On this second Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost, the Orthodox Church celebrates the “local” Saints. that is to say, those who are specific to each nation, geographical location or recognized by the Church as having followed in their lives, and often
even in death, the example of Christ Jesus. They had lived in the strength of the Holy Spirit and implemented somehow the way followed by Jesus, thus: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Luke 4: 18 – Isaiah 61, 1). There is one essential thing: we cannot pretend to confess Jesus as the Messiah unless we are called to this through the Spirit. There is a Trinitarian action of the Only One God: the reinvigorating forces of the Holt Ghost let us say that the Father of all is indeed at the source and fulfillment of everything. Subsequently, to some individuals – whether a few or many of them is not important – it is granted to recognize that Jesus of Nazareth, the Child of Bethlehem is the true Messiah Who gathers in all the living and the dead, over all historic generations. We dare not “amputate” one Person of this ever matching and inter-acting plenitude that overshadows the whole of the Reign of God in the world, in this era.
Every living being having a breath from the Creator in his nostrils and all partures, all limbs and mental cells can identify to Paul of Tarsius’ words: “No one, if he does not speak by the Spirit, can to say that Jesus Christ is Lord “(1 Corinthians 12, 3). And also:
“The proof that you are sons is that God sent into our hearts, the Spirit of His son who cries’ Abba – אבא – Father (Aramaic for “Dad”).
There are few languages in which “Abba” (dad) as in Aramaic and
Hebrew, do refer to both father of a human being according to the rules of nature and defines the Name of the Heavenly Father Who is at the initial of all commencements and bottom-lines of historic and meta-historic realities. Both genital, source of all seeds and Master of the universe, with a sweet Name that sounds like “Papa, Daddy, Tata” in different European languages. It may be not that evident to be frank because human speech often expresses real or supposed respect, dignity and people would refrain to be too familiar towards the Lord. In Aramaic, “Abun/ܐܒܘܢ – אבון” – “Our Father”
means “Father”, not “Daddy”. On the other hand, in Haitian Creole “Papa nou ki
nan siel na » = “Our Father as Daddy Who art/is in heaven”. The creolization of the parlance includes the process of addressing to the Lord with respecting closeness and tenderness. Curiously, Yiddish has the same way of expression toward the Creator, as “Tatyenu, Wus Du bist in him’l/טאטיענו, וואס דו ביסט אין הימל” sounds more as “Our Dad Who art in heaven” whereas “Unzer Foter, Wus/אונדזער פאטער…” as officially translated in Yiddish does not correspond to the tender intimacy included in Jesus’ words and teaching of the “true prayer”.
The Orthodox Church offers a very pedagogical path and emphasizes the importance of holiness as a road accessible to all believers. It is clear, that the Saints are not divided are not defined according to our human or even spiritual criteria. They show us the “unnatural way to be naturally human” in all societies marks by the seal of Divine Actions and Presence.
All beings are at home in the Church. The Church is the ingathering of all human beings in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We express this in the Byzantine and Oriental prayers. The Church is much larger than what our eyes can ever measure in a specific time of history, in a geographic place. The Kingdom of God correspond to the expanding move of the Reign of the Master of the universe. It exceeds the limits of what we would like to reduce to local and restricted checkpoints. The symbolism of the protecting walls and checkpoints has always been very strong in the Holy Land. When the Children of Israel under the leadership of Yehoshua Bin Nun entered Jericho whose walls have fallen, who was victorious? The fall of the walls offered freedom and salvation to all – it depends on how we are able to survive the disappearance of borders and land-marks.
It is the same for sainthood. In every point of our planet, all human beings – whatever their language, their nation, their religion, therefore their ethnicity or skin color, whether rich or poor, all are to face the test of being able to walk on the route of their own, specific life-paths.
