The Rev. Stanley S. Harakas is a priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and is Archbishop lakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology Emeritus in the field of Orthodox Christian Ethics at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA. Fr. Harakas is the author of five pamphlets and fifteen books, both scholarly and popular, and over one hundred thirty published scholarly articles and book contributions. For twenty-one years (1980-2000), he was a weekly columnist in the national Greek-American newspaper, The Hellenic Chronicle. He is a beloved teacher to generations of Greek Orthodox Christians in America, thanks to his many years as a professor and his prolific writings.
All of us have heard of the saints. The names of nearly all of us are a saint’s name. We know about some popular saints, like St. George or St. Demetrios or especially, the Mother of our Lord, the Virgin Mary.
But what is a saint? A common answer is “a holy person.” But what does that mean? In Greek, “holy” is “AH-yee-os.” Its basic meaning is “to be set apart for the service of God.” This can refer to objects, such as a table. An ordinary table can be used for all kinds of things, for eating, or for writing, as a desk. But if we take an ordinary table and dedicate it to God’s use, it becomes an altar. It is a “Holy Table.”
It’s the same with people. When ordinary people commit their lives to God, and if they seek to live in harmony with that commitment, they become holy, just by that act. We know this from the Bible. St. Peter quotes the Old Testament, saying “as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written [that God said], ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16).
That’s why St. Paul, in writing to many early Christian churches that he established around the Mediterranean, called the Christians by the name “saints.” For you see, the word “Saint” in English, is a translation of the Greek word for “holy,” that is “AH-yee-os”!
For example, in writing to the Christians in the Greek city of Ephesus, he begins by saying: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:1). Later on, in the same letter, he says, “So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).
So, every Christian is a saint, in the sense that having been baptized, we are dedicated to God. Strange as it may sound, you are a saint! Well, at least potentially. That’s why St. Paul, in writing to the Christians of Corinth, says, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
Few of us approach perfection in our commitment to God. But some Christians do realize a great measure of devotion and dedication to God. They live their lives fully in communion with God. These are the persons we normally call saints. Their lives are examples for us. Because they are so close to God, we ask them to help us and to pray for us. We honor them above other ordinary Christians because of the exemplary sanctity of their lives. These are the saints for whom most of us have been named. Your saint is an example of Christian living -for everyone, but especially, for you!
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