Anyone entering an Orthodox
Christ and many saints. The veneration of saints is very
much alive in the Orthodox world. It
shares some of them with the Roman Catholic world (i.e., the
saints of the first millennium, before the formal separation
took place in the eleventh century in the Christian world), and
many others have been added since, including Martyrs: the most
recent being the new martyrs of the Russian Church, who lost
their lives during Communist persecutions.
An Orthodox layman
who lives in Switzerland, Claude Lopez-Ginisty has just
published a book with no equivalent in French: The Rescue of the
Saints. Dictionary of Orthodox intercessions (Vevey, Ed Xenia.
2007). Since the early centuries of
Christianity, many faithful have turned not only to the figure
of Christ, but also to the
saints, asking them for spiritual, physical
or even material help.
introduction in which the author relates how the idea for the
book came to him, many years ago, he explains how he gathered
the information presented in this volume. It
also explains that, according to Orthodox tradition, one should
see no opposition, competition or contradiction between
the intercession of saints for physical
illnesses and the use of medicine. Several saints, he explains,
have, in their own way, "collaborated"
with doctors, especially in apparently hopeless cases.
There follow 120 pages consisting
of an alphabetical
list of intercessions. These range from abscesses,
diseases of the eyes, abuse of women, hail, bleeding, bites, bee
stings, earthquakes, to sadness and many other evils or dangers.
For some cases,
dozens of names of saints are shown, each with the date of their
feast. For other problems however, only one saint seems to have
a "special" therapeutic gift.
If some of the saints are "famous", other
names, however, probably
evoke nothing to most readers - or will
encourage them to discover them while searching old books of
Lives of Saints in libraries! Finally, two appendices complete
this book, a Canon of intercession for the sick (translation of
an ancient text of the Russian Orthodox tradition) and "Psalms
Therapy" of St. Arsenios of Cappadocia (1840-1924): the saint
associated a particular therapeutic effect to each of the 150
On the occasion of the publication of the
original book, Religioscope took the opportunity to interview
the author, on both the place of saints in the Orthodox Church,
as well as the approach taken in this dictionary.
Religioscope - If one is reasonably
familiar with the glorification of saints, because of the
publicity given to some cases of canonization as practiced among
Roman Catholics, non-Orthodox are less familiar with the process
that led to the recognition of Holiness in the Orthodox Church.
How is a Saint recognized as such in the
Orthodox Church? Is
there also a « trial » during this process of canonization?
What conditions have to be met?
Claude Lopez-Ginisty - In Orthodoxy,
there is no « trial »[no Devil’s advocate] for the recognition
of saints as is currently the case in the West.
Veneration comes first from the people God, that is to say from
the faithful. The Church simply recognizes
and formalizes a practice. In the case of martyrs for the faith,
immediately follows their martyrdom.
Sometimes, for instance, the saint was known during his lifetime
to be a wonderworker and his kind act of intercession will
simply continue after his birth in heaven. Thus St. Seraphim of
Sarov, whose sanctity was already obvious during his
lifetime, had told his nuns to speak to him "as if he were
alive" when he had left the terrestrial world. But it also
happens that the saints who are known by God only, also appear
to the living. Thus in the sixties, the old, unknown martyrs of
the Church Raphael, Irene and Nicolas manifested themselves to
several inhabitants of Lesvos Island (Greece). Because of the
lack of response of the people to whom they appeared, they
continued to appear to others,
until people sought their relics and found them, by following
They had even appeared then to the
iconographer Photios Kontoglou in order for him to see their
faces, and paint their icons. And through the intercession of
these newly-appeared saints [as the Greeks call them], there
were countless miracles. It is of course, because of their
spiritual and sometimes material help, that the Saints are first
locally recognized by popular enthusiasm and gratitude, their
reputation thereafter magnified and going far beyond their place
of veneration, that the bishop may "formalize" their veneration.
