Sometimes it seems, at least on cursory review that some of the church fathers and early writers saw marriage as, at best, a kind of condescension to human weakness, a way to at least regulate a base and primal urge.

I suppose some of it may be that large numbers of those who could write in those days were, if not monastic in their orientation, monastics themselves and being monastic would see the path they had chosen as a better one, like St. Paul. Some also saw the promiscuity in the larger culture (yes the baby boomers didn't invent "gettin it on") and in themselves and reacted with over statement.

Yet the Scripture and and the Tradition are very clear, marriage is honorable, full of grace, and a holy path for those men and women who prayerfully choose it. And I sense that every day because I have an extraordinary khouria (Arabic for priest's wife) and on the occasion of this day, her birthday, I'm reminded again of how much I have received despite my unworthiness.

It's not easy to be the wife of a priest. The expectations, rightly or wrongly, can be high. The schedules sometimes get messed up. And their are times, like today, of absence, when the duties of the calling separate a priest and his family and one must make do as best as possible. Some parishes even still expect a "twofer" that is they get two people full time serving the church for one salary. Oh, by the way, the job description keeps changing too, sometimes every week.

As we've traveled from place to place and followed the path that God has set for us my wife has been the single person who has been support, strength,helpful critic, and the foundation of our life together. Nothing that I have done or will do could happen without her and if there are rewards for something I've done that somehow escapes the refiners fire it will be at least half hers and maybe all.

Far from a condescension to weakness we are strong together in a way that we could not be alone and together we have endured much and yet have also known a kind of joy that comes only when it can be shared. This fall will mark 22 years of marriage, and if, by God's grace there are 22 more I would not complain.

I'm only sad for St. Augustine because if he had known what I have known the world may have been very different.


A quote worth remembering...

"The liturgy has always been a way to elevate even the lowliest of believers, sometimes the only way available to them, so that a de-emphasis of beauty in music, buildings, and language, in the name of ease to understand or comprehend faith, has the unfortunate result of eliminating the main channel by which people can escape from a deadening common culture whose principles are the opposite of this elevation to beauty."

From this article.


Lexington, Kentucky...

It's around 9:30 PM and I've just gotten up from an evening's nap. You never how tired you are until you lay down on a really nice hotel bed for a few minutes and wake up four hours later.

Lexington, Kentucky is about 13 hours south and east by car from St. Paul, Minnesota and another Priest and I took the trip on Tuesday. The road was mostly fine with the usual gouging for tolls around Chicago and a few blinding rainstorms through central Indiana. We were up before 5 AM and then with travel and a few other things we needed to do were asleep sometime around 11 at night and then up again at 6 AM for Matins at St, Michael's Church in Louisville on Wednesday. Now you know why I drifted off before supper tonight and still may head right back to bed after this is done.

Kentucky was once the frontier in America, the edge of the wilderness and populated by hearty souls who put cabins on the sides of hills and cut fields out of the forest to make farms. It still has much of that wild beauty although now its thoroughly modern and punctuated with sky scapers. Only the heat, thick and beautiful in its own way as it flows through the shade trees, feels like the old south.

And yes, Orthodoxy is here in a kind of bustling athletic way at St. Michael's in Louisville with its hundreds of members and plethora of programs and in a more gentle, but no less vibrant, way here in Lexington and St. Andrew's, the host of our Diocesan Conference here at the hotel. Orthodoxy shows up in all kinds of places and is actually growing in the south far from the ethnic bastions of the American northeast. Quite under the larger culture's radar Orthodoxy is establishing itself across the United States, quietly doing its work, and subtlely planting its seeds.

