A report by His Grace, Bishop Gregory of Christianoupolis given at the 5th Pan–Hellenic Clergy Synaxis
The criteria for Sainthood according to Orthodox
Tradition is a sensitive issue, but it is also a key issue. The criteria
are sensitive, because they are theological rather than moralist and
humanist. This means that they can be distorted in ways that often are
not immediately apparent. It is a key issue because the knowledge and
deeper awareness of the criteria for Sainthood characterize modern man
on the one hand; if one takes part in Orthodox Tradition, and on the
other hand it characterize the Church; if it is real or not.
We will develop the subject in thematic units, in
order to facilitate understanding. In the first part traits or criteria
for Sainthood and the presumption of Sainthood will be formulated, and
in the second part we will examine how and to what degree an Orthodox
Christian can be sanctified.
Attributes or criteria of Sainthood.
The first criterion of Sainthood is that the person
has joined has joined himself to the Church through Holy Baptism. We
recall the passage contained in the Gospel according St. Mark: “He that
believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16) and in the Gospel
according St. John: "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit,
he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5). But there were
also cases where martyrdom suffices. A “baptism of blood” was even
considered a reason for Sainthood for the believers. St. John
Chrysostom, referring to the martyr Lucian stresses: “Just as those who
are baptized are washed in water, so those who suffer martyrdom are
washed in their own blood.” (St. John Chrysostom to St. Lucian PG 50,
Another criterion is the Orthodox mindset. The
preservation and transmission of the Apostolic Tradition and the
preservation of the legacy intact and unaltered is a crucial theme of
salvation. St. Basil, in his letter to the Church of Antioch, says that
he preaches only that which was received and taught by the Holy Fathers.
“As to creed, we accept no newer creed written for
us by others, nor do we ourselves make bold to give out the product of
our own intelligence, lest we make the words of our religion the words
of man; but rather that which we have been taught by the holy Fathers do
we make known to those who question us.” (St. Basil the Great, To the
church of Antioch, Letter 140)
The virtuous life is also an important feature. The
virtuous life is an influential catalyst in the liturgical life as a
model for the fullness of the Church as a noetic compass. There are many
examples of saints who imitated other saints in virtue, even in
Another criterion is the presence of miracles.
Miracles have been recorded in the New Testament as a characteristic
trait of the Apostles and generally of those who believe in Christ. The
Lord, before His Ascension, addressing the Apostles gave them the power
to heal the world. This is also shown in the Acts of the Apostles,
starting with the Apostle Peter preaching and performing miracles.
The question arises: are miracles in and of
themselves a criterion for sainthood? The answer is "no." The words of
the Lord are clear: "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have
we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils? and
in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto
them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity." (Matt.
Another feature is exceptional services offered to
the Orthodox Church. Typical examples are St. Constantine Equal to the
Apostles, who with the Edict of Milan introduced religious tolerance and
stopped the persecution of Christians, and the Empress Theodora, who
restored the holy icons.
Outstanding service to the Orthodox Church is not in
and of itself an attribute to Sainthood. But in the case of St.
Constantine there exists the visionary experience of the Holy Cross. His
election by the Lord is shown by the hymn “having beheld the sign of
the Cross in Heaven... Wherefore, having received the knowledge of the
Spirit” and “like Paul, having received the call not from men.” The
saint’s holy relics also constitute concrete evidence of Sainthood
“whose reliquary doth pour forth healings.” (from the service for the
Saint found in the Menaion on May 21st) Something similar happens with
the relics of Saint Theodora, which is preserved in the Metropolitan
church of Corfu.