Sometimes this veneration passes from one diocese to a whole
country before becoming universal. When the church formalizes
veneration, a ceremony takes place called “glorification”. The
saint then has a liturgical office, which is written for him so
that he may be included in the official liturgical books of the
Universal Orthodox Church.
Religioscope - Do Orthodox distinguish
categories i.e. "blessed" and "saints," etc and are there
several steps in the recognition of holiness by the Orthodox
Claude Lopez-Ginisty - There are no degrees in holiness.
Sometimes there is a local veneration and afterwards the saint
becomes known and venerated by all Orthodox churches, but there
is no gradation. The names and terms applied to the saints in
Greek or Russian for example, designate the type of holiness
rather than a "grade" in the Church or a step towards complete
sanctification. Thus in Greek the term used is Aghios/Aghia for
all saints, but sometimes the term Osios/Osia replaces it,
because one wants to emphasize the fact that the saint was a
monk or a recluse. The term “Blazheniy” used in Russian, which
is translated as “blessed” has nothing to do with a step of
sanctification, it is simply the “fool-for-Christ” quality in
the saint which is being emphasized.
Religioscope - And are there certain specific types of
holiness in Orthodox spirituality?
Claude Lopez-Ginisty - It seems that “Foolishness-for-Christ”
is a unique Orthodox characteristic. The “yourodiv” (in Russian)
or “salos” (in Greek) indeed represent a kind of holiness
particular to Orthodoxy. The renunciation of the world by this
kind of saint is radical. Fools-for-Christ give up everything,
and self-denial is the highest “podvig” [spiritual feat] since
they feign madness and show a total disregard for their
appearance and convenience, taking seriously only the Heavenly
Kingdom. Exiled from common reason, their foolishness is a
perpetual praise to God. They seem simple-minded, but they are
better than the wise of the world and behind the painful mask
of madness, they can expose the flaws of society where they live
and sometimes scold rulers and bring them back to reason.
of the apostle Paul explain their asceticism: "Let no man
deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this
world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. (I Cor 3.18).
But this « madness » in Christ is a heavy cross and only the
strong can take it upon their shoulders.
In the twentieth century, one of these
fools-for-Christ lived among us in Europe and in Paris in
particular: Archbishop John Maximovitch. He often looked unkempt;
he scandalized the priests because he
came to church barefoot, having given his shoes to someone who
needed them. Children loved him. Catholics
had him as an
example: they had nicknamed him St. John the Barefoot! He only
slept a few hours in an armchair. He prayed for thousands
of people every day. When he died, one of his
spiritual sons said he would not be able to find anyone to
replace him. He would call him at night to tell him to stop
praying because God had heard his prayers! His body lies
incorrupt in the Russian Cathedral in San Francisco.
He performed miracles on every
The other type of holiness which appears to
be specific to the Orthodox Church is the saint said «to
have suffered the Passion» (in Russian Strastoterpiets,
Pierre-Pascal translated this expression with the term
Passion-Sufferer). The Russian saints Boris and Gleb who
were killed without defending themselves rather than taking arms
against their brother Svyatopolk, are a perfect example of this
type of holiness. They were just like lambs led to
the slaughterhouse. They were a Christ figure.
Religioscope - The veneration of
persons considered to be exceptional and holy, is present in
many traditions, not only in Christianity. However, some
believers think this veneration is suspicious and they equate it
with superstition, probably even more so when the one who prays
a saint in waiting for a benefit in return. How does the
Orthodox Christian tradition justify this practice?
Claude Lopez-Ginisty - Formerly the
French language did not refer to death, but to “natalice”; this
came from the Latin term “dies natalis”, meaning “day of birth”!
The birth referred to was birth in heaven, when someone
left the earthly world. Many have lost that
perspective in the "no God's land" of our time. Death is
the door to eternal life, not an end, but a beginning.
