthodox Church celebrates the “local” Saints. They are specific to each nation, geographical location or recognized by the Church as having followed, in their lives, the example of Christ Jesus to the full. They lived in the strength of the Holy Spirit and somehow implemented the way followed by Jesus, thus: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Luke 4: 18 – Isaiah 61, 1). There is one essential thing: we cannot pretend to confess Jesus as the Messiah unless we are called to this by a special revelation and gift of the Spirit. There is a Trinitarian action of the Only One God: the reinvigorating forces of the Holy Ghost let us confess and utter in totality that the Father of all creation is indeed at the source and fulfillment of everything. Subsequently, to some individuals – whether a few or many of them is not important – it is given to recognize that Jesus of Nazareth, the Child of Bethlehem is the true Messiah who gathers in all the living and the dead, over all historic generations. We dare not “amputate” one Person of this ever matching and inter-acting plenitude that overshadows the whole of the Reign of God in the world, in this eon.
This deals with every living being having a breath
from the Creator in his nostrils and all creatures. All limbs and mental cells
can accept Paul of Tarsus’ words: “No one, if he does not speak by the
Spirit, can to say that Jesus Christ is Lord “(1 Corinthians 12, 3). And
“The proof that you are sons is that God sent into our hearts, the Spirit of His son who cries’ Abba – אבא – Father (Aramaic for “Dad”).
There are few languages in which the word “Abba” (dad) as in Aramaic and Hebrew, both refers to the father of a human being according to the rules of nature and defines the Name of the Heavenly Father Who is at the initial of all commencements – at the bottom of historic and meta-historic realities. Both genital, i.e. source of all seeds and Master of the universe, with a sweet Name that sounds like “Papa, Daddy, Tata” in different European languages. It might not be that evident because human speech often aims at expressing real or supposed respect, dignity. People would refrain to be too familiar with the Lord. In Aramaic, “Abun/ܐܒܘܢ – אבון” – “Our Father” means “Father”, not “Daddy”. On the other hand, in Haitian Creole “Papa nou ki nan siel na » = “Our Father [as Father expressed by the word Daddy] Who art/is in heaven”. The creolization of the parlance includes the process of addressing to the Lord with respecting closeness and tenderness alike. Curiously, Yiddish has the same way of expression toward the Creator, as “Tatyenu, Wus Du bist in him’l/טאטיענו, וואס דו ביסט אין הימל” sounds more as “Our Dad Who art in heaven” whereas “Unzer Foter, Wus/אונדזער פאטער…”, after the “official” translation in Yiddish, does not correspond to the tender intimacy included in Jesus’ words and teaching of the “true prayer”.
The Orthodox Church offers a very pedagogical path and emphasizes the importance of holiness as a road accessible to all believers. It is clear, that the Saints are not defined according to human or even spiritual criteria only. They show us the unnatural way to be naturally human and humane because of the naturally dynamics that impact all societies by the seal of Divine Actions and Presence. It is the ever-creating and moving process of physis, the processing nature that flourishes into the realm of ends of times that are summed up in the nucleus of eternity.
All beings are at home in the Church.
The Church is the ingathering of all human beings in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We express this in the Byzantine and Oriental prayers. The Church is much larger than what our eyes can ever measure in a specific time of history, in a geographic place. The Kingdom of God corresponds to the expanding move of the Reign of the Master of the universe. It exceeds the limits of what we would like to reduce to local and restricted checkpoints. The symbols of the protecting walls and checkpoints has always been very strong in the Holy Land and the whole of the Middle-East. When the Children of Israel under the leadership of Yehoshua Bin Nun entered Jericho whose walls have fallen, who was victorious? The fall of the walls offered freedom and salvation to all. It depends on how we are able to survive the disappearance of borders and landmarks.
It is the same for sainthood. In every location of our planet, all human beings – whatever their language, their nation, their religion, therefore their ethnicity or skin color, whether rich or poor – all are to face the test of being able to walk on the route of their own, specific life-paths. They are challenged to reach out to the get their own identity, at times a plural and multi-faceted condition and self-implementing existent state of living.