Another criterion of Sainthood is incorrupt relics,
which are fragrant and miraculous. Although such relics point towards
Sainthood, they are not necessary a criterion for Sainthood. In some
cases the liturgical practice proved that it can be a result of
excommunication or cursedness, or disregard of the Holy Canons. A
typical example is the so–called Third Synod of Moscow in 1666, in which
involved five bishops of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Patriarch
Paisios of Alexandria, Patriarch Makarios of Antioch and hierarchy from
the Church of Jerusalem, Georgia and Serbia also took part in addition
to the Russian hierarchs. This Synod decided:
"Let no one dare henceforth to honor and revere the
bodies of the dead which even in these times are found whole and
incorrupt as being holy, without a credible witness and Synodical
Approval; for many bodies are found whole and un-decayed, not because of
holiness, but because they were under the ban and curse of a bishop or
priest when they died, or because they transgressed and despised the
divine and sacred cannons, they are found whole and un-decayed."
(Delekane, Patriarchal Documents, Vol. 3 Constantinople, 1905, pp.
Let us not give examples of modern individuals, who
go around with various so–called relics of modern pseudo–saints, which
they have managed to get to be fragrant and to stream myrrh by
artificial means, deceiving the believers.
In summary, the traits or criteria for individuals to be canonized as saints of the Church are:
a) Holy Baptism
b) An Orthodox mindset
c) A virtuous life
d) Exceptional service and offering to the Church
f) Holy Relics.
These are the attributes or criteria of Sainthood.
But they are not by themselves all together or separately the criteria
of Sainthood. The criterion of Sainthood is the deification of the
person, that is, that the Saint has seen the glory of God and has known
the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The God–seeing saints are characterized as kings and
lords, not with the secular meaning but that they reign over their
passions, which have been transformed in Christ, and have kept unchanged
the likeness of the divine image. St. John of Damascus says:
“But I call gods and kings and lords, not them who
are such by nature, but them who are kings and lords of the passions and
have preserved the likeness of the divine image unmarred as when as I
was created (for the image of the king is also called king); and being
united to God by choice and having accepted Him to dwell in them through
this communion they have become by grace what He is by nature.” (PG 94,
The God–seeing saints are united with God in soul and
body. This union is not moral, psychological and communal, it is
theological. This means that the grace of God passes from the soul to
the body of the saint “for by the mind has God dwelt in the bodies” (PG
94 1164 c).
This explains the incorruptibility of holy relics.
Death, which is found in man’s own cells, is defeated because the grace
of God dwells in the nous and through the nous it passes also to the
body. This also explains the boldness which the Saint has before God
because he prays for those faithful who pray in repentance: “they have
stood before God with boldness” (PG 94 1164–1165 d).
The relics of these Saints are alive, they are not
dead, and that is why they work miracles. The saints have been united
with the Cause of life, Christ Himself and they show their presence
within the Church through their indestructibility, streaming of myrrh,
and miracles. It would not be wrong to say that the authentic, modern
missionaries who express the will of God are the holy relics of the
Saints. An example of the expression of the will of God is the relics of
St. Euphymia, which revealed the Orthodox Tomos to the Holy Fathers
during the Fourth Ecumenical Council (451 AD) and confirmed the true
The miracles which are performed are actually God's
miracles performed through the holy relics. The reason is that God's
grace dwells within the holy relics and it enlivens them and enables
them to heal diseases, and to cause temptations and demons to flee.
Another reason relics are miraculous is that the faithful approach them
with fervent and steadfast faith.
In conclusion, the criterion of sanctity is the
deification of the person. The saint has been united with God and his
holy relics remain incorruptible, fragrant and miraculous, where God
wills for it to be so. But the question remains: how can we determine
that a modern man meets the criteria of Sainthood which allow his
classification in the choir of the Saints? Before we answer, I would like to make two points:
The first point: the Church as a body, from Apostolic
Fathers and the post–Apostolic Fathers did not officially proclaim,
canonize or recognize saints.
The common conscience of the fullness of the Church,
based on the laity, formed an opinion and noted that the Martyr in
question is a Saint. This had a local character. The living Christians
knew the Martyr, the manner of his martyrdom and burial. The entombed
Saint's relics began to work miracles and then were revealed to be
incorrupt, to stream myrrh or even to be fragrant depending on the
situation. Then the consciousness of the people became the voice of God,
the Saint’s reputation became known in neighboring churches as well
until he became known as a Saint world–wide. This was done without any
formality until the 11th century.
