A Few Remarks on the Traditional Procedure for the Recognition of Saints in Orthodoxy
by Archimandrite Cyprian
1. The sacred Tradition of our most holy Orthodox Church has never
established any official ecclesiastical procedure for the recognition
2. Initially, it was the common conscience of the pious People of God
at the local level (that of the monastery, parish, village, city, province, or
local Church) that would immediately, spontaneously, and unanimously accord
honors to a reposed Christian with Icons, services, and festal celebrations, to
which common conscience were known his or her holy manner of life and gift of
boldness before God, as well as the miracles worked through his or her
intercessions, whereby he or she was shown to be a protector and benefactor of,
and consolation for, the Faithful.
3. This immediate recognition of the holiness of a particular
Christian, without any special procedures and on the basis of local knowledge of
his or her life, gradually spread, over the course of time, and entered into the
universal life of the Church.
4. Right up to the Fall of Constantinople, the spontaneous honoring of the
Saints at a local level occurred without the mediation of the Church
authorities; whenever the authorities did interveneand this was very rare, in
any case, such action was of a corroborative and proclamatory
5. That is to say, the Holy Synod of a particular Church did not intervene in
order to approve or reject the honor given to a Saint, but for the purpose of
what was already existent and in effectnamely, the local knowledge of someones
holiness, proclaiming this in a solemn ceremony (diakeryxis)
and entering his or her name in the list of Saints (eggraphe
eis to Heortologion), so as to inform the universal Church of his or
her sanctity and to further his or her celebration (katholike
6. The continuous maintenance of this tradition attests, in and of itself,
that impugning or hindering the immediate and spontaneous according of honors to
Saints revealed by God, before this is officially appointed by the Church
authorities, is not a correct practice. It unquestionably constitutes an
innovation, deriving, indeed, whether unconsciously or directly, from influences
alien to the Church; namely, from Papism, the influence of which has been and,
unfortunately, continues to be most pronounced chiefly in the Russian
Churchespecially with regard to the subject at hand, and specifically with
regard to the rite or service for proclaiming a Saint [the
service of canonization, to use the more common word, which is taken directly
from Roman Catholicism; or Glorification, to use a more proper, but also not
wholly accurate termTrans.].
7. On the basis of this more recent practice, the question of whether a Saint
should be honored depends more, or even exclusively, on the findings of a
committee, and the decisive criterion is a minute examination of a Saints
life, and not that of the common conscience of the pious People, who
alone have the power to grant immediate recognition to a Saint and to
keep his veneration alive throughout the centuries.
8. In conclusion, and by way of rounding off this brief overview of the issue
of the recognition of Saints, the following points should be made, so
that the hazardous policy stemming from the aforementioned innovative practice
might be avoided:
a. Within the bosom of the Church there have lived persons richly endowed
with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but who have not been honored as Saints by
the Faithful or promoted as such by the Church, although her conscience has
always recognized them as outstanding members of the body ecclesiastic.
b. It is God alone Who decides who among the outstanding and
indisputably saved members of the Church is to be honored as a Saint. It is He
Who will enrich a Saint with the gift of boldness in prayer and miracles after
his repose, thereby revealing His servant, in an exceptionally special way, to
be a protector and benefactor of, as well as consolation for, His People.
c. The exceptional gifts of intercessory boldness and wonderworking after
death, which are causally connected, constitute the unique and particular
hallmarks of a Saint, which distinguish him from the other outstanding
members of the Church.
d. Ignoring or overlooking these essential hallmarks of sanctity leads
to misunderstandings and excesses, the consequence of which is the adulteration
of the Orthodox Churchs Festal Calendar.
9. Needless to say, the foregoing comment about the hallmarks of sanctity
does not pertain to Martyrs and Confessors of the Faith, or to the
theologians and Fathers of the Church. For clearly these Saints, merely by
virtue of their extraordinary gifts of martyrdom, confession, and theological
insight, have put forth a good witness at extremely crucial times, on the one
hand, and, on the other hand, have averted the adulteration of salvific Truth,
showing themselves to be Fathers and cumenical Teachers of the Church.
From Orthodox Tradition, Volume
XIX (2002), No. 2, pp. 5-6. Archimandrite Cyprian is Secretary of the Holy Synod of Metropolitan Cyprian, True (Old Calendar)
Orthodox Church of Greece.