We're subversives, you know, we Orthodox. Right in the middle of a crazy consumer culture where the ground seems to shake with every twitch of shallowness we're digging deep and building for the long haul, for forever for that matter. We're the real counter culture, the alternative to a world that sometimes seem to have gone blind stinkin' drunk on its own home brew. People are finding us, often despite our complete lack of inviting them, for the sake of sanity and for that something inside which drives thirsty people to water. Awed by what we have received through absolutely no worth of ourselves there are many of us who feel that if God will have mercy on us, and believe me we need it in buckets, the next great wave of the church in this land will not come from churches in auditoriums with television shows but in these little seeds of Orthodox life and faith being planted in places that only God knows why and the hearts of seekers of truth, beauty, and the God of the universe.

Watch for it.


Why you should read Mark Steyn...

Agree or disagree the man has a razor edge wit and can write with the best of them.


I Couldn't Resist Part 2...

A Sunday School teacher was explaining the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. She told her class how the Prophet put the wood on the altar, cut the animal in pieces, and then ordered water to be poured again and again on the sacrifice. Then she asked her class, "Why do you think Elijah wanted the water poured over the animal on the altar?" A little girl in the back of the glass started waving her hand and said, "To make the gravy."


A Sunday School teacher was telling her class the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and how Lot's wife looked back at the cities while they were running away and turned into a pillar of salt. A little boy interrupted "My mommy looked back once when we were driving and turned into a telephone pole."


An odd thought...

A little investigation would seem to show a large number (perhaps a majority?) of the Muslims in places like Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Jordan are actually descendants of Christians who apostacized when the armies of Islam came pouring out of Arabia. It would be interesting to speculate how the region, the world, and even the lives of thier children would have been different had they not abandoned the Faith.

What do you think?

Newton says world will end in 2060...

I'll be 100 then so I might be around to see it all.

Illegitimacy rises with level of abortions...

The story is here...


Father's Day...

I've heard it said that a boy never really becomes a man until his father dies. There is some truth to that but it seems a high price to pay.

It has been over 13 years since my father died while on a business trip in Chicago. He had had at least one heart attack he had simply walked through, another that put him in the hospital, and the third one that took his life. My mom was at our house, which they had helped us buy, just a day after we closed on it and was starting to paint and get things ready. That meant that I was the one who had to give her the news.

On the way I remember being upset with God about his death. It wasn't so much that it wasn't expected. For years I had thought that one day I would get that late night call with the news of his passing. It just seemed like the wrong time, too soon, very much to soon.

My father seemed to have spent much of his adult life angry at how the world was, or maybe how it treated him, or how things never quite lived up to expectations. We always had food, and clothing, and more than enough (something he didn't have as a child) but the cost was living on pins and needles and wondering what kind of person was coming home from work that night. I suspect it was hard on him as well.

And when you're a child you don't understand. All you see is the person as they are in front of you at that moment and you haven't yet developed the skills to see through time and view the picture from a distance. Context is everything when you relate to people and I had no context other than the fear that something I would do or say or maybe even never had done would get me hit. It can be a harsh way to live.

But it was, in retrospect, not all dark. There were those wonderful nights when dad would come home from work and take us, one at a time, to my uncle's cabin near Tomahawk, Wisconsin to fish with a stop at the Dairy Queen on the way home. There was the day I remember him running next to me and then letting go as I rode my bike without training wheels for the very first time. There were Saturday nights at the YMCA with popcorn and a whole 16 ounce bottle of pop all for myself. I remember Sunday afternoon drives following church and driving out in the country after dark looking for deer. Dad cried sometimes on Sunday mornings when a song or hymn touched him and I'm sure that he probably wanted to be in heaven long before he actually died because Earth was sometimes pretty hard on him.

That's all the stuff I found out later, how he didn't really have a father himself, and times were tough, and the only way to get to college was by being a Marine. Although I never met her his mother seemed harsh and yet he still sent a good chunk of his enlisted man's salary home so she could live. I suspect that all haunted him and we lived with those ghosts as well. Dad saved money by riding a bike to work and then found a way to go back to college while working full time and caring for a family. Looking back I don't wonder at all why he sometimes came home, had supper, and almost immediately fell asleep on the couch.

