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Concerning the Honor Due to the Saints and Their Remains

by St. John of Damascus

To the saints honor must be paid as friends of Christ, as sons and heirs of God: in the words of John the theologian and evangelist, As many as received Him, to them gave He power to became sons of God. So that they are no longer servants, but sons: and if sons, also heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ: and the Lord in the holy Gospels says to His apostles, Ye are My friends. Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth. And further, if the Creator and Lord of all things is called also King of Kings and Lord of Lord's and God of Gods, surely also the saints are gods and lords and kings. For of these God is and is called God and Lord and King. For I am the God of Abraham, He said to Moses, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. And God made Moses a God to Pharaoh. Now I mean gods and kings and lords not in nature, but as rulers and masters of their passions, and as preserving a truthful likeness to the divine image according to which they were made (for the image of a king is also called king), and as being united to God of their own free-will and receiving Him as an indweller and becoming by grace through participation with Him what He is Himself by nature. Surely, then, the worshippers and friends and sons of God are to be held in honor? For the honor shewn to the most thoughtful of fellow-servants is a proof of good feeling towards the common Master.

These are made treasuries and pure habitations of God: For I will dwell in them, said God, and walk in them, and I will be their God. The divine Scripture likewise saith that the souls of the just are in God’s hand and death cannot lay hold of them. For death is rather the sleep of the saints than their death. For they travailed in this life and shall to the end, and Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. What then, is more precious than to be in the hand of God? For God is Life and Light, and those who are in God’s hand are in life and light.

Further, that God dwelt even in their bodies in spiritual wise, the Apostle tells us, saying, Know ye not that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit dwelling in you?, and The Lord is that Spirit, and If any one destroy the temple of God, him will God destroy. Surely, then, we must ascribe honor to the living temples of God, the living tabernacles of God. These while they lived stood with confidence before God.

The Master Christ made the remains of the saints to be fountains of salvation to us, pouring forth manifold blessings and abounding in oil of sweet fragrance: and let no one disbelieve this. For if water burst in the desert from the steep and solid rock at God’s will and from the jaw-bone of an ass to quench Samson’s thirst, is it incredible that fragrant oil should burst forth from the martyrs’ remains? By no means, at least to those who know the power of God and the honor which He accords His saints.

In the law every one who toucheth a dead body was considered impure, but these are not dead. For from the time when He  that is Himself life and the Author of life was reckoned among the dead, we do not call those dead who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and in faith on Him. For how could a dead body work miracles? How, therefore, are demons driven off by them, diseases dispelled, sick persons made well, the blind restored to sight, lepers purified, temptations and troubles overcome, and how does every good gift from the Father of lights come down through them to those who pray with sure faith? How much labor would you not undergo to find a patron to introduce you to a mortal king and speak to him on your behalf? Are not those, then, worthy of honor who are the patrons of the whole race, and make intercession to God for us? Yea, verily, we ought to give honor to them by raising temples to God in their name, bringing them fruit-offerings, honoring their memories and taking spiritual delight in them, in order that the joy of those who call on us may be ours, that in our attempts at worship we may not on the contrary cause them offense. For those who worship God will take pleasure in those things whereby God is worshipped, while His shield-bearers will be wrath at those things wherewith God is wroth. In psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, in contrition and in pity for the needy, let us believers worship the saints, as God also is most worshipped in such wise. Let us raise monuments to them and visible images, and let us ourselves become, through imitation of their virtues, living monuments and images of them. Let us give honor to her who bore God as being strictly and truly the Mother of God. Let us honor also the prophet John as forerunner and baptist, as apostle and martyr, For among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist, as saith the Lord, and he became the first to proclaim the Kingdom. Let us honor the apostles as the Lord’s brothers, who saw Him face to face and ministered to His passion, for whom God the Father did foreknow He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, first apostles, second prophets, third pastors end teachers. Let us also honor the martyrs of the Lord chosen out of every class, as soldiers of Christ who have drunk His cup and were then baptized with the baptism of His life-bringing death, to be partakers of His passion and glory: of whom the leader is Stephen, the first deacon of Christ and apostle and first martyr. Also let us honor our holy fathers, the God-possessed ascetics, whose struggle was the longer and more toilsome one of the conscience: who wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; they wandered in deserts and in mountains and in dens and caves of the earth, of whom the world was not worthy. Let us honor those who were prophets before grace, the patriarchs anti just men who foretold the Lord’s coming. Let us carefully review the life of these men, and let us emulate their faith and love and hope and zeal and way of life, and endurance of sufferings and patience even to blood, in order that we may be sharers with them in their crowns of glory.

From his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book IV, Ch. 15.