St Nicholas the Wonderworker
Orthodox Tradition of Saints Canonization
The tradition of Saints Canonization differs greatly from that of the Roman Catholic Church.
The very first Saints to become Canonized were martyrs.
The main criteria for Sainthood is that if the person lived and died in such a holy way that the individual is worthy of Glorification.
The practice of Canonizing Saints for the most part, is only prevalent in the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Both of these Churches differ greatly in the theology and practice of recognizing Saints. Canonization refers to the declaration of a deceased individual to be elevated to the status of Saint and their name is included in the Canon, or list of recognized Saints.
In the Orthodox Church the belief is that the Glorification of Saints is by God and not the hierarchy of the governing Church body. God alone makes the selection of the Saint and the Church is merely affirming publicly what God has already deemed. Orthodox Theology believes that Christ, himself resides in the individual and that it is Christ that is producing such wonders. This is where the significant difference of Theology with the Roman Catholic Church begins.
Historically the very first Christians to become Sainted were known martyrs. Their self-sacrifice for Christ, without a doubt elevated them to Glorification. By the 4th century the tradition of honoring “confessors” came into practice. “Confessors” might not have died for their beliefs, but by how they lived demonstrated diligently the glorification of Christ. Several of known first “confessors”
were Saint Hilarion, and St. Ephrem the Syrian. Though there has never actually been an established or official ecclesiastical procedure for the recognition of Saints in the Orthodox Church, there is a tradition of procedure. Around the time of the 4th century it was common for the people of God at the local level to honor reposed Christians w
ith Icons, services, and festal celebrations. These would be individuals either in the Monastery, Parish, village or local church. Over time, the practice of immediately recognizing an individual without special procedures spread and became tradition in the Orthodox Church. Throughout history, the Holy Synod of a particular local church did not intervene in order to “approve” or “reject” honor given to the Saint. Their involvement was only intended for the confirming and act of entering the name of the Saint to the list of Saints, which is known as the “eggraphe eis” to Heorologion. This is needed so that the Universal Orthodox Church could sanctify and further the Saints celebration.
In recent years the tradition has changed consi
derably. There is usually a committee, and a formal investigation. The formal investigation is to verify that the individual was Orthodox in faith and led a life worthy of emulation. Hieromonk Makarious of Simonos Petra of Mount Athos is a noted theologian of the Orthodox Church on the subject of Saints. He explains that “what some people have described as “uncertain stories and legends” are, in fact, the true story of man in this relation to God that the tradition of the church brings to us in its own particular way.” Though the process might have changed over the centuries the importance of Glorification of these Saints…these individuals that God has touched and set aside, is still just as dear to the Orthodox Church today as it was in the 4th century.
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