The "dead" do not sleep as claimed by certain
human traditions; they are alive differently and elsewhere (if
not, then how could Christ meet Elijah and Moses on Mount Tabor
and why would the early Christians get baptized for their
dead?). The bonds of love, friendship and support that have
developed on earth pass through the ordeal of death and
continue. Prayer is not set in Time, it is in Eternity. When we
pray, we are only in this limited world of the body and in the
midst of tangible appearances.
Thus, those who led a pious life on this earth continue
to do so in heaven. The saints who were
already living on earth “in the spirit” are in the Kingdom more
inclined and willing to continue their work after they are
born in heaven.
intercession of saints is attested early in the second century.
After the martyrdom of St. Ignatius
the God-Bearer, the witnesses of his martyrdom came home.
And many of them saw him in their
sleep. He blessed them and they heard him
pray for them. The intercession
of saints is a fact. In the 1990s, in the USA, a young addict
was dying of an overdose. He had on his bedside table a
Bible. He took it and called
out to God with a loud cry of despair.
A man with a long beard appeared, dressed in black. This man
spoke to him a long time, reassured him and calmed him.
He knew his name only: Ephraim.
He escaped death and began to try and
discover who could be the mysterious visitor who had pulled him
out of darkness. After much research, it turned out that St.
Ephraim the newly-appeared
monk who had comforted him. He converted and
became Orthodox. Saint Ephraim is a martyr
monk (+ 1425) who was revealed in 1950 by appearing to a nun to
reveal her who he was, and where he was martyred. His
body is now venerated in Nea Makri in Attica (Greece).
There are many other such examples which show
that saints are alive and that they care
about our lives, and have compassion for us. It may be useful to
add that we do not worship saints and we do not pray to them, we
ask for their prayers, their intercession, which is a different
thing. Since the Church is in eternity, She does not know the
barriers of Time or Space, thus we can continue to seek
spiritual help from someone who is in the eternity of the
Church, the same way that we ask for material or spiritual
assistance from our loved ones who are alive on earth. Saints
are even closer to God; they are friends of Christ, and our
friends too, in a bond of friendship that is immeasurably
fruitful in God. And we do not consider them as gods: St. Symeon
the New Theologian says that we use a Kandyla [vigil lamp] that
illuminates the icons of saints to show that without the Light
that is Christ, saints are nothing. Only the light of Christ
makes them come alive and bright!
"We live together with them [the saints] in the house of the
Heavenly Father, but in different places. We live on
earth, they are in heaven, but we converse with them and they
with us," says St. John of Kronstadt.
Religioscope - What are the reasons
that lead to an association with a saint, for a particular
intercession for the relief of a specific type of problem? We
can assume that this is generally related to the circumstances
or life experiences of the character ...
Claude Lopez-Ginisty - It is difficult to respond
in a categorical way. Sometimes it's
actually something in life or the kind of martyrdom that
determine the saint's intercession,
but all cephalophores (those who were beheaded and carried their
heads) are not asked for the relief of headaches. Sometimes it
is the paretymology (which would link the saint's name and the
intercession concerned), but it is not always so... Thus St.
Blaise of Sebaste is traditionally invoked in the world for a
sore throat, in Germany, because his name is close to the word
for bladder, it is invoked for diseases that affect this organ.
In the Slavic folk tradition, the prophet Nahum is invoked to
open the mind ... because “na oum” means for the spirit
in these languages.
It is likely that for most of the intercessions, someone first
used a saint for a particular
”problem" and having been heard, he then spread the news,
and so, the saint was gradually "specialised"! But God's mercy
is great and the link that you can have with the saints is
not an artificial link or an intellectual one, it is a real
relationship. These friendships with holy people are strong
and faithful and, by knowing them better, we come to know that
we can ask them to intercede for all our afflictions...
The saints on earth knew that Christ was present in each of
their brothers; they loved them with the love that Christ
had manifested to them. With Christ, they still show
their love for Him by continuing their work on earth.
"All fathers who have fallen asleep before
us, support us with their prayer. They are concerned about the
salvation of men, and through their intercession before God,
they help, "says Origen.
