Are saints necessary in our religious beliefs and traditions? As well in our lives and spiritual journey on earth? Do we have the right to believe? I think it is important for all of us to understand in some degree what the religious tenants teach us no matter what faith/religion is. There is so much good material that could be included here I had to limit what I’ve written at this time, this is not meant to slight those that are not listed here, otherwise I would have a compiled a chapter in a book. I found that many of the religions see their followers as “saints” and are those who are Christian and baptized into that faith tradition. All are equally important. In many churches the word “saint” is used more generally to refer to anyone who is a Christian, anyone who is within the Body of Christ is a ‘saint’ because of their relationship with Christ Jesus. Many also consider prayers to the saints to be idolatry, as an application of divine worship that should be given only to God himself is being given to other believers, dead or alive. This is only a sampling of the wonderful material I have on this topic.
A saint is one who has been recognized for having an exceptional degree of holiness, sanctity, and virtue. While the English term “saint” originated in Christianity, historians of religion now use the term “in a more general way to refer to the state of special holiness that many religions attribute to certain people,” with the Jewish Tzadik, the Islamic wali, the Hindu guru, and the Buddhist bodhisattva also referred to as saints. Depending on the religion, saints are recognized either through official church recognition or by popular acclaim.
In Christianity, “saint” has a wide variety of meanings, depending on its usage and the denomination. The original Christian usage referred to any believer who is “in Christ” and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth. In Orthodox and Catholic teachings, all Christians in heaven are considered to be saints, but some are considered to be worthy of higher honor, emulation, or veneration, with official church recognition given to some saints through canonization or glorification. The English word saint is from the Latin Sanctus, a term in indigenous tradition connected to the name of the god Sancus, but in Christian context used to translate the Greek hagios, derived from the verb hagiazo, which means “to set apart”, “to sanctify” or “to make holy”. The word appears 229 times in the Greek New Testament and 60 times in the corresponding text of the King James Version. As used by the apostolic authors of scripture, saint did not refer to deceased persons who have been granted sainthood, but rather to living persons who had dedicated themselves to God. The word was originally a technical term in ancient Roman religion, but due to its “globalized” use in Christianity, the modern term is now also seen as translation of comparable terms for people “worthy of veneration for their holiness or sanctity” in other religions. Many religions also use similar concepts, but different terminology, to venerate individuals worthy of honor in some way, saints across various cultures and religions have the following family resemblances:
An exemplary model; extraordinary teacher; wonder worker or source of benevolent power; intercessor; a life often refusing material attachments or comforts; and/or possession of a special and revelatory relation to the holy.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that it does not make or create saints, but rather, recognizes them. In the Church, the title of Saint refers to a person who has been formally canonized by the Catholic Church, and is, therefore, believed to be in Heaven. By this definition, there are many people that the church believes to be in Heaven who have not been formally declared saints but who are otherwise referred to as saints, since they are believed to be completely perfect in holiness. Sometimes the word “saint” is used to refer to living Christians. They remind us that the Church is holy, can never stop being holy and is called to show the holiness of God by living the life of Christ.” It has been noted that “A saint is always someone through whom we catch a glimpse of what God is like—and of what we are called to be. Only God “makes” saints, of course. The church merely identifies from time to time a few of these for emulation. The church then tells the story. But the author is the Source of the grace by which saints live. And there we have it: A saint is someone whose story God tells.
The veneration of saints, describes a particular popular devotion or abandonment to a particular saint or saints. Although the term “worship” is sometimes used, it is intended in the old-sense meaning to honor or give respect. According to the Catholic Church, Divine Worship is properly reserved only for God and never to the saints. They can be asked to intercede or pray for those still on earth, just as one can ask someone on earth to pray for them. A saint may be designated as a patron saint of a particular cause or profession, or invoked against specific illnesses or disasters, sometimes by popular custom and sometimes by official statements of the Magisterium. Saints are not thought to have power of their own, but only that granted by God. Relics of saints are respected in a similar manner to holy images and icons. The practice of past centuries in venerating relics of saints for healing is taken from the early Church. According to the Catholic Church, to be deemed a miracle, “a medical recovery must be instantaneous, not attributable to treatment, disappear for good.” Once a person has been declared a saint, the body of the saint is considered holy. The remains of saints are called holy relics and are usually used in churches. Saints’ personal belongings may also be used as relics. Some of the saints have a symbol that represents their life. In Church tradition, a person who is seen as exceptionally holy can be declared a saint by a formal process, called canonization. Formal canonization is a lengthy process often taking many years, even centuries. The first step in this process is an investigation of the candidate’s life, undertaken by an expert. After this, the report on the candidate is given to the bishop of the area and more studying is done. It is then sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome. If the application is approved, the person may be granted the title of “Venerable”. Further investigations may lead to the candidate’s beatification and given title of “Blessed.” At a minimum, two important miracles are required to be formally declared a saint. These miracles must be posthumous. Finally, when all of this is done the Pope canonizes the saint.
