By Protopresbyter Fr. John Romanides
The distinction between Saints and Fathers does not exist in the Fathers. For the Fathers of the Church, the Saints are Fathers and the Fathers are Saints.
Are those who have arrived at glorification and become saints a reality or are they not a reality? That is the fundamental issue.
The current perception is that if someone is a good human being, law-abiding and so on, then he is a good Christian and a prospective saint. In that case, all our grandmothers and grandfathers are prospective saints, according to the criteria of the moralists. Someone with a moralistic perception of sanctity might see things this way.
In patristic theology, however, there is another perception. Anyone who has been cured is a saint. A saint in the patristic tradition simply means someone who is cured. It means someone who has gone through purification and reached illumination, and from illumination has gone on to glorification. He has been cured and, consequently, he is a saint.
For this reason, in the early Church they called one another "saints," even before they died. Why were the Christians called saints - the saints of Thessaloniki, the saints of Corinth and so on - and why did they call living people saints? Why? Because the members of the Church in early times were in a state of illumination. They had noetic prayer at the very least, and as they had noetic prayer and were in a state of illumination, they were called saints....
The lives of the New Martyrs are proof that the state of illumination, as it existed in the early Church in the years of persecution, continued to exist as the heart of Orthodoxy in the years of Turkish domination. This power of the faithful to undergo martyrdom is what saved Orthodoxy in the years of Turkish domination, so that not all Romans [Greeks] became Muslims. Most Romans became Muslims. Why did the small minority who remained not become Muslims? They had great confidence in the saints of the Church, that they were bearers of divine grace and that divine power really existed within them. And what is divine power? It is this power to be able to undergo martyrdom and physical tortures so as not to deny Christ. This is the proof of the true faith....
The criterion for Orthodoxy is success. What is meant by success? Success is for someone to progress from purification to illumination and eventually to reach glorification, either in this life or the next. So correct theology is judged by the success of this theology, and the correct application of this therapeutic theology is judged by the extent to which the bishop, and the clergy in general, are successful in their work. So it could be said that the basic criterion of Orthodoxy is the Sunday of All Saints....
The Prophets and the Apostles and the Saints of the Church are our own authority concerning God. We have faith in God through these people. We cannot have direct experience regarding God, unless we have reached the stage of illumination and union or glorification in our spiritual life.
From Empirical Dogmatics of the Orthodox Catholic Church According to the Spoken Teaching of Father John Romanides, vol. 1, by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, pp. 243-248.