The seal of the Resurrected is so unique and exceptional that any human being – even those who are not baptized – can baptize other human beings and confer the Gifts of the Holy Trinity, of the identification with Christ, of the Forces of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it should be confirmed by a real Church, a coherent and existing Christian community. Normally, baptism should be identified by a canonical Church body. True, but, to begin with, water – or even sand – are required and all human can perform the act that achieves the identity of a human soul on her companionship with the One and Trine Lord by the power of the words that s/he will accept to pronounce: “N., be baptized in(to) [a move, as accusative form in Greek, Latin, Slavonic and Hebrew] the Name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit.” ,It is important that this only occurs in extreme cases – but it is totally valid and therefore it is worth mentioning this point. This proves that the Church is present in the world and that she is fundamentally present in every human soul while only belonging to God!
This corresponds to the way Peter met with Cornelius of Cæsarea, said to be a proselyte, thus connected with Judaism. He only could admit and confirm that the centurion had received the seal of life from High.
The Orthodox Church has progressively introduced the celebrations of the “local Saints”. Shall we speak of “Local” or “Native” Saints? There is quite a difference, in English, in the way we may understand holiness with regards to the topology of the Church.
To begin with, the nascent Church of Zion and Jerusalem was limited to the domain depending of the Holy City where the Lord was resurrected and ascended to heaven. Of course, he had been preaching through the whole of the territory of the Holy Land as Eretz Israel as the Jews name the country. He did meet with non-Jews and often discussed with them (Samaritans, Canaanite). He did not really leave the Jewish traditional homeland or districts – mainly under Roman control – and normally said to be submitted to the laws of kashrut (kosher food and social behaviors). Nonetheless, uncleanness and the true meaning of what it is to be clean in the eyes of the Lord were behind the controversy between Jesus and the scribes and the Pharisees recorded in Mark 7:1-21.
Mark recounted that Jesus and the disciples withdrew from Galilee to the “region of Tyre and Sidon” (Mark 7:24). The two places were Gentile regions, so Jesus and the disciples moved into areas that most Jews would have considered unclean. The region in which these cities were located had a long history of paganism and opposition to the Jews. For instance, the wicked queen Jezebel, who incited Ahab to worship the false god Baal and persecuted Elijah the prophet, was the daughter of the Sidonian king (1 Kings 16:31-32).
The nascent Church became a real universal Church when the messianic message developed, during and over the early apostolic times, outside of the traditional city of Zion and Jerusalem and the realm of Judaism only. It took a long time and we should be aware of this in order to understand the present evolution of the Churches. The decision of the first “Synod” of Jerusalem (Acts of the Apostles ch. 15) opened to the entrance of the Gentiles into the Body of Christ, the Ekklesia, composed of both Jews and Gentiles.
In terms of proceedings, the very large diversity of the spiritual and theological tendencies that were existing in the country of the Jews by the time of the presence of Jesus of Nazareth, allowed to add a vast number of new believers to the Klal Israel, the Great assembly of Israel. This subsequently meant that they proceeded to widen the substantial domain – both human and topological – of Eretz Israel, usually known or estranged by the name of “Palestine at the time of Jesus of Nazareth” or “under Roman control”. The Tent of Israel – or Assembly of the children of Israel – got extended till Damascus and subsequently till all the peoples of the Empire, the known Earth at that period or the Ekumene, the inhabited world.
The nascent Church of Jerusalem focused on the true faith that developed along the decades and the first centuries after the resurrection of the Lord: Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the City of David under Pontius Pilatus (historically ascertained at a specific period of the Roman rule in the region), had been crucified (tortured), and rose from the dead, thus is being to come back to judge the living and the dead and his reign will be without end.
It took a long time of harsh discussions and disputes to admit the Credo of the Church. (First Ecumenical Council of Nicæa in 325 AD. And separation from the Community of Israel by the determination of Pascha).
This creed was initially shared as a theological path inside of the many groups that existed inside of the local existent Judaism. The Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles show that the process of evangelization was heavily accompanied by persecutions. Indeed. But before the breach between the Christians and the Jews, people could express, inside of the local Church, relationship of the Early Church did not last for long, but the goal was to show a real undivided unity and oneness in the Lord: “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:24). This is the dynamic and prophetic aspect of sanctification of the Lord and true sainthood. The Church is embodied in the partnership in order to preach the Good News and making good works.
Jews and the non-Jews (proselytes and others) could equally co-exist in terms of faith. The ideal The same situation developed with the process of the heralding of the Christian Message within the framework of the Roman empire and to the different regions of the Jewish dispersion (Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia, the Caucasus peoples).