There comes a time when you stop seeing your parents with the heroic eyes of a child or the scoffing vision of a teenager. It's a time when you see them warts and all as people who tried hard and made mistakes sometimes and were often shaped by forces beyond their control, things that you had no idea existed in the shelter of youth. By the time I reached my early thirties most of the pain had already died away. I was who I was and so was he.

And yet in those same years I saw a change in my father. I saw the goodness that had been inside of him, that something that made my mother fall in love with him and broke through as the sun set on the lake while we paddled silently for shore. I saw it emerge in a way that somehow had eluded him as the years passed. Call it grace, call it age, call it a man who had defined himself by duty now finally realizing the value of who we was and not just what he could do. I don't know what it all was but I do know it was good.

I wanted more, but time and health and work and this weary old world had done their damage and more was not to be had. So on Father's Day I'm grateful for every moment in the sun, for what glimpses I was given, for the grace that lead my father safely home. And I mourn what could have been, those gracious years when sons and fathers leave the tumultuous growing pains behind and sit next to each other in a boat fishing without words.

Random stuff...

Its been in the 90's (farenheit) for about a week now and as I write this its just starting to rain. One of the great pleasures of living in this part of the world is the cool air that comes when the rain follows a tropical (for us) day.

Yesterday I indulged my fondness of baseball and my wife and I went to a Twin's game. For those of you who read this outside North America the Minnesota Twins are a Major League Baseball team. With the Twins behind 2-0 in bottom of the 8th inning we decided to leave and beat the traffic home only to discover that the team had rallied in the bottom of the 9th inning to win the game. We tried to rationalize our loss of faith by saying that our leaving was good luck for the Twins. But I sure would have liked to have stayed for that. Late game rallies are part of the magic of baseball.


Besides three cats we also have two of what must be the hardiest tropical fish ever to have taken residence in an aquarium. I must confess that I am a neglectful fish owner and yet these two Platys just keep on going. However, lest you get too worried I have changed the filter, added water, and cleaned up the place a bit. Oh, and I really do feed them every day.


When the weather cools down I'm going to get my Roller Blades out of storage and start back on the exercise trail. Look for injury updates.


A Depth of Mercy...

It's a fair question, I think, to ask "What have we not done that Sodom and Gomorrah were guilty of and with a vigor and pervasiveness that those two towns on the edge of the Dead Sea couldn't have imagined?"

And why are we still here?

I've pondered that for my culture and for myself and the answer seems to point to something deep and profound beyond words. It starts with the understanding that if God were a God of justice alone my society, myself included, would for the sake of justice have been destroyed long ago. The evidence is stark and compelling. Immorality? Check. Injustice? Check. Callousness of soul? Check. Idolatry? Check. Human sacrifice? Check. Name any sin of biblical proportion and we have done it and more than any Philistine or Amorite or Amalekite could ever have imagined. And in one way or another I have participated in it all.

So why are we, why am I, still here?

Why have we not gone the way of those long ago peoples whose crimes were less than ours and who did not have the benefit of the knowledge of holy things?

I suppose there's an argument for the fact that it simply hasn't been our time yet. After all there is no guarantee that any culture or country is a permanent thing. It is possible that a thousand years from now whoever is on the face of the Earth will see us in the same way as we look at Romans or Hittites. We could be destined to be merely a curiosity in the larger scope of things or worse yet an example of a social order gone dark at the apex of its power. It wouldn't be the first time.

Yet I also believe there is something more in play, something more about God that explains why despite my, and my culture's pervasive sins, we remain. Simply put, God is also a God of mercy of a depth and kind that defies our notions of fairness and justice and is capable of swallowing not simply the sins of one person or another but that of a whole society, even the whole universe, in its abyss.

Every provocation of defiant humanity, every insult flung to the skies, every instance when humans alone or in total have spit at the heavens and even that moment when in our insane rage we sought to kill God Himself, all in an instant can be absorbed and annihilated in the unending sea of mercy that is in the character of God.