The seal of the Resurrected is so unique and exceptional that any human being – even those who are not baptized – can baptize another human being and confer the Gifts of the Holy Trinity, of the identification with Christ, of the Forces of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it should be confirmed by a real Church, a coherent and existing Christian community. Normally, baptism should be authenticated by a canonical Church body. True, but, to begin with, water – or even sand – are required and all human can perform the act that achieves the identity of a human soul on her companionship with the One and Trine Lord by the power of the words that s/he will accept to pronounce: “N., be baptized in(to) [a move, as an accusative form in Greek, Latin, Slavonic, and Hebrew] the Name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit.” It is important that this occurs only in extreme cases – but it is totally valid and therefore it is worth mentioning this point. This proves that the Church is present in the world whilst only belonging to God!
This corresponds to the way Peter met with Cornelius of Cesarea, a proselyte, thus connected with Judaism. He only could admit and confirm that the centurion had received the seal of life from High.
The Orthodox Church has progressively introduced the celebrations of the “local Saints”. Shall we speak of “Local” or “Native” Saints? There is quite a difference, in English, in the way we may understand holiness in the topology of the Church.
To begin with, the nascent Church of Zion and Jerusalem was limited to the domain of the Holy City where the Lord was resurrected and ascended to heaven. Of course, he had been preaching through the whole of the territory of the Holy Land as Eretz Israel and did not visit any part of non-Jewish portions of land. He did meet with non-Jews and often discussed with them (Samaritans, Canaanite). He did not really leave the Jewish traditional homeland or districts – mainly under Roman control – and normally said to be submitted to the laws of kashrut (kosher food and social behaviors). Nonetheless, uncleanness and the true meaning of what it is to be clean in the eyes of the Lord were behind the controversy between Jesus and the scribes and the Pharisees recorded in Mark 7:1-21.
Mark recounted that Jesus and the disciples withdrew from Galilee to the “region of Tyre and Sidon” (Mark 7:24). The two places were Gentile regions, so Jesus and the disciples moved into areas that most Jews would have considered unclean. The region in which these cities were located had a long history of paganism and opposition to the Jews. For instance, the wicked queen Jezebel, who incited Ahab to worship the false god Baal and persecuted Elijah the prophet, was the daughter of the Sidonian king (1 Kings 16:31-32).
The nascent Church became a real universal Church when the messianic message developed, during the early apostolic times, outside of the traditional city of Zion and Jerusalem and the realm of Judaism only. The decision of the first “Synod” of Jerusalem (Acts of the Apostles ch. 15) opened to the entrance of the Gentiles into the Body of Christ, the Ekklesia, composed of both Jews and Gentiles. In terms of proceedings, the very large diversity of the spiritual and theological tendencies that were existing in the country of the Jews by the time of the presence of Jesus of Nazareth could find some way to add a vast number of new believers to the Klal Israel, the Great assembly of Israel. This subsequently meant that they proceeded to enlarge, widen the substantial domain – both human and topological – of Eretz Israel, usually known or estranged by the name of “Palestine at the time of Jesus of Nazareth” or “under Roman control”. The Tent got extended to Damascus and possibly till all the peoples of the Empire, the know Earth at that period or Ekumene.
The nascent Church of Jerusalem focused on the true faith that developed along the decades and first centuries after the resurrection of the Lord that Jesus born in Bethlehem, the City of David under Pontius Pilatus (historically ascertained at a specific period of the Roman rule in the region), had been crucified (tortured), and rose from the dead. He is to come back to judge the living and the dead and his reign will be without end. This creed was initially shared as a theological path inside of the many groups that existed inside of the local Judaism as it got accepted and officially possible for the local Church for the Jews and the non-Jews (proselytes and others) equally in terms of faith. The same situation developed with the process of the heralding of the Christian Message within the framework of the Roman empire and to the different regions of the Jewish dispersion (Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia, the Caucasus peoples).