One specificity should be noted as it developed inside of Judaism along the centuries in the dispersion. There are different paysages (special landscapes) and cultural and topological identities, with mental and geographical features that came to exist in the realm of Jewishness. At the present, they are known as marking the cultural and praying particularities of the Ashkenazic, Sephardic and Mizrachi (Oriental, Mashrek) Jewish communities. There are local characteristics for the prayers, the use of some words and dialects, special ways to apprehend the local non-Jewish ways of socializing.
The same tendency appeared in the process of the development of Christendom, first in Jerusalem, among the Middle-East peoples and cultures. It developed in the midst the many Nations to whom the Christian Kerygma was been brought. Interestingly, the Eastern Churches of the Pentarchy, though putting a stress on the linguistic importance of Greek as the major idiom of the Kerygma, always welcomed the creation and acculturation of the local Church entities. Each of them developed their styles for the prayers and the language to be used in Church provided that they kept to the common features of the creed. In the Western countries depending of the Pentarchy, the local particularities tended to be controlled and replaced by standardized liturgical, thus theological rites.
This means that the extension of Christendom allowed the emergence of typical features and subsequently of local manners to witness to the reality of Christian morals. While unity of the True Faith was maintained because the Word of God is and remains one and unique, the way of sainthood showed among the very different societal factions of the Christian congregations.
The Gospel show how the believers were first given a name in Antioch [Christians = khristyanoi-khristyané/ χρηματίσαι τε πρῶτον ἐν Ἀντιοχείᾳ τοὺς μαθητὰς Χριστιανούς –ܟ݁ܪܺܣܛܝܳܢܶܐ, not Semitic “meshihyé/ܡܫܝܚܝܐ”] in pagan, heathen or Gentile places. The naming shows a specific cultural choice, because it comes from Greek with direct links to Latin.
The Church of Jerusalem went through numerous stages of identification. But, the local Church of Jerusalem has always been marked by continuous processes of temporary changes of the identity of the local population. Individuals, families, tribes, nations came and go, came back. They moved back and forth for years before showing back again or leaving the region for ever or along the generations. All sorts of peoples had been there by the time of the Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 2:9-11).
Truly, Jerusalem is the “Mother Church of all the Churches of God” (official title of the Greek Roman Orthodox patriarchate of Jerusalem). Her saints are sealed as a mark of love and praise shown by their distinctness of their testimony. They are directly born out of the whole of the Scripture and the Revelation. In the Land of the Promises, holiness traces back to Adam and all the Prophets canonized by the Church on behalf of the glorification of the Lord.
Their commemoration in the local Church of
Jerusalem naturally includes all the confessors, martyrs, monks, nuns, hieromonks,
deacons, priests and bishops from the early Church and saint Stephanos till
nowadays. In the Katholikon (nave) of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, late
patriarch Diodoros of Jerusalem asked to place the icon on which are shown
ancient Biblical individuals and the Prophets, the Heroes rooted in Judaism and
the numerous Christian saints who offered their life for the sanctification of
It is written in Psalm 87: 4, “And of Zion, it will be said that all living being is born there”. Jerusalem, as on the day of Pentecost, “convokes, calls, unites” all Nations, thus through the huge variety of the languages, i.e. transmission medias. This is the reason why it is difficult to focus on the ethnicity and national characters of the local saints!
The Orthodox Church is precisely “local” in that she is above all universal patterns and “open to all things/beings”. Each congregation encompasses the plenitude of redemption as it is possible to trace it everywhere, in any topological place on Earth . It expresses the reality of the word of Jesus to the Samaritan woman: “Believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain (Mt Gerizim) nor in Jerusalem” (John 4:21).
This consists in an extending process that continues in our generation. Though it seems to be a dreamy prospect at the present, the definition of who the Church, the local saints are could be reviewed… when Christian believers will live on some other planet. Not other galaxies yet!, but… “the local saints” may, God willing, be present on other globes, new topologies compared to the Earthly place where the Father of all decided that Jesus was to be born in King David’s messianic City of Bethlehem and came to rise from the dead in Jerusalem.
Indeed, one day may come when, on Mars, the Moon or another planet, the Trinitarian Faith will bring us to go beyond our loneliness on Earth to perceive the immensity of God: “to receive the strength to undertake, with all the Saints, what Width, Length, Height, and Depth, to know the Love of Christ, which surpasses all knowledge, and to enter, through your plenitude, into the whole universe of God. ” ((Ephesians 3:18).
Photo: “Working Bee” by Ditah Schnitzer