However, since that century when new persons were
canonized as Saints in the conscience of the Church, either the
Patriarch or the Synod took the initiative to introduce the celebration
of the Saint’s memory in a more formal way throughout the Church “to the
ends of the earth.” From this point in time it is suggested that the
process has been influenced by the West. In 993 AD Pope John IV first
canonized a Saint, and Pope Alexander III (1159–1181) argued that the
canonization of a Saint is the exclusive right of the Holy See. (VERGOTI
C. Hagiographical Manual Thessalonica 1992 p 134). Since that time many
great Saints have been officially recognized by the Orthodox Church.
However, it is noteworthy that the number of Saints that have been
registered as such in the minds of the people is by far greater than
those who received official conciliar recognition.
Therefore the Church, – at least for the first ten
centuries – had no rite or process for canonizing Saints but left the
inclusion of a person in the list of Saints of the Orthodox Church to
the conscience of the Orthodox clergy and laity and then afterwards
listed the true Martyrs and Saints among the Saints of the Orthodox
The Church that can distinguish those points
which testify with certainty that a person is a Saint, thus shows that
it is a true Church. On the contrary a Church which recognizes Saints
according to moralist criteria, shows that it is secularized and –
intentionally or otherwise – distorts the list of Saints.
The distinction between Apostles and false–apostles,
Prophets and false–prophets, the Righteous and the pseudo–righteous,
Saints and pseudo–saints is a simple yet simultaneously difficult one.
In this case there occurs exactly what occurs in the other sciences.
That is, just as the doctor can discern the quack physician from the
true physician, the architect can discern the pseudo–architect from the
true architect, so the saint who has the grace of God, can discern the
pseudo–saint from the true Saint. This is a simple part of the matter.
The difficulty is whether we today we are holy enough to discern the
Saints from the pseudo–saints.
The Church which canonizes someone as a "Saint" when
they are not, thereby exhibits that it has lost of the true criteria of
Orthodox spirituality. In other words it identifies Saints with
non–saints; it identifies the Saints of God who heal, with the good
people who follow other religions or doctrines. The experience of
Orthodox spirituality is then distorted, changed or converted into a
demonic spirituality with terrible consequences for man.
There are two main consequences. The first concerns
the one who is honored as an alleged Saint. When one is honored as a
"Saint" while he is not in fact a Saint but rather has need of the mercy
of God, such a one is not helped by the faithful in our prayers. We ask
for the “Saint’s” intercessions and we no longer pray for his
salvation. So, rather than helping such a one, in need of God's mercy,
we deprive him of what we could offer him. The second consequence
concerns the believer. The faithful then pray to a person to whom they
should not pray. There is even a risk of falling into demonic situations
which increase the error, and then a vicious cycle begins: while one is
praying to a pseudo–saint, instead of being healed and being guided
into simplicity and holiness, he becomes complex and can in extreme
cases can be driven to depression, and sickness of soul.
Therefore, the canonization of a person in the list
of Saints of our Church is a subject which concerns the criteria of
spirituality and sanctity. We can report today on the criteria for
Sainthood with relative ease, but we can just as easily gloss over the
criteria of Orthodox spirituality. Can we discern a saint today? If yes,
then we have the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. If not, then we are
deprived of Grace, and it is advisable to direct ourselves toward Saints
who have already been listed in the diptychs of our Church.
The Church is a factory which produces Saints. The
Church that does not produce Saints is not a Church. The Church that
produces Saints is the authentic continuation of the One, Holy,
Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The “Church” that distorts the criteria
for Sainthood, distorts the list of Saints and reduces the Saints to
good people, and equates Christ with every other religious leader, is
not the Church of Christ.
