Until recent centuries nobody had a surname. Historically, surnames are an invention of convenience, which began at earliest during the Middle Ages, often after them. Indeed, in the Church surnames still do not exist. Thus, bishops are known not by their surnames, but by the names of their dioceses, to which, having left the world, they are 'married'. In monasteries monks are not known by their surnames. There, where there is confusion, an obedience or a physical trait replaces the surname thus: Fr John the Gardener, Fr John the Icon-Painter, Fr John the Short, Fr John the Young etc. Even parish priests are not known by their surnames. I am not Fr Phillips, but Fr Andrew. And in our prayers for others, as at baptism, confession, communion and all the other sacraments, we are known not by our surnames, but by our Christian names. (A term to be valued, since political correctness is now trying to suppress it).

Furthermore, the saints do not have surnames. Instead of surnames, saints have titles. (There is, as far as I know, only one exception to this, the case of St Gregory Palamas. Palamas was the saint's surname). A few generations ago, when Orthodox cultures were still strong, this was well-known, for the favourite reading (or listening) of Orthodox Christians was always the Lives of the Saints. Then, many knew the titles of the saints, by which we distinguish them. What exactly are these titles?

Distinguishing the Saints by Outward Identity

Firstly, there are those saints whose titles distinguish a physical trait. These are very few in number, for instance, St John the Dwarf (9 November), St Moses the Black (so called, as he was Ethiopian, on 28 August), or St Stephen the Tall (19 July).

Secondly, there are many more saints who acquired titles from the places they lived in or else came from. Some very famous early examples include: St Mary Magdalene (from the village of Magdala), St Joseph of Arimathea, St Denis the Areopagite (from the Areopagus in Athens), St John and St Peter Damascene (from Damascus). More recent, but also well-known examples include: St Seraphim of Sarov, St John of Kronstadt, St Nectarius of Aigina and St Silvanus the Athonite (following St Athanasius the Athonite and St Peter the Athonite)

Thirdly, there are those saints who have received a title from their nationality. This is not common and generally only applies to those saints who lived or worked outside their own country. Instances include: St James the Persian, St Sabbas the Goth and St Nicetas the Goth, St Isaac the Syrian and St Ephraim the Syrian (who all lived among Greeks), St Mary the Egyptian (often incorrectly called 'of Egypt' - she lived of course in what is now the Jordan), St Procopius the Czech (also called of Sazava, his monastery, which is in Hungary), St Moses the Hungarian (who lived in Kievan Russia), St Paraskeva the Serb (who lived in the Jordan), St Antony the Roman and St Macarius the Roman (Italians who lived in Russia), St Maximus the Greek (who lived in Italy and Russia) and St John, St Paul and St Constantius the Russians (all martyred under the Ottomans).

Finally, there is a larger group of saints who acquired a title from their occupation. Among these are: St Justin the Philosopher, St Ardalion the Actor and St Porphyrius the Actor, St Longinus and St Cornelius the Centurions. The title 'the soldier' is granted to St John, St Marcellus, St Marinus, St Michael, St Nicholas and others, while St Andrew, St Meletius, St Sabbas and St Theodore are all called 'Commanders' ('Stratelates') and another St Theodore is called 'the Recruit' ('Tiron'). Then there are St Conon the Gardener, St Euphrosynus the Cook, St Theodulus the Slave and St Alexander the Slave, St Mark the Gravedigger, St Simeon the Reteller ('Metaphrastes'), St Nicholas the Secretary ('Mystikos'), St Nestor the Chronicler, St Joseph the Hymnographer and St Roman the Melodist. More surprisingly there is also St Barbarus the Robber.

Distinguishing the Saints by Inward Identity (Spiritual Charisma)

Naturally, however, the largest group of saints received their titles from spiritual charismas. Thus, from the Old Testament we have Patriarchs, Prophets and Prophetesses. Specifically, there is the Holy Prophet Moses, given the title 'the God-Seer'. The Patriarch Job is given the title 'the Righteous' (also shared by several other later saints, for example St Artemius the Righteous on 20 October).

