Now that Pentecost has happened, the promised pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s disciples and Church, we reckon the Sundays following this great feast as “after Pentecost.”
Characteristically in the Orthodox Church, the first such Sunday “after Pentecost” is designated All Saints Sunday. The Holy Spirit has come to make us holy ones, that is, saints. In the Scriptures, the word “saint” is a common designation of any true believer in Christ:
- “When [Peter] had called the saints and widows, he presented [Tabitha] alive.” (Acts 9:41)
- “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” (1 Corinthians 1:2)
A saint – “holy one” – is a person enlightened by the grace of the Holy Spirit to be set apart by faith in God’s Son in the flesh, Jesus Christ, for a new life according to the commandments of God’s heavenly kingdom. This process is also known as sanctification (holiness), “without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14; see also Acts 11:17; 15:8; 1 Pet. 1:2).
The Church, plainly stated, is the assembly of saints composed for the purpose of making saints. In other words, the Church is the gathering of those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who practice His commandments, in order to call everyone else in the world to follow Christ and life in love with God and all mankind. Sainthood is the standard of everlasting life because sainthood – holiness – is participation by grace in divine life itself: “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet. 1:15-16 [Lev. 11:44 et al.]).
- “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
- “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit…But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all…For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” (1 Corinthians 12:3,7, 13)
- “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…in [the Lord Jesus Christ] you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19, 22)
- “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
In the Orthodox Church it is common to speak of various ranks of saints. For instance, there are holy angels (nine ranks, e.g., cherubim, seraphim, etc.), “ancestors, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics, and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith” (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).
St. Paul mentions that the liturgical gathering of the Church comprises both the saints on earth and the saints in heaven (see Heb. 12:22-24). Indeed, before partaking of Holy Communion, the Priest announces: “The Holy Things (the Body and Blood of Christ) for the holy ones (Christians living and departed receiving Communion).”
All Saints Sunday manifests the reality of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) from our human perspective. The saints are Christians who have received and are receptive of the Holy Spirit to progress in the holiness of God Himself.
Jesus said, “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper (Gk., Paraclete, ‘Comforter’), that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you…He will teach you all things…He will guide you into all truth…As You [Father] sent Me into the world, I also have sent them [the disciples] into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth” (John 14:16-17, 26; 16:13; 17:18-19).
As we remember and celebrate the saints who have gone before us, we pray to become and remain saints in our day. We ask the saints who have gone before us to help us in that task by their intercessions and prayers, calling upon the same Lord and God who has perpetuated the Church throughout the centuries, and will continue to establish the faithful unshakeable in the divine life until the end of the age.