How are the Saints canonized by our Orthodox Church?

St. Symeon the New Theologian writes: “The saints in each generation, joined to those who have gone before, and filled like them with light, become a golden chain, in which each saint is a separate link, united to the next by faith, works, and love. So, in the One God they form a single chain which cannot quickly be broken.”

God reveals his saints through answered prayers and other miracles. Saints are usually recognized by a local community, often by people who directly knew them. As their popularity grows, they are often then recognized by the entire church. The formal process of recognition involves deliberation by a synod of bishops. If successful, this is followed by a service of Glorification in which the Saint is given a day on the church calendar to be celebrated by the entire church, the chanting of a service in honour of the Saint (normally using specially commissioned hymns which are chanted for the first time at the Glorification) and the unveiling of an Icon of the new Saint. This does not, however, make the person a saint; the person already was a saint and the Church ultimately recognized it.

A saint is defined as anyone who is in Heaven, whether recognized here on earth, or not. By this definition, Adam and Eve, Moses, the various prophets, except for the angels and archangels are all given the title of “Saint”. Sainthood reflects communion with God: there are countless examples of people who lived in great sin and became saints by humility and repentance, such as Mary of Egypt, Moses the Ethiopian, and of course Dysmas, the repentant thief who was crucified. Therefore, a more complete definition of what a saint is, has to do with the way that saints, through their humility and their love of humankind, saved inside them the entire Church, and loved all people.

Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia) has written about canonization in Orthodoxy: “In private an Orthodox Christian is free to ask for the prayers of any member of the Church, whether canonized or not. It would be perfectly normal for an Orthodox child, if orphaned, to end his evening prayers by asking for the intercession not only of the Mother of God and the saints, but of his own mother and father. In its public worship, however, the Church usually asks the prayers only of those whom it has officially proclaimed as saints.”

Sometimes, one of the signs of sanctification is the condition of the Relics of the Saint. Some saints will be incorrupt, meaning that their remains do not decay. Sometimes even when the flesh does decay the bones themselves will manifest signs of sanctity. They give off a sweet scent. Some relics will exude myrrh. The absence of such manifestations is not necessarily a sign that the person is not a Saint.

Martyrs need no formal Glorification. The witness of their self-sacrifice is sufficient, provided their martyrdom was the result of their faith, and there being no evidence of un-Christian behaviour on their part at the time of their death.

Not all saints are known, many will remain hidden by God until the Second Coming of Christ. For this reason, on the Sunday after Pentecost the Church celebrates all the righteous souls together on All Saints Sunday.

Considering that the Church shows no true distinction between the living and the dead (the saints are considered to be alive in Heaven), saints are referred to as if they are still alive. Saints are venerated but not worshipped. They intercede for salvation and help mankind either through direct communion with God, or by personal intervention.

After the Glorification, the Church will no longer pray a Mnymosino for the repose of his soul, but instead a Paraklesis will be served to implore their intercessions before the Throne of God.

The ultimate purpose of life for every Christian is to become a saint. Saint Seraphim of Sarov interprets this as being filled the Holy Spirit. St. Paul writes that we must become the vessel in which God lives. Therefore, in reality, it is not the person who is holy, or a saint, but God who resides in the person and flows out of that person like a “living water spring” saving others.

Did you know that the halo depicted around the icon of a saint represents the glow of the Holy Spirit?