Orthodox America


  What does "Glorification" Mean?


by Fr. Alexy Young

Many know that the word "canonization" is a Roman Catholic term having to do with the process by which the Church of Rome formally declares a person to be among -the blessed in Heaven. Very few are familiar with the term "Glorification." Some think it is merely the "Orthodox" word for canonization, especially since the term "canonization" has sometimes been used in translations from Greek or Russian. But the words are not really equivalent; they actually refer to. two different things.

The ceremony of canonization in the Ro man Catholic Church occurs after very lengthy investigations in which the life of the candidate for sainthood has been put "On trial" before Church authorities. He has a "promoter" (much like a defense attorney) and a "devil's advocate" (similar to a prosecutor). Between the promoter and the devil's advocate the life, works, piety, and miracles of the candidate are carefully weighed, as though on scales , in hearings soimetimes lasting many-long years and usually costing many thousands of dollars. If the evidence. is predominantly in favor of the candidate, the. Pope then publicly declares him to. be a saint; if the evidence weighs against the candidate, the cause for his sainthood is quietly dropped. Canonization and sainthood in-the Catholic Church have a great deal to do with legal understanding of virtue and sanctity and are of course tied up with the Roman Catholic doctrines of merit and supernumerary works.

In the Orthodox Church, however, there- is no legalistic weighing of evidence and examination of- merits., What, then, is the process by which a saint is given public recognition in the Orthodox Church ,. and why is the culminating act of this process called "Glorification"?

In the early Church, a martyr's death inspired Christians to at once begin venerating and praying to such holy men and women. Miracles worked in answer to prayer and from contact with these martyrs' relics further confirmed their sanctity. Then, when men and women began to go to the desert in - order to live' lives of voluntary martyrdom, Christians instantly recognized the exceptional holiness of these ascetics and revered their memory The consciousness of the whole-- Church at-that time, both clergy and laity, was inspired by the Holy Spirit to invoke these ascetics and martyrs as those who particularly pleased God by the righteousness of their lives -and deaths; these formed that "cloud of witnesses" whose prayers "availeth much" (James 5:16)., These was no single, formal, public recognition of these saints. After all, a person is in heaven whether or not the Church on earth makes a declaration about it.

Blessed Archbishop John Maximovitch explains what happened next in the experience of the Church:

"The choir-of saints pleasing to God grew unceasingly; in every place where there were Christians there appeared also its own ascetics. However, the general life of Christians began to decline; spiritual burning began to grow faint; there was no longer that clear sense of what Divine righteousness is. And so the general consciousness of the faithful could not always distinguish who was a righteous man and pleasing to God. In some places there appeared dubious persons who by false ascetic exploits attracted a part of the flock. For this reason the Church authority began to keep watch over the veneration of saints, showing concern to guard the flocks from superstition. The life of ascetics revered by the faithful began to be investigated, and the accounts of miracles to be verified. Towards the -time' of the Baptism of Russia (988 A.D.), it had -already been established that the acknowledgment of a new saint was to be performed by Church authority... After all, the Church authority only testified of sanctity. righteous men become saints not by the decree of the earthly Church authority, but by the mercy and grace of God(1 ("The Orthodox Word", Vol.5, No.5).

And so, in order to prevent -the piety of simple people from being exploited, the higher Church authorities, usually the bishops of a given hierarchy, guard over -and guide the procedures leading-to final, full, and public recognition of saints. Thus, in the case of St. Herman of Alaska, St.. John of Kronstadt, and Blessed Xenia of Petersburg, after there had-. already been a long-standing private devotion to these saints among Orthodox believers, the bishops requested a formal in vestigation into the lives and -miracles of these saints, in order to determine their sanctity for the whole of the Russian Church. This is not, however, a "test" of righteous ness, but a search for and collecting of information about holiness, which rises far above simple righteousness. When, in the fullness of God's- time, it is apparent to the Church authorities that an individual's- life and works have been filled with-the grace and glory of God, the bishops-commission the writing of a service to that saint the painting of an icon, and the establishment of a feast day on the calendar.

The actual "Glorification" of a saint takes place on a predetermined day (sometimes the actual feast day of. the saint), either throughout the whole Russian Church Abroad at the same time, or in one particular cathedral, where as many hierarchs and clergy as possible gather for the solemnities. Prior to an All-night Vigil a final Requiem (Pannikhida) is served for the saint; his family, and all those down throughout the years (and some times centuries) who kept alive his memory.

On- the following morning, after Divine Liturgy, the official icon of the saint is unveiled for the first time and carried in procession, and the hymn of magnification or Glorification" takes -place. - From this time forth we no longer pray for the repose of their souls; rather, we ask them to intercede for us, as friends of God standing before His throne.

To "Glorify" the saints is to bestow honor and praise on them. Why? Because they are already honored by God, and so filled with His grace that, as Archbishop John has writ ten, "it flows from them upon those who associate with them." -They have become "Christlike"-and all those seeking Christ, and loving Him, instantly recognize this quality in the saints and are drawn to them for this Very reason. St. Symepn 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."

At this time our Russian bishops feel it is their duty to publicly proclaim as saints those - righteous ones, like the New Martyrs of the Soviet Yoke, who' are already being revered by - Orthodox Christians behind the Iron Curtain who cannot themselves openly praise and invoke these martyrs. May a1l of us who cannot be present at the official Glorification ceremonies of the New Martyrs in New York on November 1, join ourselves spiritually to that wondrous event - by attending Divine Liturgy in our home parishes on that day and receiving our Divine Lord in Holy Communion. In such unity with Him we will have unity also with them and par take, if only in a small measure, of God's grace which so abundantly pours forth from these saints of the latter times

"We, Orthodox Christians today, are perishing! We need the New Martyrs to call us to authentic spiritual life'. They touch in us something so deep and elemental that our souls and minds,, made shallow by modern 'enlightenment', can scarcely grasp it; and yet we know it.

"Let us join their army in the march to eternal bliss, making the resolve to stand for the Truth even unto the death of the body. This stand, if only we knew it, contains the secret to the deepest happiness possible on earth, because it is natural for the soul created by God

"Let us listen to the cry of the New Martyrs! Let us hear their clarion call and follow their beacon and become, in the words of St. Herman: 'True Christians: warriors fighting our way through the regiments of -the unseen enemy to our Heavenly Homeland.' Amen."

(The Orthodox Word, Vol. 10, No. 6)

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