We rejoice that even today God reveals Saints in our
Church in a peaceful way. It is our consolation, stimulating and
strengthening us to continue the good fight. I feel that our Holy Synod
under the presidency of His Beatitude Archbishop Kallinikos of the
Genuine Orthodox Christians of Athens and all Greece so far has acted
wisely. It allows the people and the clergy together with the Bishop to
recognize contemporary Saints and to register them in the diptychs of
our Church just like the early Christians. It does not making use of
tactics and propaganda, but allows God to reveal His Saints. One example
is St. Pachomios of Chios († 1905)
We regret however that the “official” Church today –
intentionally or otherwise – has altered the criteria of Sainthood and
has secularized itself to such a great degree that it has departed from
the path of Orthodox Tradition. I will mention the case of Metropolitan
Chrysostom (Kalaphates) of Smyrna (1867–1922), whom the “official”
Church recognized him as a “saint” in 1992. This is an action which
shows the degree to which they have distorted the criteria for
Sainthood. Undoubtedly Chrysostom of Smyrna was an ethnomartyr. But
nevertheless we cannot support his Sainthood, because he does not meet
the essential criteria for Sainthood. On the one hand, there was no sign
by God attesting to his sanctity, and on the other hand there are
several Freemasonic publications which confirm that he was a member of a
Another sad point is that the “official” Church keeps
propagandizing new modern persons of last few decades as “Saints.” They
do this through radio and television programs, brochures, books and the
internet. These persons who are promoted as "Saints" have really shown
in their lives they lived a spiritual life which – dare we say it – was
also exemplary in certain circumstances. However, they are not Saints
because there is no proof of their sanctity from God. There are no
fragrant, incorrupt Holy Relics. Also, in some instances there is a
question of their Confession of Faith which their lives exhibit.
Therefore they have endeavored to make a Saints out of those who are
simply good people. These are diversions from Orthodox Tradition and its
criteria for Sainthood.
In continuation, I would like to expose some
historical facts which show what point man can reach when he has
separated from Orthodox Tradition and its criteria for Sainthood. Great
care is also required, because the “official” Church has united itself
in spirit with the Papacy and sadly – intentionally or otherwise – has
corrupted and distorted what until now has been uncorrupted in the
Orthodox world. The following figures show how much damage the
Westerners have caused, in whom some of the hierarchy of the “official”
Church today trust.
In the course of church history the first people who
fought against the relics of the saints were the iconoclasts, then in
continuation the Paulicians and Bogomils, who denied the incarnation of
Christ, the Cross and the Holy Icons, and later the Protestants, who
proclaiming that they believe in a purer and more spiritual Christianity
which is closer to the dictates of the Gospel, without the “trappings”
of Holy Tradition. However, they could not erase the respect and
veneration for Holy Relics from the souls of the faithful.
However, the devil uses ten thousand ways to tarnish
the pure feelings of the people. So, starting from Palestine and Egypt,
and moving to Rome a dense network of tradesmen spread abroad who
pillaged everything to buy and sell relics. The Crusaders took part in
this trade as well as some monks and pseudo–monks.
What is interesting is that the Franks were trading
nonexistent things like the sighs of St. Joseph the Betrothed, the tears
of Christ and His footprints, and feathers from the wings of the
Archangels Michael and Gabriel. In a French list from 970 AD, among the
relics were the wood and other materials with which the Apostle Peter
pitched the tents along with the Apostles James and John at the site of
the Transfiguration, and seeds which were sowed the Gospel parable
(Airgain, L 'Hagiographe p. 190). This commerce was such that it reached
the point of impiety. The records speak for themselves. There are
recorded 26 heads of St. Julian, 10 of St. John the Baptist, 6 of St.
Andrew and 17 hands, 30 bodies of St. Pancratios, 3 bodies and 6 heads
of St. Ignatius of Antioch, even though – as is known – St. Ignatius was
eaten by lions (Saints, the Friends of God P.B. Paschou p. 151).
In our days we must be especially careful, as never
before. We must be a part of the factory which produces Saints, which is
the Church headed by Christ and His friends, the Saints. Then we can
labour correctly to treat our soul, praying that we will be able to
discern a modern Saint from a pseudo–saint, and to feel the grace of God
guide us unto salvation through intercessions of the All–Holy Theotokos
and all the Saints.
Translated from the Greek