They intercede for what tradition has assigned them as a special
charisma, but they respond to our needs, whatever they are; they
are before the throne of God and through
them, God certainly answers us, and He does so forever.
When it comes to the intercession of the saints, by necessity,
they are thought to mainly intercede for various diseases, but
all Orthodox Christians have spiritual friendships outside
any particular context of illness or specific requests. There
are saints whom we venerate for their natural spiritual presence
and assistance in our prayer, saints whose intercession is sweet
and valuable, because sometimes we pray, not in order to ask for
anything, but to be with them and to taste for an eternal
moment, the pure taste of a spiritual communion. These praying
meetings are the crossroads of eternity, the foretaste of the
future life to which we aspire in our soul.
Religioscope - You also give a short list of
saints who intercede for all diseases.
Claude Lopez-Ginisty -It is the list
of Anargyri [the Unmercenary ones]; these saints were physicians
who treated people without asking for payment. The list given
was that of a popular Greek icon. The best known unmercenary
saints are St. Panteleimon (Pantaleon in the West) and Saints
Cosmas and Damian. In this list is also included Euprepius
(sometimes called Eutropius - that's how Father Justin Popovich
calls him in his Lives of Saints) who was not actually Anargyros,
but who suffered martyrdom
with Anargyri. The Anargyri had and still have in the East, the
fame that the
Auxiliary Saints had in the West. Some are also in both
Religioscope – Have some cases that
you have met surprised or puzzled you?
Claude Lopez-Ginisty - When I wrote the first version
(English) of my book, in addition to the Synaxaria, collections
of numerous Lives of Saints of every age and every country which
I had access to, and above all, the help of Hegumen Dorotheos of
Greece and of Russian friends who helped me in my search for
Slavic saints, I read some recent books published in France that
really frightened me. I will not mention them.
Written in haste, and certainly wanting to
cover all possible requests of "potential customers" these
booklets mingled dangerous nonsensical forgeries with
genuine intercessions; they were often close to bad taste and
blasphemy. One should not play with holy things.
In that research, nothing seemed really
weird. I was lucky, when I became Orthodox, some thirty-five
years after being received into the Church in the Monastery of
Saint Nicolas de la Dalmerie [this last term meaning Lady Mary,
i.e. the Most Pure Theotokos] in southern France. Having never
had any religious instruction, I had a fresh look at faith and
at the saints. In the chapel where I became Orthodox, there was
a fresco representing the Holy Archbishop John Maximovich whose
incorrupt body is in San Francisco. This is the first
saint I met and really "studied". I have
who knew him. He had ordained the Hegumen
who received me into
the Orthodox Church. Later I met many other people who knew him.
When I read his life and the amazing miracles he performed, I
was trained in some way, to read the lives of other saints
without being too sceptical. If St. John had achieved so many
and wonderful things, when I read the lives I was reading, since
they were transmitted by the Church, I could trust them as I
could trust what people who had known St. John, told me about
his life and his spiritual feats... Having witnessed tangible
manifestations of the saints during some visits to Greece
[myrrh-gushing icons in particular], I firstly consider
seriously any spiritual manifestation, but nevertheless, I
reserve my discernment and "fabrications", false miracles,
abuse, exaggerations, become obvious to my trained mind.
However, it's hard to explain...
To come to what puzzled me: it is precisely
the miracle of intercession of the saints...
A saint whose intercession is particularly
evident to me is St. Menas. It was at the monastery of
St. John the Baptist in Maldon (England) that I first heard
about him. I had lost something and I
was desperate... A monk told me to ask for the intercession of
St. Menas, and added that it was Father Sophrony who had taught
them [the monks] to do so, in case they ever lost something...
Every time that I have asked him to pray for me, I have been
heard in an incredible and incomprehensible way (and yet it did
work!).When I call on him, I venerate his icon, I ask him to
help me and I forget everything, I proceed to do something else.
