By Metropolitan Nicholas of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki
Honoring the saints is a fundamental element of the Orthodox tradition and life. Through the churches dedicated to them, through the expressive icons of them as they are in eternity, through the poetic services, through their exciting Lives, through the constant invocation of their name, they are people who are very much alive for us and their grace intervenes in the lives of the faithful - strengthening, supporting and sanctifying them.
It is not unusual for the Church to address a group of saints, rather than individuals. In this way, we honor the infants slaughtered by Herod, the Fathers of the Ecumenical Synods, and those who were martyred en masse in the various persecutions. It would have been hard, therefore, for the sensitive, poetic, monastic and theological soul of our blessed father, Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, to refrain from displaying his gifts and embracing the whole company of the genuinely God-bearing Fathers, monks and ascetics, who truly shone on the Holy Mountain. It was right and proper that their lives should be appreciated, that honor be accorded to them from the whole of the Church world-wide, and that their earthly model and divine grace be provided to the faithful for inspiration and sanctification. This is how the wonderful, spiritual creation of the Service for our Blessed and God-bearing Fathers, Who Shone on the Holy Mountain came to be written.
The modern Elder, Saint Paisios, used to say that if Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite hadn’t written anything else and if we knew nothing more of his life, the mere fact that he composed this magnificent service would suffice to convince us of his sanctity and unique grace. It’s a service which, while it certainly praises the Athonite saints, also demonstrates the sanctity of the hymnographer himself in a unique way.
The life of the Athonite saint is very different in a majestic way and is recognizable by the ‘otherness’ of its nature. There’s nothing else like the Holy Mountain in the whole of world history. It’s a unique laboratory of sanctity. It’s a variety of paths of total dedication, which all lead, however, to the peak of ‘the greatest alteration’. At the same time, it’s a one-way road which ends with the ‘contemplation of the majesty of God and the sight of His glory’.