One specificity should be noted as it developed inside of Judaism along the centuries in the dispersion. There are different paysages, special landscapes, and cultural and topological identities, with mental and geographical features that came to exist in the realm of Jewishness. At the present, they are known as marking the cultural and praying particularities of the Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrachi (Oriental, Mashrek) Jewish communities. There are local characteristics for the prayers, the use of some words and dialect, special ways to apprehend the local non-Jewish ways of socializing.
The same tendency appeared in the process of the development of Christendom, first in Jerusalem, among the Middle-East peoples and cultures and then in the midst of the many Nations to whom the Christian Kerygma was been brought. Interestingly, the Eastern pentarchial Church, though stressing the linguistic importance of Greek as the major idiom of the Kerygma, always welcomed the creation and acculturation of the local Church entities who developed their styles for the prayers and the language to be used in Church provided that they kept to the common features of the creed. In the Western pentarchial countries, the local particularities tended to be controlled and replaced by a standardized liturgical, thus theological rites.
This means that the extension of Christendom allowed the emergence of typical features and subsequently of local manners to accept and witness to the reality of Christian morals. While the unity of the True Faith was maintained because the Word of God is and remains one and unique, the way sainthood showed among the very different societal factions of the Christian congregations.
The Gospel show how the believers were first given a name in Antioch [Christians = khristyanoi-khristyané/ χρηματίσαι τε πρῶτον ἐν Ἀντιοχείᾳ τοὺς μαθητὰς Χριστιανούς –ܟ݁ܪܺܣܛܝܳܢܶܐ, not Semitic “meshihyé/ܡܫܝܚܝܐ”] in pagan, heathen or Gentile places. The naming shows a specific cultural choice because it comes from Greek with direct links to Latin.
The Church of Jerusalem went through numerous stages of identification. But, the local Church of Jerusalem has always been marked by continuous processes of temporary, permanent changes of the identity of the local population. Individuals, families, tribes, nations came and go, came back, and move for years before showing back again or leave forever or a generation. All sorts of peoples had been there by the time of the Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 2:9-11).
Subsequently, Jerusalem is the “Mother Church of all the Churches of God” (the official title of the Roman Greek- Orthodox patriarchate of Jerusalem) and the saints of the Land there are sealed by their special distinctness and particularity. They are directly born out of the whole of the Scripture and Revelation. In the Land of the Promises, holiness traces back to Adam and all the Prophets glorified by the Church. Their commemoration in the local Church of Jerusalem naturally includes all the confessors, martyrs, monks, nuns, hieromonks, deacons, priests, and bishops from the early Church and saint Stephanos till nowadays. In the Katholikon (nave) of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, late patriarch Diodoros of Jerusalem asked to place the icon on which are shown ancient Biblically rooted in Judaism and Christian the face of the numerous saints who offered their life for the sanctification of the Lord.
It is written in Psalm 87: 4, “And of Zion, it will be said that all living being is born there”. Jerusalem, as on the day of Pentecost, “convokes, calls, unites” all Nations, thus through the huge variety of the languages, i.e. transmission media. This is the reason why it is difficult to “ethnicize – nationalize” the local saints! The Orthodox Church is precisely “local” in that it is above all universal and “open to all beings” (kath’olon) because each congregation encompasses the plenitude of the redemption in any location on Earth. It expresses the reality of the word of Jesus to the Samaritan woman: “We will adore God in Spirit and in Truth.” It is an extending process, also in our generation. It is not a dream to think that in the coming centuries, Christian believers will live on some other planet… not other galaxies yet!, but… “the local saints” may, God willing, be present on other globes, spaces than the earthly place where Jesus decided to be born in the King David’s messianic City of Bethlehem and rose from the dead in Jerusalem.
Indeed, one day may come when, on Mars, the Moon or another planet, the Trinitarian Faith will bring us to go beyond our loneliness on Earth to perceive the immensity of God: “to receive the strength to undertake, with all the Saints, what Width, Length, Height, and Depth, to know the Love of Christ, which surpasses all knowledge, and to enter, through your plenitude, into the whole universe of God. ” ((Ephesians 3:18).