Sometimes I suddenly stop what I started, and take myself to
another place, as if I were invisibly guided to find what I was
looking for, sometimes in the most unbelievable places, or
where, several times, I had spent lots of time and energy
carefully searching that place for what I had lost. The
presence of St. Menas is tangible.
Religioscope – Are most holy
intercessors ancient saints or are there new types of
intercessions that relate to recent saints?
Religioscope - Reading your book encourages further
questions about the relationship between Christianity and
health, faith and healing. From saints to the technology of
medicine... there seems to be a big gap for the modern man! Is
any type of therapeutic practice legitimate for the Orthodox
Church and Her saints, or are there
Claude Lopez-Ginisty - It is obvious that ancient saints
are the most numerous, but there are many modern saints who are
invoked for new diseases. Saint Nectarios of
Aegina, a saint of the twentieth century, is much relied upon by
people with cancer, which is the disease of our times, exactly
as what was called fever (which could cover many other diseases
not identified by the science of the time, but had fever in
common) in the Middle Ages. In my lists, his intercession is
A new Russian martyr, St. Michael of Kiev is invoked for eye
diseases. There will certainly be other intercessions that
will be revealed in the future for saints that God alone knows
at the moment.
Claude Lopez-Ginisty - Saints have invented the hospital
as I said in the preface to my book. Saint Nectarios of Aegina
whom I have already mentioned, was a powerful wonderworker, and
yet he sent his nuns to the doctor, and he would only apply
spiritual remedies when medicine was powerless. It is not absurd
to have the medicine of men operate in synergy with the
therapy of God though His saints. A friend, who is a monk in
Greece, told me that his grandmother was in hospital and had
to undergo an eye operation. The day before the operation, the
doctor came to see her and talk to her along with a colleague,
and said he did not know how to proceed because the operation
was delicate. During the night saints Cosmas and Damian
appeared in a dream, they deposited the box of ointment with
which they are represented on their icons, and they made it
clear how to proceed.
In the morning the woman spoke to the surgeon about that vision.
He was a pious man: he listened carefully and followed the
advice of his Unmercenary colleagues.
And the operation was successful.
Regarding the limitations that the Church would assign to
medicine, I am not an expert on ethical issues that affect this
area. Modern man seeks immortality, not eternal life, because he
does not really believe in the resurrection of the dead.
No longer believing in it, he must find a tangible substitute
for what he no longer believes in.
He then turns to science or medicine and looks for a solution at
any price, be it immortality or at least a quick and painless
Research is not prohibited, but is all research desirable?
Bishop Luke, a surgeon recently glorified by the Patriarchate
of Moscow and who lived in the previous century, was among the
first surgeons in the world to engage in xenografts.
However, there must be limits to those Christians who believe
that "I was cast by Thee from the womb: Thou art my God, from
my mother's belly" in the words of the psalmist and God decides
when we go back to Him. Father Stanley Harakas in his book on
Christian Orthodox Ethics (Orthodox Christian Ethics, Light and
Life Publ. Co., USA, 1993) raises issues that I consider
essential: "What kind of medicine would receive the preference
of people who refuse mortality? Perhaps a medicine that kills...
A physician who helps his patients die: is he not - for medicine
- what a confessor is –for the Church -.who would betray the
secret of confession?
" (Op. cit. P. 129).
I do know that in the case of transplants, saints can be
useful ... One of my close acquaintances had to undergo a type
of transplant (cornea transplant) which has been
commonplace practice for decades.
This transplant was a painful problem of conscience to him.
his scruples to the hegumen of a monastery in France, the latter
showed him an icon representing a miracle by Saints Cosmas and
Damian in Rome, together with the story of the miracle. In the
latter, the Saints appeared to recommend that a member of
a deceased man be transplanted onto a man who had a great need
for the transplant. This allowed him to deal with the
operation with more serenity, and a spiritual bond also
developed between the donor and the recipient of his gift, for
he has been praying for him/her ever since.