I have no capability to explain this. Every adjective crumbles in its presence. Somewhere in the character of God there is the hope that even as we bear in ourselves, and in our cultures, the pain and death of our deeds there will be a moment when we come to our senses, realize the reality of our situation, and cry out for help. And when we do mercy will be there.

The texts and the tradition tell me that one day it will end, that the justice of God also must come into the equation in a way that only God himself can comprehend and with a truth to it that can only be from the one in whom there are no shadows. Outside of my own last breath I do not know when that moment will be. But until then there is time and opportunity and the means to seize mercy, and while that time remains hope does as well.


Judgement Time...

The vote wasn't even close as the Massachusetts Legislature decided in overwhelming fashion to deny its citizens the right to vote on the issue of homosexual marriage, an issue forced into play by the decision of a simple majority of its Supreme Court. In effect four people, I believe, decided for all that the historic rules of marriage and family need not apply anymore and no one has the right or authority to question their wisdom.

Much could be written about judges ruling as autocrats and legislators without the courage to stand in their way. The idea that a group of judges has the right to demand a legislature make laws in conformity to their wishes is deeply repulsive to the American understanding of government. We are slowly being ruled by juntas of people in robes who dismiss the rest of us great unwashed with words and ideas that make sense only in the air tight realms of power. The cost of this is already high and one day may be unbearable. It may well be the Massachusetts Supreme Court has already fired the first shot in the next American Civil War. God forbid.

But a larger issue is emerging.

Rev. Jerry Falwell was roundly critiqued for declaring the events of 9/11 as a kind of judgement from God. But in his thoughts there was a grain of truth. It's risky to say with prophetic certainty that God is acting in these times with a specific intent to judge. The great prophets of old most often experienced a direct and profound call from God and proved this call by the fulfilment of their words in the events of history to bolster their claims. I don't have this and I know of no one else who does.

But this is true. There is a kind of judgement from God that comes not as some specific action of God directly involving Himself in human affairs but in the simple allowance of the consequences of human actions upon those who take them. Over and over again the texts of the Scripture define what is good and right and holy and what can happen when boundaries are crossed. Whether God directly acts or not humans pushing and crossing over those lines take risks to themselves which they must account for if they choose to ignore the holy in favor of the profane.

Could it be possible the sad state of our culture, its diseases and dilemmas, it fractures and fissures, its darknesses and struggles is directly related to the simple consequences of our own selfishness, our own choosing to ignore the wisdom of history, the elevation of our pleasure above common sense and the assertion of our will in the face of the Divine? Perhaps. Will God set fire to Boston for the defiance of its authorities and their complete irreverence? Probably not. But every time humans as individuals or as societies assert themselves against that which is holy they become coarse, ill, pathological, and in time crush themselves under the weight of their own acts.

Perhaps this is happening even now and every headline we read, the pain we're feeling, the perplexity with which we see the world, the small nagging part inside of us that says something is deeply wrong, all of it speaks to the weight of our own sins beginning to swallow us and the truth that the mill of God grinds slow but exceedingly fine.

60,000,000 and counting...

A link to a story on Fox about the imbalance in genders in Asia caused by abortion and gender selection via infanticide. We humans are often so arrogant and stupid at the same time and we continue to pay a high price for it all.



I admit there are moments when I'm very tired when I drive down the river road to LaCrosse. It's in those moments when I come to grips with how difficult it can be to help a small church reach its potential, how idealism alone doesn't always make it, and that sometimes its just plain work.

In Seminary they often told us that it was actually easier to start a church from scratch then to help a small and struggling parish to the next level. It's true. Small parishes have a hard time in the world and St. Elias has struggled from the start. Begun as a good work it has spent the larger part of the last century just trying to get some traction and in the process lost a generation because it was caught in the bind of being too small to afford a Priest yet without one there was no constant presence to keep people and things going. The "action" moved north to St. Paul and other places and when they restarted things in the 1970's they literally had to knock the birds nests out of the building.

