On the second Sunday from Pentecost, we continue the commemoration with our meditation upon the Holy Spirit, entering seamlessly into the commemoration of all the saints of North America. This commemoration however, begs the question, did we not just celebrate and honor these saints, together with all the rest, last week? Are they not simply a subcategory of All Saints? Why the apparent double commemoration? And for St John of San Francisco, three commemorations in the span of eight days? It seems, at first glance…inefficient. Or perhaps, excessive. But if we alter our understanding just slightly, the Church’s reasoning becomes clear.
“God is wonderful in His saints,” declares the Poet-King David with the voice of prophecy, itself a gift of the Spirit. The holiness of a saint is not self-referential. It is not the individual’s own glory shining out from them garishly. It is not a neon sign violently blinking and announcing they’ve entered the room. The holiness of a saint is the glory of God made manifest, the Presence of God in that person. A power most evident in weakness, for His strength is “made perfect in weakness,” and a glory most compatible with humility, for a “broken and humbled heart, God will not despise.” The glory of a saint radiates from them and yet declares the presence of another. The saint is a herald of the One to Whom belongs all glory.
Holiness entails a sort of personal self-emptying and then a filling up with God until overflowing. David says elsewhere, “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” The anointing itself is the descent of the Holy Spirit upon a person. In the Old Testament, prophets and kings were anointed to lead and chasten the people of God to repentance, as God directed them. For Christians, we are all anointed at our Chrismation with the gift of the Holy Spirit—and so the process begins. The cup is filling, if we allow it. Our unformed hearts and souls are abyssal pools of chaos, and the Spirit hovers over them, as he did the “face of the deep” before time began. He patiently awaits our “Amen” to God’s command, “Let there be light.”
It is the power and the desire of God to take willing vessels of clay and dust and to purify them and illuminate them and glorify them until they shine as the stars of heaven in their holiness, a holiness which declares God’s glory to the universe. The luminaries of the Church, the holy ones of God, shine brightly with a light that is not their own, but shine ever more brightly for it, the light itself being God. Note, this is not the passive shining of distant stars in the night sky, beautiful to observe, but of minimal impact on the alleged “real” things of clay and dust. This holiness does not simply declare God’s glory to the universe, but manifests in the living of it. Saints participate in the works of God, doing the work of God, synergizing their entire lives to the work of God, not as servants or slaves, but as children of God, doing so out of love and in the same spirit of love in which God created the universe. As we say in nearly every service, “Let us commend ourselves and each other and our whole lives to Christ, our God.” This is our purpose. This is why we are the Church.
And so, we creatures of clay and dust, look up to the night sky to navigate our way through the darkness of this present age, and the image of our local star clusters are impressed upon our minds, and we are blessed with familiar surroundings even in this stygian dark. We look around us at the most immediate cluster of saints, John of San Francisco, Sebastian of Jackson, Peter the Aleut who was martyred in San Francisco, our local guides. Together with them other systems shine out, Herman, Innocent, and Tikhon, Juvenaly, Raphael, and Nikolai. Among these are lights gathering in strength, Olga, Seraphim, and Ephraim… It is then we realize, as our eyes adjust to the sight, that there are countless stars, more than we have names for, and they have all risen from our land as guides and guardians in a darkness that is somehow not so dark and oppressive, shadows of ghost-lights chased away by the true light. The night is literally alive with the light of God shining through His saints, shining radiantly on this land of North America, and every land.
Why do we venerate these saints? Why do we heap glory on them? Why do we take another Sunday to specify these ones especially? Because we recognize them for who they are. We recognize that God has glorified them, and He does so out of love for them and for us, so that we may not be deprived of His Presence, that we may not be deprived of His Light in the darkness which surrounds us. We are particularly fond of local saints because we recognize that not even our own particular darkness is impervious to the power and glory of God. Not even our own particular demons are unconquerable or our particular sins unforgivable. Each locality venerates with fervour those saints given to it. Not out of nationalistic pride, or any sense of superiority, but recognizing the Providence of God at work in the here and now. The victory of the Risen Lord, and the outpouring of His Holy Spirit are universal and for all eternity, and yet encountered personally and locally. There is not a neighborhood on earth, there is not a trench of the ocean, or a corner of the galaxy untouched by God’s sanctifying Presence or fallen outside the Divine Economy. There is not a creature overlooked or forgotten by the Creator and Redeemer of all. It is up to us to follow the path set before us, illuminated by God’s light spilling abundantly from his saints like “rivers of living water,” and give voice to the “Amen” that will herald the breaking of the divine dawn over our own benighted and unrepentant hearts.