Tuesday, November 01, 2005

All Saints Day Reflections

Hebrews 11:32ff, sounded differently reading it today than before. The listing of names and the ordeals and triumphs of those who have gone before although all from the Old Testament all sound alot like stories of the saints martyrs and monastics of the Church. I found it interesting how Protestants (at least those who taught me in the faith) admit the truth of this passage that we are in the presence and connected to those who have gone before and encourage knowledge of the stories of the saints we find remembered in Scripture but who are more or less ignorant and content with this ignorance of those who continue in this cloud of witnesses after the Apostolic period. A few are remembered at least they were in my Childhood: St. Nicholas of myra, Saint Lucy (Santa Lucia), St. Polycarp and a few others. This reinforces my current experience of being Protestant: Not so much wrong or mistaken as short sighted. We read the Scriptures but we don't with any consistency carry forward what is taught into the life of the Church. We affirm that Scripture is living and yet demand that it be viewed as though it is merely an historical text telling us how things were. In a sense we acclaim the living word and the Spirit of the text but in fact experience it as a dead letter. We read a passages like Hebrews 11:32ff and assent yes there is a cloud of witnesses but don't extrapolate into the reality of the Church the implications of this passage, and do not see the importance of remembering not only the saints of the old testament but of the church that are now among those witnesses and provide the same sort of encouragement for running the race as remembering and knowing the stories of the saints of the Old Testament. I suppose if what the writer of Hebrews says is true of those who came before and are now a cloud of witnesses and never knew what we now know after Christ, how much more is what is said here true of those who have similarly excelled in grace and faith in the Church, and how much more worthy of the remembrance that is encouraged in Hebrews upon the Church.
I do though have to admit that I can't ignore what at times seems to be a blurirng where the remembrance and veneration of the Saint gets in the way of spurring us on towards the goal where the "veneration" of the saint replaces seeking the goal. I still think this is at times a valid criticism that Protestants level at Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Not that this is what Rome or Orthodoxy teaches but both seem to at least tolerate this misperception among some. Or are simply blind to the fact that this happens.
Of late I have been struck by how full the Orthodox calendar is and how much detail is know about most of those saints remembered in their feasts. I am also finding that incorporating the remembrance of these saints enriches my prayer life in ways I can't adequately describe. It makes prayer more work in some ways attending to all this memory isn't always easy, but I feel more connected to Christ in doing so, more connected with the long line of witnesses that have gone before. Scripture makes more sense actually. But, I find the Orthodox Apolytakia and Kontakia troubling in their direct address and veneration of these witnesses. It seems as though the wording sets these witnesses a part from us in a way that does not spur us on but captures us in contemplation of their deeds, rather than their Christ likeness that we all share and should all exemplify. I think I must be missing something so I don't reject this outright but I have to admit they don't sit well with me even as I see the need to remember and see myself in relation to the Saints for we are all together the Church.

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