In those days there was no diocesan support, no strategic planning, and little sense of mission as the development of strategies and policies to implement church growth. It was all about just finding a group of people and a Priest willing to go, yet without a plan its a recipe for struggle and failure. I admire the core of people in LaCrosse who have held on for decades in a situation that lesser folks would have simply abandoned.

And these past few months have been especially good. The people who remained at St. Elias have always been the "keepers", the core that matters, and those who've proven their virtue of love and service in the hard times. But now there seems to be, by the grace of God, a renewed sense among some of the value of what we have at St. Elias and what God can do. People are stepping up in a new way and many are working like horses on behalf of our Parish. Whatever else can be said about St. Elias it is not a church of slackers. And all of this means there is hope.

For those of you who read this blog I simply ask your prayers. St. Elias is small but full of good people and in a place where there is a need for an Orthodox witness. Pray that all of us will be given God's strength so that we can "run and not be weary, and walk and not faint." Pray that God will send His angels to watch over us so the Enemy of our souls will not have his way in and among us. Pray that in reponse to all the steps of faith, large and small, that our Parish has taken God would send people to us, people who need our good Faith, people who will make this little Parish become everything it was meant to be.

On a personal level I can tell you this. I have served in parishes that were larger and had more but never one of which I was prouder in the best sense of the word. The people of St. Elias are at least trying, and I pray that their work is rewarded. And every time I get tired I remember them and the drive doesn't seem so hard, the load rests easier on my shoulders, and the car flies down the road even when I'm doing the speed limit.


Why you should read the Barna Report...

A link to a recent study on Atheists / Agnostics and Christians in the US. If you do not read the Barna Report it would be good to start.


The right tool...

I've been away from blogging for a few days because a project needed my attention.

In a small Parish like St. Elias every penny counts and there is always a need to find ways to do business that exploit technology and efficiency. In fact, one of the gifts of a small Parish can be the kind of "edginess" required to make things happen that may not be possible in a large Parish with less nimble structures and systems.

In our specific case the issue is the development of a Parish newsletter as a way to connect people from some distances and share information. The normal process is to create a mini-newspaper with columns and calendars and send them to as many people as possible, even people who haven't asked for them, in order to comply with the requirements of the Post Office regrading bulk mail. (To qualify for a bulk mail permit there must be a minimum number of mailed items).

I've been pondering this for several months and a few days ago it occurred to me that it's possible to adapt a blogger.com site for use as an "e-newsletter" that is easy to produce, easy to update, inexpensive, self storing, and widely available. I've made a rough copy of such an item here. I presume I'm not the first person to contemplate this but its potential for small parishes and missions could be significant.

I'm still trying to work out how I could adapt the site to hold a calendar of events but I'll figure it out. Regardless if you drop by and have an idea or comment I would appreciate it.


The Loggers...

Through the kindness of parishioners I had the chance to attend a baseball game following Vespers on Saturday night.

Although I never played it much as a kid (I grew up in a football town) over the years I've come to truly enjoy baseball games. My wife and I basically bought our satellite dish just to get the Twins games in on Fox Sports North, and the XM Radio in my car is often set right to channel 175, the one with all the Major League scores. If somehow we won the lottery the one vacation we would take is the package where you can travel for a month and see all the major league teams play. This past winter I even followed the world baseball tournament with about, apparently, three other people here in the US.

The local team in LaCrosse is called the Loggers in honor of the fact that LaCrosse came to prominence largely through the timber industry. The team is an amateur team comprised of people from various colleges who wish to keep their baseball dreams alive by playing summer ball in a small circuit of similar teams. In lieu of pay they are housed with local families both at home and on the road and when the season is done they return to college.

That kind of team hearkens back to a day when many towns had a local nine and the pride of the city was often on the line when teams met. On this night, even for this level of play, over 3000 fans from LaCrosse came to see the Loggers play the Green Bay Bullfrogs. Cars filled the streets around St. Elias, less than a half city block away from the field, and some came for miles to see the Loggers play. Our seats were in the first row behind the home dug out, great for catching foul balls and so close you could hear the players cough.

