Thursday, July 23, 2015

And that’s no miracle

Can anyone deny that the canonization of saints is a function of the political apparatus of the Church? I am not here declaring anything to oppose or ridicule her, simply stating a fact. The saints who get noticed, who are glorified, whose little ‘s’ is elevated to big ‘S’, are in fact those whom the Church wants to hold up to our view, whom she wants us to emulate, who promote her product, whom she can use as bait, as inexhaustible supply, and as reward.

I find the method of choosing who will be canonized to be trivializing. Myself, I am bored by the search for documentable miracles and am not impressed when they are found. The Roman Church needs two indisputable miracles. I’m not sure how many the Orthodox Church requires, but I’ve noticed that once a reposed elder has been publicly slated for the fast track to sainthood, dozens if not hundreds of miracle stories surface to support them.

From my experience and from my reading, I have found that behind the Church of Christ there shadows what Sergey Fudel calls ‘the dark double of the Church.’ This is persons within the Church who do the works of darkness, rarely openly, usually disguised as light. These are not often laypeople, who may be (and certainly are told that they are) sinners, open or concealed, for we are not important enough to be noticed, or numerous enough to do the Church any damage.

While the Church hums along in its daily life, baptizing, marrying and burying people, and, if it has time and resources, helps some of them through the crises of existence and faith, guardians are quietly at work—and I’m not speaking of angels—making sure that the Church will continue to propagate itself, and to manage the herd it is responsible for, though not always in a responsible way. I mean, it follows the Gospel when it can, but when push comes to shove, well, you know the rest.

Back to sainthood, and to the miracles that prove someone is a Saint, I have already said enough for you to know that I am not going to be impressed by myrrh-gushing relics, or cures caught by drinking holy water. The avid and persistent search for such miracles only deadens the Church—her members, not the institution—to the actual miracles that really do happen all around us, every day. Mention this to anyone and their eyes glaze over while they silently smile.

But if my ten-year struggle with depression, drunkenness, drug abuse, or all three is suddenly ended by praying to a reposed elder or by touching something that once belonged to him and is now on public display—it’s a miracle! Would to God I had tried a little harder to find strength for self-control the ordinary way—I couldn’t! life was so hard!—but that’s alright and, praise God, the elder’s prayers have saved me. Life may be ‘all miracle’ as some say, but I need something more real, right now, and I found it!

In the book Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia (Convent of the Evangelist John, Thessaloniki, Greece) the author describes the political mechanisms at work in the canonization of saints. The author, and others, spent a lot of time and effort collecting stories of miracles performed by the Farasiote priest known as Hatzefendis. I do not for a moment doubt these miracles. What he says, though, is that others were promoting another candidate for sainthood, as if God has a quota system for admission into glory.

I, too, had met Father Theodoros personally in Aigaleo, as I had some others from our part of the world in Moschato in 1962. It is a fact that I had noticed great indifference toward Father Arsenios on the part of their Association, and I was unable to account for this at the time. In particular, I asked the Association Chairman for whatever information he could give me about Father Arsenios, and he replied: “Father Paisios, we oughtn’t to refer to Father Arsenios at all, so that we can better promote Paisios II, who was a fellow-countryman of ours, and Metropolitan of Kaisareia besides, and then the standing of the Association will be enhanced.” When I heard this I was appalled at the very worldly way those people think!
(Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia, p. 30)

No, the association and its members that the author refers to was not ‘the Church’ per se, only part of it, and that is exactly what I have noticed. It is not the Church—that is, the lovers and imitators of Jesus—that do these kinds of things, but ‘special interest groups’ within her. The Church is no different than secular society in this regard, though we might wish it otherwise. I am no conspiracy theorist, but I do have eyes and ears. Christ tells us of hirelings. I know what to watch out for.

We see in the Roman Church how saints are canonized, at least what the media shows us. If one reads and understands history, it is obvious what the Church is doing. The Church, both East and West, shares the same roster of political Saints starting with Sts Constantine and Helen. Far be it from me to traduce the Saints. The Church has exercised the prerogatives bestowed upon the holy apostles (who at the time were the whole Church) in canonizing them, but the criteria are still open to all, and we are free to decide for ourselves who are and who are not Saints.

When I find myself having to use double-think, I feel threatened, and I ask myself, why must I? The life of faith, the life in the Lord Jesus Christ, is one. There is never a need to dissimulate, only to cover the offenses of others, to cover them and to excuse them, out of love, which is the prime directive. This is not the same thing as believing one thing inwardly, and outwardly confessing another. I may, and must, overlook, forgive, and pray for the healing of the sins of others. That is my belief, inner and outer.

How pitiful, how wretched, to be in the Church and, acting the part to the letter, to have nothing of the spirit at all, to believe that to support and promote the Church we must deny Christ Himself. That must, indeed, take great faith, or no faith at all. May it be the former for those who find themselves in such a place, but either way, those who do not serve one Master, but who love the one and despise the other, run the risk of hearing, ‘How did you get in here? Take him, and cast him into the outer darkness…’

My Saints? Yes, there are many, though they don’t always wear the halos of ecclesiastical glorification, nor are all of them ‘dead’ yet. In fact, none of them are dead, though some, like Jesus, can already say, ‘I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore’ (Revelation 1:18). All of them have performed, do perform, and keep performing miracles throughout the triple manifold of time, because that is what Jesus does, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty’ (Revelation 1:8).

Yes, He gives life to everyone who calls upon His name, and makes them saints, a kingdom of priests and kings. And that’s no miracle.

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