'Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us'.
Hebrews 12, 1
'The Lord God has deigned to reveal to us the names and deeds of only a few of His saints. Of the hundreds of millions of saints from the beginning of time throughout the world, we know the names of perhaps only a few hundred thousand. And many of these who have been revealed to us we only see 'through a glass, darkly', remaining only names without details. Nevertheless, in Western Europe, there are some ten thousand saints of whom we know more and whose lives will come to be spoken of on this website.
Some of them, like St Irinaeus of Lyons or St Ambrose of Milan are known internationally and are venerated throughout the Orthodox world.
Others, like St Genevieve of Paris or St Alban of Verulamium are known chiefly nationally, that is only in their own countries.
Others like St Anianus of Orléans or St Goar of Oberwesel are generally known in only one region of their country.
Yet others, like St Cuthman of Steyning or St Pardoux of Guéret, are virtually unknown outside their home-village.
But whether the saints of Western Europe are known internationally, nationally, regionally, or locally, they still speak with one and the same voice, confessing and proclaiming the Orthodox Faith, the Faith of the First Millennium, the Faith of the Seven Councils, the Faith of the One Church of Christ, for they are all Orthodox Saints.
A saint is simply an Orthodox Christian who is holy. Although obviously not all Orthodox are saints, all saints are Orthodox. A term such as 'Catholic saint' is meaningless to an Orthodox, as the Orthodox understanding of the term saint means a holy Orthodox. This is not to deny that among those whom the Roman Catholics alone term saints there are many individuals who are pious, righteous, sincere, talented and remarkable. However, none of these words means 'holy'. As a contemporary Orthodox saint and wonderworker, St John of San Francisco ( + 1966) put it:
'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 also appear as intercessors and defenders for them before God'.
As regards one of the main phenomena, stigmatization, which typifies those who are known as 'Catholic saints', the Jesuit writer and expert on Catholic Saints, Fr Herbert Thurston, wrote:
'Once it had been brought home to contemplatives that it was possible to be physically conformed to the sufferings of Christ by bearing His wound-marks in hands, feet and side, then the idea of this form of union with their Divine Master took shape in the minds of many. It became in fact a pious obsession; so much so that in fact in a few exceptionally sensitive individuals the idea conceived in the mind was realized in the flesh'.
In other words, according to this Catholic expert, 'Catholic saints' do not reflect the holiness of the Glory of God, the energies of the Divine Light, but rather they show physical manifestations of a psychic desire or mental 'obsession' to appear to resemble Christ. They do not inwardly 'live in Christ', as Orthodox would express it, rather they outwardly 'imitate Christ'.
Thus we see that the concept of holiness in the Orthodox Church is quite different from that in Catholicism. However, it is also a fact that some 90% of the Western Europeans venerated by the Orthodox Church as saints, are also venerated by Catholicism. Indeed, the fact is that after Christians in Western Europe separated from the Orthodox Church in the course of the eleventh century, becoming Roman Catholics, holiness seemed to dry up. Even according to the Catholic understanding of holiness, the striking fact is that there are very few 'Catholic saints'. Since the eleventh century many towns and regions of Western Europe have not even experienced a 'Catholic saint'. Their last saints were from before that time, from the Age of Orthodox Christian Western Europe. Moreover, today, Western Europe has virtually become a saint-free zone.
The Orthodox Church recognises as Western saints all those who were venerated as saints at the time, either locally in Western Europe or throughout the Orthodox world, before the middle of the eighth century. After that period, when Charlemagne came to power in 764, and up until 1054, the date of the official separation of Western Christendom from the Orthodox Church, we have to examine very carefully the lives of those who are called saints for signs among them of opposition to the Orthodox Christian Faith. If they were opposed to Orthodox Christianity, clearly they cannot be revered as saints. Such questions as the following have to be answered:
Were they honoured as saints at that time, or were they only called saints after the eleventh century separation?
Did they take part in the promulgation of iconoclasm?
Did they consciously accept the filioque and the filioquist mentality, thus rejecting the Orthodox Church and the Faith of the Seven Oecumenical Councils?
Were they accepted as saints merely because they had political links with Charlemagne?
Were they eleventh-century filioque 'pioneers' like Pope Leo IX, who, though he died in the year 1054 itself, was the originator of the Western Schism?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then these individuals cannot be accepted as saints by the Orthodox Church and venerated by the faithful. Orthodox can only venerate those who were models of the Orthodox Faith.
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. 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
Fr Andrew Phillips,
St Felix and St Edmund Church,
The Beheading of the Holy Prophet
and Forerunner John the Baptist,
29 August / 11 September 2002