From the first days of the New Testament we have the unique term 'the Most Holy', 'the Most Pure', 'Birthgiver of God' ('Theotokos') and 'Ever-Virgin Mary' (never simply St Mary). We also have the unique, threefold title 'the Holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist', given to the Baptiser of Christ. The title 'the Betrothed' (and also 'the Righteous') is given to Joseph, the Guardian of the Mother of God and Christ-Child. Similarly, the Righteous Simeon is known uniquely as 'the God-Receiver'.

Other figures from the New Testament have different titles. Thus the Apostle Andrew is called 'the First-Called', since he was called to be an apostle before all others, including the Apostle Peter. The first miracle at Cana in Galilee is associated with Simon, known as 'the Zealot'. Ignatius 'the God-Bearer', later a disciple of John the Theologian, is said to be that child whom Christ picked up, appealing to his disciples to become 'as little children' (Mt 18, 2-3). Lazarus is known as Lazarus 'of the Four Days', since he had been dead for four days when he was resurrected (Jn 11, 39). Then there are Mary and Martha, Mary Cleopas, Salome, Joanna and Susanna, known as 'the Myrrh-Bearers'. Then come of course the Four 'Evangelists', Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Later followers of Christ are called 'Equal-to-the Apostles'. These include both men and women, for example St Abercius or St Nina of Georgia. Still later apostles are usually known as 'Enlighteners', for example St Gregory, Enlightener of Armenia or St Nicholas of Tokyo, Enlightener of Japan. The very first martyrs are called 'Protomartyrs'. This means St Stephen and, among women, St Thecla, a disciple of the Apostle Paul. It is the term 'Martyr' which is of course by far the most common title of the saints, followed perhaps by 'Hieromartyr'. We should not, however, overlook the title 'Passion-Bearer' for those who suffered innocently, such as Sts Boris and Gleb in Kievan Russia. In more recent centuries, all over the world there have appeared 'New-Martyrs' - reminding us that the time of martyrdom is far from over.

Other titles express roles or ways of life in the Church. These include those who confessed the Orthodox Faith, known as 'the Confessor' (for example, St Basil on 28 February, St George on 7 April, or the best known St Maximus on 21 January), 'the Deacon' (St Benjamin on 13 October or St Vincent on 11 November), 'the Deaconess' (St Olympia on 25 July), 'the Archdeacon' (St Laurence of Rome on 10 August), 'Priest' (St Andrew on 21 September or St Hermas on 4 November), 'Bishop', 'Metropolitan', 'Patriarch', 'Pope', 'King', 'Empress' and so forth. A rare title is that of 'Teachers', conferred on Sts Cyril and Methodius. A much more common one is 'the Wonderworker'. There are also 'the Ascetic' (for example, St Mark on 5 March), 'the Faster' (among others, St James on 4 March or St Hesychius on 5 March), 'the Hermit' (for instance St Theodore on 5 June or St John on 29 March), 'the Hesychast' (St Gregory on 7 December or St Nicephorus on 4 May), 'the Hospitable' (St Sampson on 27 June). Then, more commonly, there is 'the Merciful' (St John on 12 November, St Paulinus on 23 January, St Peter on 22 September, St Philaret on 1 December, or St Theophanes on 29 September).

Other titles express other paths to holiness. For instance, there are 'the Stylite' (St Alypius, St Daniel, St Luke, or St Simeon), 'the Fool-for-Christ' (among many others, St Andrew, St Basil, St Isidora, St Isidore, St Nicholas, or St Thomas), 'the Virgin' (St Cercyra, St Juliana, St Justina, or St Paula), 'the Preacher of Repentance' (St Nikon on 26 November), and 'the Blessed'. Conversely, the title 'the Myrrh-Giver (St Nil on 12 November) is bestowed on those whose holy relics give out myrrh - the result of holiness. A rare title is 'the Man of God', shared by St Alexis and St Nicetas. Unique titles are 'of the Ladder' (St John of the Ladder), 'Chrysostom' - 'the Golden Mouth', given to St John Chrysostom, and 'the Victorious', given to the Great-Martyr George. The title 'the Sanctified' is shared by St Sabbas and St Theodore and 'the Branded' is shared by the two tortured brothers, St Theodore and St Theophanes. Finally, with so many saints, there now many who bear the title 'the New', in order to distinguish them from their more ancient namesakes.

