January 21, 2015

The Chief Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the Canonization of Elder Paisios

NEWS 247 contacted Archimandrite Bartholomew Samaras in the Phanar, who is Chief Secretary of the Holy Synod and a member of the Canonical Commission, to address the issue of the canonization of Elder Paisios. Having knowledge of the Typikon, Father Bartholomew explained the process by which the Church decides to proclaim a monk, priest or a martyr a saint.

"During the early years of Christianity, to be inscribed as a saint they should have been martyred, giving their life for Christ. We refer to the time when there were the persecutions of Christians. After being granted the freedom of expressing their Christian faith by Constantine the Great in the fourth century, there emerged other martyrs through various historical situations, in every Christian nation. There are also cases of martyrs in times very close to our own, such as the communist period when the Soviet Union imposed atheism and there were people who lost their lives for their faith.

After the fourth century, for a certain saint to be inscribed, their life had to be the model of the absolute application of the commandments of Christ and the teachings of the Church, regardless of miracles. That is, it was not necessary to have done miracles. Thereby distinguished clergymen, monks and laity showed themselves to be saints. However, the main criterion for selecting someone to be a saint is that they be a saint in the eyes of God's people. Then the Holy Synod comes to recognize the sanctity of the person and enters that person among the saints, having established the existence of this common consciousness. So it is this combination of being an exemplary embodiment of the principles of our Orthodox faith and the existence of popular feeling confirming this. This is the main criterion to inscribe someone into the List of Saints of the Church, besides martyrdom.

Based on these criteria, in the last decades we have cases like Saint Nektarios and Saint Porphyrios the Kavsokalyvitis, known as a priest in the Polyclinic of Athens, who associated his name and ministry with the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Dilesi. I should tell you that the last one, together with Saint Paisios, lived on Mount Athos and they knew each other. There is a correspondence between them that exists.

Elder Paisios was certainly a great figure who fulfills all the criteria of holiness. In the consciousness of people over the years the view had formed that Elder Paisios did miracles and that his life was a model of faith. Miracles related to healings are confirmed through his prayers during his life and by the invocation of his name posthumously. There are more than 150 books written in different languages that speak of his life and works. His form has been illustrated in icons as a saint because of the piety of many believers, and there are private chapels dedicated to him. Even scholarly studies are done in Theological Schools, such as that of Thessaloniki.

Certainly there is a basic principle in the Orthodox Church, for a qualifying period of time to pass from the death of a person before their sainthood is ruled. This is to eliminate people who are alive and were connected together with them and had emotional or personal or other reasons to cultivate the public feeling on their holiness, or even negatively affect public opinion on this. This is the general rule. But there are exceptions, especially for cases where the sanctity criteria is irrefutable. Such was the case of Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki (14th century), who very few years after his death is mentioned in the List of Saints of the Orthodox Church.

Saints Nektarios, Porphyrios and Paisios are great modern saints of our Church, for whom the consciousness of the people is absolutely certain, and they clearly demonstrate two things: first, that the Holy Orthodox Church is not a museum or historical institution but a living tree from which arises new branches constantly, our saints; secondly, that holiness is a personal matter for us all and is feasible enough to pursue."

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.