But alas is was not to be. The introductions done, the national anthem sung, there was only time for a handful of pitches before the first drops of rain began to fall. Soon it was a torrent, a storm that rushed across the river valley from Minnesota without stopping until the field was soaked beyond repair for the night. It was a good rain, a needed rain, but I still felt a kind of an "Oh rats..." feeling inside as I walked toward my car.

I know there is scandal in the world, and trouble, and things that aren't right. I'm a Priest and sometimes I have to wallow in it all as part of the job. I even know that baseball is sometimes messed up with chemically enhanced players getting obscene salaries to produce pumped up statistics. Even so there is something about a night under the stars with the sounds and sights and smells of a baseball game that's like a tonic to me. And last Saturday I only got the slightest taste of it, but I do have a schedule in my pocket and with the best seat in the house costing just $7 I know I'll be back. Soon.

Brother reviews brother...

Peter Hitchens reviews the book "God is not Great" written by his brother, renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens. Interesting read.


This week's homily...

All Saint’s Sunday 2007

Do you have to have a miracle attributed to you in to be considered a Saint in the Orthodox Church?

The answer is no. Although it often does happen it’s not required to be considered a Saint.

Are Bishops the only ones who decide which people are glorified as Saints in the Orthodox Church?

Again, the answer is no. While Bishops make the final decisions most people venerated as Saints in the Orthodox Church are first venerated by the faithful.

We Orthodox live in a world also inhabited by Saints, luminaries of Christ whose lives serve as model, teacher, and encouragement in our own journey of faith. We name our parishes after them. We name ourselves after them. We read their stories and venerate their images. We ask them to pray for us and cherish the evidences of divine intervention in response.

But what does it mean to be a saint?

First it’s crucially important to understand that being a saint is the normal state of all Christians. The Scripture identifies all the baptized with the title “saint” and at its core the word implies one set apart by God, which all of us were at the time we were baptized and chrismated. Because we venerate saints we often think saintliness is for someone else, for monastics or clergy or some other kind of person on whom some kind of magic has fallen. But living a life of holiness is the call on everyone who names the name of Christ.

And although for a small number of people the living out of that life of saintliness is within the context of a monastery or some other kind of institution away from the larger flow of the world for most Orthodox the everyday world is where our holiness is realized. Christians sometimes speak of two different realms the sacred and the secular. For Orthodox Christians that distinction does not exist. By grace every aspect of our lives can be filled with holiness and the Christian life can be lived in saintliness and transform every righteous vocation of a person into something godly. It is quite possible for a person to be a holy saint of a plumber, a homemaker, or even a lawyer. When people seek to know the will of God for their lives they often believe that it must be some kind of great challenge but most often the answer is “Be a faithful and holy person right where you are and in doing so you will save yourself and others.” In other words be a saint.

So all who are baptized and chrismated are called saints, and called to be saints, and in a certain way this day, All Saint’s Day, is your day because it calls to mind not just those Saints who are commemorated by the Church in some official way but also all of us who live our call to saintliness in the hustle and bustle of the everyday world, and even those whose virtue is known only to God.

Yet from the beginning of the Church she has called to mind and venerated the memory of notable Christians, persons from many different walks of life who by the grace of God exemplified the highest qualities of those called by the Holy Spirit to follow Christ.

In the earliest days of the Church these were largely the Apostles, the Mother of God, those around them and those who had given their life for the faith, the martyrs. Later pious clergy who defended the faith were venerated, and then holy people from all walks of life. Even in the very dawn of the Church the lives of holy Christians were remembered by the faithful, their prayers were coveted and their bodies and graves cherished. The story of the martyrdom of St. Polycarp in the middle of the 2nd century records the local authorities desecrating his body in their misunderstanding that the Christians would worship his remains. Many of the earliest churches gathered where holy men and women were buried or used their graves as an altar for the liturgy a practice we continue by placing a relic of a Saint in our own altars at their consecration.

