Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Digital Books

 

The intercessions of the Saints

French Title: "Le Secours des Saints"

Book by: Sub-deacon Claude Lopez-Ginisty

A Dictionary of Orthodox intercessions 
Editions Xenia, Vevey. Switzerland. 2007, 170 p. 

 

An interview with the author of the book, Sub-deacon Claude Lopez-Ginisty, by the first Christian Orthodox Website of Switzerland, in which he provides insight on the place of the Saints in the Orthodox Church and their role in the lives of the faithful.


Anyone entering an Orthodox church will
immediately notice icons portraying 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. 

After an 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 had associated a particular therapeutic effect to each of the 150 psalms.

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. 

 

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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, veneration 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 their instructions.

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 Church? 

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 “Fool
ishness-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.

The words 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 single continent. 

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 up 
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. 

The 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 was that 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 th
at the Auxiliary Saints had in the West. Some are also in both categories! 

Religioscope – Have some cases th
at 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
Andros in 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 known people 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 incredible 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? 

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 mentioned
for incurable diseases. 

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.

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 incompatibilities, limitations?... 

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 death. 

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. Having mentioned 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. 

 

Article published in English on: 10-7-2011.

Last update: 10-7-2011.

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