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On Glorification of the Saints. A talk with archpriest Georgiy Mitrofanov

Feb 13, 2007, 04:34
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- Glorification of saints is a very difficult issue. History of the Church is, first of all, the history of sainthood, and the twentieth century in this regard is one of the saddest periods of our church history. The Russian Church, having given the world an enormous number of saints, had no opportunity to complete the glorification . From 1917 to 1988 only two ascetics were canonized, and that only because it was important for the international politics of the USSR (for example, the canonization of Nicholas of Japan emphasized the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church, of Russia, and therefore, of the Soviet Union in Japan).

Glorification of saints became possible only in the 1980s when under the circumstances of perestroika, the government started to change the politics with respect to the Church. On the eve of the festivities for the 1000 year anniversary of the baptism of Russia, the government agreed to perform several canonizations. In 1987 a Synodal committee on the canonization of saints was formed.

For the 18 years of the committee's work, over 1500 saints have been glorified. These glorification s have demanded from us some very serious and, I will not be afraid of the word, innovative decisions. The Church lives by tradition, but the tradition does not always develop in an uninterrupted and peaceful way. Let us review what are the grounds for canonization. First of all, miracles connected with the life of a Christian and the miracles occurring after his death in connection with his commemoration. Secondly, the veneration of a Christian by the church people and, finally, his righteous life. Everything is clear, it would seem. Yet, here is the problem that we encountered almost immediately. Veneration by the people of many pious Christians is absent in our country. If you were to ask me: "Which of the saints canonized by your committee fully corresponds to the main criteria?" -- I would give you only several names.

Among these names, first of all, I would mention the names of holy righteous John of Kronshtadt and blessed Kseniya of Saint-Petersburg. Namely these saints were venerated especially deeply during the Soviet period, even though that was very difficult, as the government was very much against their veneration. It is examplary that the Soviet censorship had forbidden to mention the names of blessed Kseniya and Fr. John of Kronshtadt, as well as the name of St. Seraphim of Sarov even in the "Journal of Moscow Patriarchate." So great was the intention of the government to erase from the memory of the Church those saints who have been profoundly venerated. What then could be said about the neo-martyrs in this regard! So much less could have been said about them.

In this way, the veneration of many saints must have been simply absent in our country. What concerns miracles, they do occur namely where and when the veneration of the reposed holy people takes place. But if there is no veneration, how would the miracles happen, and how could they be fixed in such circumstances? In addition, another difficult question arose before us. Veneration by what people do we need to take in consideration? Sometimes we are suggested to glorify a person, pointing to the fact that he is venerated by all kinds of people: by the believers and atheists, Muslims and Buddists. In this case, however, we must raise the question of canonization of various extrasensory individuals that the Soviet people were so fond of. This is absurd. Thus, we must rely on the veneration namely by the church people.

Here, too, we encounter certain difficulties. What is the church people? How can we define its borders? It is often said that in Russia there are 80% of the Orthodox. In reality, 80% are people of the Russian Federation of the Slavic descent, that is, the descendants of the Orthodox. In our country, there are barely over half the people baptized, but it still does not mean that they have been churched. A churched person is someone who goes to confession and communion at least once a year. There are no more than 3-4% of such people in our country, but even among them there are a great many religously ignorant people. These people have suggested that we canonized, e.g., John the Terrible, Rasputin, and even Stalin. Such ideas wander in the minds of our church people. So, whose opinion can we rely on in our work?

We understood fairly early that we would have to reveal for the Church those saints whom people have forgotten, whom people could not have left unforgotten in the earlier period. In the majority of cases we would not rely on the veneration by people and would not have the various witnesses of miracles. With this we understood that we would have to be very careful and thorough in our work so as not to allow for the glorification of those who are not worthy of this. At one point in an interview with one of the moscow newspapers I used the following phrase: "It is better to under-canonize than to over-canonize." Ultimately, all the worthy are glorified by God, and the church canonization takes place, foremost, for those of us living on earth. Thus, a canonization must be completed only when there is no doubt.

So, coming from the aforementioned principles, we began our work. Its result is known to you: the glorification of 1500 saints. I would like to draw your attention to the following issue. Among the 1500 saints of the XX century about 1400 of them are neo-martyrs. These numbers make one think. What does such a large quantity of martyrs tell us? Does it speak about the glory of our Russian Orthodox Church? Or about Her affliction? It has becomes obvious to me in the past years that this is the great sorrow of our Church. We have lost a great number of saints who have not had time to finish everything in their service to the church. The horror from this is intensified by the realization that they would often be murdered by their own flock, by the baptized folk, by people who took communion since their infancy, but who have fallen away from the Church. And they would murder them with the participation or the indifference of the majority of the Russian Orthodox Christians.

I must say that at the meeting with the representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad at the All-Abroad hierarchal gathering in 2003, I was able to see how the saints we glorified, the saints who with their blood have strengthened the Church -- how this unites us with people who living abroad during all these years remained Russian Orthodox Christians.

Translated by www.sestry.ry

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