As the Church grew and eventually became a legal entity and then the State Church of the Roman Empire the procedures and the formalities changed but the basic core of reverence for holy people and exemplary Christians remained. In the West detailed procedures were developed for the cause of notable Christians to be declared Saints. There is paperwork to be done, various stages of inquiry, and public proclamations in regards to the person as they progress through a process which may take decades and whose final determination lies in Rome. In fact we get the word “devil’s advocate” from the person whose job it was, in the Western Church, to formally look for inconsistencies in the evidence presented for the cause of a person presented to the Church for canonization.

In the East the process is less formal. The canonization of a Saint (which we in the East call glorification) begins, as it did in the earliest days of the Church, with the faithful venerating the memory of a holy person. In time the accounts and evidences of the holiness of the person venerated by the faithful are examined by local hierarchs who, if they believe the person to be both Orthodox in faith and holy in life, present the evidence to whatever Synod or structure may be in place for final approval. The criteria is simple. The person must have been faithful to the Orthodox faith and possessed of a life of obvious holiness.

Unlike the Western Church where three miracles related to the person are often required no supernatural evidence is demanded to declare a person a Saint in the East. The holiness of life is a miracle in itself and can be deemed sufficient even though the lives of holy people often are interwoven with miracles. Yet it is not uncommon for signs of the person’ holiness including such things as apparitions related to the person, miracles at their grave or via objects blessed by contact with the person, the absence of the normal decomposition of their body over time, or a fragrance coming from their relics. Again, although these things happen they are not required for a formal finding that the person is surely in the presence of Christ, that is glorified.

When this happens a final memorial service is held with occasionally the moving and reburial of the holy person’s body. During the vigils and services which follow formal proclamation is made of the person’s status as a capital “S” Saint, their icon is unveiled, and various hymns to and about the new Saint are sung. We Orthodox do not have a central office, as it were, to keep the whole process in order, we simply accept the decisions of other groups of canonical Orthodox and practice a kind of local diversity in the Saints we venerate. We also share with the Roman Catholic Church all those Saints who were venerated before the 11th century. So, for example we venerate St. Patrick, Apostle and Bishop of Ireland, but do not venerate Francis of Assisi or any saint of any other church who lived after the Great Schism.

As a side point it’s interesting to note that although the Orthodox Church keeps a hagiography, that is the stores and accounts of the lives of Saints, those whom it believes are certainly with God in heaven, it does not have a list of the damned, those who are certain to be away from the presence of God in hell. We believe that the manifestation of holy people is a gift to us from God but never presume that any person is permanently lost from God.

But while knowing a bit of the process of identifying and glorifying Saints is a good thing, the true value of the Saints lies in something much more important. You, I, and we, are called to be saints as well.

In the Epistle reading the author of Hebrews recounts the great deeds of saints past but never leaves the readers with the accounts for their own sake. The author tells the stories of these people as an encouragement for those now living the life of faith to live holy lives as well.

It is good to venerate the Saints but an Orthodox Christian may kiss an icon a thousand times and if they do not emulate the virtues, the life of Christ that made that person holy, in their own lives the kiss is an empty gesture. Lighting a candle before an icon makes little difference if the person kindling the flame does not also kindle a flame within themselves to imitate this Saint as they imitated Christ. The truest form of veneration is imitation and while we ask for the intercessions of the saints we are also called to act as saints ourselves in the here and now.

In this world that sometimes seems like it’s tearing apart at the seams the truth is that we don’t need more police, or soldiers, or politicians, social workers, or even preachers. What this world needs is more saints, more people who choose to live for God first, foremost, and always. That means you, and I, and we together need to live the lives we were called by God to live, endure the costs, and share the glory. When we do we save ourselves and change the world.