In the Anglican Communion movement, the saints are seen as models of holiness to be imitated, and as a ‘cloud of witnesses’ that strengthen and encourage the believer during his or her spiritual journey. The saints are seen as elder brothers and sisters in Christ. Official Anglican creeds recognize the existence of the saints in heaven. In High-Church contexts, such as Anglo-Catholicism, a saint is generally one to whom has been attributed and demonstrated a high level of holiness and sanctity. In this use, a saint is therefore not a believer, but one who has been transformed by virtue. In Roman Catholicism, a saint is a special sign of God’s activity. The veneration of saints is sometimes misunderstood to be worship, in which case it is derisively termed “hagiolatry”. Some Anglicans and Anglican churches, particularly Anglo-Catholics, personally ask prayers of the saints. However, such a practice is seldom found in any official Anglican liturgy. Anglicans believe that the only effective Mediator between the believer and God the Father, in terms of redemption and salvation, is God the Son, Jesus Christ. Historical Anglicanism has drawn a distinction between the intercession of the saints and the invocation of the saints. The former was generally accepted in Anglican doctrine, while the latter was generally rejected. There are some, however, in Anglicanism, who do beseech the saints’ intercession. Those who beseech the saints to intercede on their behalf make a distinction between “mediator” and “intercessor”, and claim that asking for the prayers of the saints is no different in kind than asking for the prayers of living Christians. Anglican Catholics understand sainthood in a more Catholic or Orthodox way, often praying for intercessions from the saints and celebrating their feast days.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church a saint is defined as anyone who is in Heaven, whether recognized here on earth, or not. Sainthood in the Orthodox Church does not necessarily reflect a moral model, but the communion with God: there are countless examples of people who lived in great sin and became saints by humility and repentance. Therefore, a more complete definition of what a saint is shown through their humility and their love of humankind. Orthodox belief considers that God reveals his saints through answered prayers and other miracles. Saints are usually recognized by a local community, often by people who directly knew them. As their popularity grows they are often then recognized by the entire church. The formal process of recognition involves deliberation by a synod of bishops. If successful, this is followed by a service of Glorification in which the Saint is given a day on the church calendar to be celebrated by the entire church. This does not, however, make the person a saint; the person already was a saint and the Church ultimately recognized it. It is believed that one of the ways the holiness of a person is revealed is through the condition of their relics (remains). In some Orthodox countries (such as Greece, but not in Russia) graves are often reused after 3 to 5 years because of limited space. Bones are washed and placed in an ossuary, often with the person’s name written on the skull. Occasionally when a body is exhumed something miraculous is reported as having occurred; exhumed bones are claimed to have given off a fragrance, like flowers, or a body is reported as having remained free of decay, despite not having been embalmed and having been buried for some years in the earth. The reason relics are considered sacred is because, for the Orthodox, the separation of body and soul is unnatural. Body and soul both comprise the person, and in the end, body and soul will be reunited; therefore, the body of a saint shares in the “Holiness” of the soul of the saint. As a general rule only clergy will touch relics in order to move them or carry them in procession, however, veneration the faithful will kiss the relic to show love and respect toward the saint. Every altar in all Orthodox Church’s contains relics. Church interiors are covered with the Icons of saints.
In the Lutheran Church, all Christians, whether in heaven or on earth, are regarded as saints. However, the church still recognizes and honors specific saints, including some of those recognized by the Catholic Church, but in a qualified way: the term “saint” is used in the manner of the Roman Catholic Church only insofar as to denote a person who received exceptional grace, was sustained by faith and whose good works are to be an example to any Christian. Traditional Lutheran belief accounts that prayers to the saints are prohibited, as they are not mediators of redemption. But, Lutherans do believe that saints pray for the Christian Church in general. The Lutheran Churches as well as several of the other major religions also have liturgical calendars in which they honor individuals as saints.