Distinguishing the Saints by Spiritual Greatness

The greatest saints have the greatest titles. Thus the title 'the Theologian' (or 'the Divine') is shared by an elite of only three saints: St John the Evangelist, St Gregory the Theologian and St Simeon the New Theologian. It is sobering to think that no saint has earned this title since the eleventh century.

As regards the title 'the Great', it is shared by a small number of saints, including: St Antony (17 January), St Arsenius, St Athanasius (18 January), St Barsanuphius, St Basil (1 January), St Euthymius (20 January), St Hilarion, St Joannicus, St Macarius (19 January), St Onuphrius, St Pachomius, St Paisius, St Pimen, St Sisoes and St Thedosius (11 January). True, in the Greek Church the title 'the Great' is also given to St Constantine and sometimes to St Photius. As regards Western Orthodox, there is the case of St Gregory. Although he is known in the East as 'the Dialogist' after the title of his book 'The Dialogues', his Western title has always been 'the Great'. This would make a total of only seventeen saints who hold the title 'the Great'.

It is interesting to notice that both St Athanasius and St Basil are given this title rather than that of 'the Theologian'. It is also remarkable that many of the others with this title are the great monastic founders, several are feasted in January and many lived to great old age, for instance, St Antony lived until he was 106, St Theodosius 105, St Arsenius 100, St Euthymius 97, St Joannicus 94 and St Hilarion, St Onuphrius, St Pimen and St Sisoes all reposed in extreme old age. No saint has earned the title 'the Great' in the second millennium

Finally, there is the title 'the Great-Martyr'. This title given to men and women alike, again only in the first millennium. There are: St Anastasia, St Artemius, St Barbara, St Catherine, St Dimitrius, St Euphemia, St Eustace, St George, St Irene, St Menas, St Mercurius, St Panteleimon, St Procopius.

We may wonder if others will not yet receive the titles of 'the Theologian', 'the Great' or at least 'the Great-Martyr'. I well remember discussing this question with the late Archbishop Antony of Los Angeles in Paris, in 1990 or 1991. He had wanted St Elizabeth the New Martyr to be given the title of 'Great-Martyr' but other bishops in Synod had argued against it. Time will tell if his view will yet be justified.


The custom of using the titles for the saints is now being extended both in space and in time. Firstly, there are the countless 'new' saints, in particular the New-Martyrs. Also St Peter the Aleut, martyred by Franciscan monks in California, has also been given the title 'Protomartyr' by some. The Chinese New-Martyrs of 1901 are also called 'the Protomartyrs of China'. Also, it is not yet clear what title will be fixed for St Justin of Chelije (the Righteous?, the Philosopher?, the Confessor?). Similarly, his compatriot St Nicholas of Zhicha is also called 'the Serbian Chrysostom'. Will this title be commonly adopted? St Maxim of Gorlice (+ 1914) has also been called 'the New Martyr'. St Alexis (Kabaliuk) (+ 1947), canonized only recently, is generally called 'the Apostle of the Carpathians'. St John 'of Shanghai' is called 'of Western Europe' of 'San Francisco', or simply 'the Wonderworker', according to the place where he is venerated. As yet there seems to be no formal consensus on this.

Secondly, there are also the locally venerated saints in the West, whose ancient titles have generally been adopted - or else adapted. Most simply bear the title of the place in which they achieved holiness. Thus we have, St Hilary of Poitiers, St Julian of Le Mans, St Ambrose of Milan, St Genevieve of Paris, St Vincent of Lerins, St Isidore of Seville, St Audrey of Ely etc.

Others have special titles. These include: St Alban the Protomartyr of Britain, St Martin the Merciful (of Tours), St Brendan the Voyager, St Gregory and St Augustine, Apostles (also Teachers) of the English, St Erconwald, the Light of London, St Felix, Apostle of East Anglia (whose feet trod these shores), St Theodore of Tarsus, St Cuthbert, Wonderworker of Britain, St Edward the Passion-Bearer, St Dunstan of Canterbury and so on.

We hope that the above remarks will inspire our readers to discover more about the saints of God, to discover more about who are truly 'Great'.

Fr Andrew

The After-Liturgy Talk of 5/18 December 2005
St Sabbas the Sanctified

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