forthright quality of the Saints
Archbishop Stylianos of
is well known, September is the beginning of autumn in the
homeland. At the same time, however, as "the fruits fall
into decline", the new Ecclesiastical Year commences in
accordance with our Graeco-Christian culture. As it is also
well known, the ecclesiastical "New Year's Day"
(1st September) is celebrated to this day with the
grandeur of the Byzantine Rubric at the all-venerable
Patriarchal Church of St George in the Phanar.
The Graeco-Byzantine culture is not simply a lurid
Rubric in our worship, with alleged intricate symbolism and
practices in other areas of our social life. Nor is it an
opulent Eastern theocracy with an arrogant Emperor at
the peak of the State in imitation of the Roman Emperors
before him who were worshipped as gods.
The notion of Culture generally includes the most
characteristic expressions of corporate and individual life,
in a gathered community of people. This means that all the
'principles' of spiritual,
cultural and socio-political life are
connected in a united whole, expressing the very soul
and self-consciousness of a people. It is that which
we usually call 'physiognomy'.
The religious phenomenon occupies an entirely
central place in such a physiognomy, even when this, for
reasons of ideology or political expediency, is not
confessed always and by everybody.
Graeco-Byzantine culture, the position of
Orthodoxy, as a spiritual power -which
inspires, shapes and maintains, in
diachronic forms (monuments), our collective expression,
beyond and above nationalistic differences- is not
only unquestioned but also the most determinative of all
Yet what is the meaning of 'Byzantine' spirituality and
Orthodoxy? Primarily, it means the
transcendence of the created world in general, in the
name of the only lord of life and death. This transcendence
does not leave the world vain or destitute. Instead, it lays
claim to the world until the last speck of dust! Since it
recognises that, having been created 'out of nothing', it is
the estate of God.
Therefore Orthodoxy and 'Byzantine' spirituality mean
faith in a continual 'transfiguration' from the simply
'human' to the 'divine-human' and
'theandric'. Precisely this ineffable
'dramaturgy' in the midst of history that God reveals
through the Incarnation constitutes the
quintessence of Christianity and divine Revelation in
general. After the Incarnation, each person recognises -or
at least can recognise- that there exists a treasured
mystical deposit within. It is a divine 'centrifugal'
power that is literally 'ecstatic'. It is the
'identifying mark' of the saint, which is expressed
as a thirst for the eternal!
The 'icon of God' engraved in clay about which the Old
Testament informs us (Gen 1:26), now, after the divine
Incarnation, becomes the certainty of a continual
foretaste of 'deification' of the final things.
Nevertheless, such a journey from the 'image' towards the
'likeness' of God could not possibly have been a human
achievement. It is primarily the will, the condenscension
and the blessing of God. The human person must simply
receive this divine gift and 'co-work' accordingly. As the
Apostle Paul points out "As we work together with Him, we
urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain" (2 Cor
At precisely this crucial point we radically distinguish
the world of paganism from the godly world of divine
Revelation. This means that, if the Incarnation of
God really gave the definitive measure and the unique
'key', for the correct understanding and evaluation of the
world, this should in no way be perceived as cause for
someone to believe that Christ and Christianity 'divide' the
world. Neither could humanity before Christ be condemned
entirely, as 'ungodly' or as 'impious' paganism. The
spirituality, for example of Heraclitus and so many other
ancient sages, who almost 'touched upon' crucial truths of
divine Revelation, have no relationship whatsoever with the
human sensibilities of the twelve gods of the Greeks, nor of
course with the analogous forms of Roman barbarity.
Perhaps here we would have to remind ourselves that it is
precisely this hidden 'relationship' between the two worlds,
that is before Christ and after Christ, that
the Christian Church proclaimed from the very beginning. Not
only the unity and undivided character of
Scripture (as divine Revelation contained in the Old
and New Testament), but also the famous theory of the
first Christian Apologists regarding the 'spermatic
logos'. This same relationship led the Church to
scornfully characterise some pre-Christian writers and wise
people as 'pagans', while at the same time preserving
the teachings of others in manuscript form in the libraries
of monasteries (often as palimpsests in which holy writings
coexisted with various writings of the pre-Christian world).
A most moving sign of this 'coexistence' is the wall
paintings of several Naves, even in the Monasteries of Mount
Athos (for example the Monastery of Dionysiou), where the
chorus of the Prophets are depicted together with
distinguished sages of the ancient world.
All the above should not be considered by the reader as
irrelevant to the primary topic expressed by the title of
this article. On the contrary, all these constitute an
essential introduction to the Christian understanding of
holiness, and more particularly the 'forthright quality of
The fundamental underpinning in all this introduction is
of course the teaching of the Church that the Christian God,
remaining in His essence undivided (Trinity unconfused and
undivided), is the 'changeless' God, and for this precise
reason does not 'regret' His primeval divine will towards
the world. This is what the Scriptures verify explicitly:
"for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom
After all this, we are justified in maintaining that it
constitutes a sign of unprecedented degradation, or
at least tragic misinterpretation, if not gross
ingratitude, that some contemporary enlightened
Greeks, evidently more 'spellbound' by the humanism of the
Enlightenment than by Christian spirituality, propagandise
maniacally today, but certainly with great delay(!), about
pre-Christian Greece and the Twelve gods of Olympus, in the
midst of a Christian Europe, and essentially amidst a
universal contemporary Culture.
Following the first part of this article, we must now
look into the relationship between the holiness and
the forthright nature of the Saints. In order to do
so, we must first briefly examine the meaning of the word
'saint' in the vocabulary of the Church, before turning to
the meaning of 'forthrightness' as a special
characteristic of the Saints!
We will commence with the classic passage from St Paul,
which presents the basic distinction between members
of the Church and all other fellow human beings. We must
however note that the Apostle Paul - although undoubtedly
the Founder of Biblical Theology in Christianity - does not
'invent' the distinction of Christians as 'saints'. Being so
deeply respectful of Tradition, he adopted the
teaching concerning saintliness from the Old
This is of special significance, as it does not simply
highlight the piety and humility of Paul.
Above all, it reminds us of two important truths. Firstly,
that the 'word of God', like God Himself, is
one and undivided, even though it is revealed
to us gradually in two phases - the Old and New
Testament. Secondly, and not unrelated to the first
truth, the 'people of God ' are also one and
undivided. They are called by the word of God to form
in history the leaven that leavens the whole lump.
A careful reading of St Paul's Second Letter to the
Corinthians (6: 14-18) allows us to discover these truths.
It is not necessary to reproduce that entire passage. It is
sufficient to quote the most striking phrases of the
passage, which derive from various books of the Old
Testament (Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Isaiah etc.).
The first admonition, with which he commences, is in fact
a command, "Do not be unequally yoked together with
unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with
lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And
what accord has Christ with Beliar? Or what part has a
believer with an unbeliever?"
While this command may appear to be divisive, it is not
given to juxtapose the 'believers' as enemies of the
non-believers'. It is given simply in order for the
faithful to realize what responsibility and mission
they have taken upon themselves - as humble chosen
instruments - to edify the non-believers and 'gather' them
into the family of God. If they remain undifferentiated,
i.e. under the same 'yoke' and the same passions as the
unbelievers, who are lawless and sitting in
darkness (this is what being "yoked together" means!),
they will not in fact help them, but instead make them more
audacious. Yet there is another danger, one that is even
worse. It is vanity. Today we call it arrogance.
St Paul however does not want them to think that their
own virtue makes them 'worthy' for such a superhuman task.
In order for them to endure such a distinction and
mission, he therefore reminds them that it is the
will and promise of God that shall make them
His 'living temple', "For you are the temple of the
The temple of God is a separate space, not to
underestimate or demote the other spaces outside the
Church building, but rather in order to serve and
sanctify them. In a similar way, the people of God
are 'distinct', but not isolated or cut off
from other people.
The command of the Lord to "come out from among them
and be separate" means this: even though you are
flesh of their flesh, go ahead, become something more. In
other words, become for them a point of reference!
Another aspect of this duty to remain set apart
is the other command that states "touch nothing
unclean". Because the unclean item, by very definition,
cannot inspire, ennoble or elevate the other. This is why
the notion of 'purification' was always closely connected to
the meaning of religion. Purification, that is, of the body,
but also of the soul and spirit.
Purification essentially achieves in a visible way that
which repentance achieves on an invisible and purely
spiritual level. It cleanses and rids us of the burden of
sins, thereby enabling us to see freely our own weaknesses
as well as the grandeur of God. This is why one who is
'purged' and repentant is in practice humbled
before God. This is precisely why such a person is accepted
as a chosen 'instrument' and 'vessel', for the
sake of serving all people.
Instead of leading to arrogance or disparity
in relation to the world, we can see that the
commandment to be 'set apart' and 'purified' ensures that
the recipients are the most appropriate 'material' to help
form the world into one family of God. Thus the use of the
terms 'chosen people' or 'people of God' in
Scripture (which are a stumbling block for certain
internationalists and so-called democrats of the modernist
enlightenment) have no racist or 'elitist' underpinnings. On
the contrary, these terms remind the members of the chosen
people not of their privileges, but rather of their
obligations! It is similar to the leader of the
commandos in any army who does not bring to their attention
the possible successes, which may make them proud. He
instead points out the duties and dangers that must
continually keep them vigilant and alert. And there is
nothing more demanding in terms of constant vigilance than
to know that you are the 'property' of God, a simple
instrument 'in the hands of the living God'.
The 'Saint' of God (either as a people or as an
individual), while bearing such a universal mission,
and yet being brought out from among similar people, feels
like a 'debtor' towards all. St Paul readily expresses the
boundaries of this debt when he states, "I have become
all things to all men, that 1 might by all means save
some" (1 Cor 9:22). The Celebrant expresses exactly the
same lack of boundaries during the Divine Eucharist when he
exclaims "Your own of Your own we offer You, in all and
Following all the above, we can more easily appreciate
the meaning of this boldness and forthrightness as the
characteristic of the Saints par excellence.
The word for forthrightness in Greek (parresia) is
a compound term, derived from the terms for 'utterance'
(resis) and 'all' (pan). So it means in effect
that every utterance, every word, every phrase which
could possibly console and edify another, should be
'enlisted' and 'dared'. Both towards God and towards fellow
human beings! The Saint must in a certain sense know
all languages! And dare to use all languages! To
speak with rational beings, just as with the irrational.
With the living creatures, just as with the inanimate ones.
With the wise, as with the fools. With God and His angels,
as well as to the devil and his angels.
The Saints possesses this forthrightness because of their
utter humility, which has in a sense become the 'melting
pot' of the noble features of the natural person. In
addition, Saints are at the same time recipients of the
enlightenment of divine Revelation. Only in this way
are they able see all things, hear all things, notice all
things, imagine all things, hold all things within their
souls, so as to sanctify all things.
Within the 'forthrightness' of the Saint, then, are
contained all the words (and deeds) which can make wise the
human person and save him.
In order to attain the breadth of 'means' which make it
possible for the Saint of God to express all things, the
long process of "equipping the Saints" as St Paul
says (Ephes 4:12) is needed. Yet it is not only the
"equipped" person who has the means and the strength to
express everything in all directions. It is also the
person who is brave at the same time. This is the
reason why the word 'forthrightness' also entails the
courage and boldness to speak to all people,
or to God Himself. The Hymnography of the Orthodox Church
therefore makes frequent pleas to the Saints that they
"intercede for us" to God, as ones "who have parresia".
from Voice of Orthodoxy, v. 24(7-8),
the official publication of the Greek Orthodox Archbiocese