Saturday, July 26, 2014

Belonging to a larger family of God

Although saints are not substitutes for Christ, Orthodox Christians believe firmly in the communion of saints. By this we mean that the Church Triumphant in heaven is not insensitive to the needs and sufferings of the Church Militant on earth. The two churches remain connected through the bond of love which is expressed through prayer. The communion of saints is a communion of never-ending prayer.

Thus, besides our Church Family on earth, we belong to a larger family of God, which includes those who have gone before us. We are united with those in heaven. We call this the Communion of Saints, that is, the union of all who share in the life of Christ, whether on earth or in the other world.

Commenting on this, Fr. Kallistos Ware writes: “In God and in His Church there is no division between the living and the departed, but all are one in the love of the Father. Whether we are alive or whether we are dead, as members of the Church we still belong to the same family, and still have a duty to bear one another's burdens. Therefore just as Orthodox Christians here on earth pray for one another and ask for one another's prayers, so they pray for the faithful departed and ask the faithful departed to pray for them. Death cannot sever the bond of mutual love which links the members of the Church together.”

Fr. John of Kronstadt writes on the communion of saints: “We live together with them (the Saints in heaven), in the house of the Heavenly Father, only in different parts of it. We live in the earthly, they in the heavenly half; but we can converse with them, and they with us.”

How effectively the Communion of Saints is expressed on the walls of Orthodox Churches where the angels, prophets, apostles, martyrs and saints are all gathered together with the worshippers around the figure of the All-Ruling Christ in the dome. The entire Church, that in heaven and that on earth, converses with each other and lifts its heart in praise to God.

Sergius Bolshakoff caught this when he visited the Monastery of Dionysiou on Mt. Athos. He writes: “The church had its own air of mystery. A few red lamps burned before the golden iconostasis and the icons on the stand. Hieratic saints solemly looked down from the blue walls. It seemed as though they, too, had come to assist at the Liturgy, representing the church triumphant.”

Noting the small congregation in church one Sunday morning, a cynic said to the priest, “Not many in church this morning, Father. Not many at all.” The old priest replied, “You are wrong, my son. There were thousands at church this morning. Thousands and thousands and tens of thousands.” For, the priest had just read in the prayers of the liturgy: “Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify thy glorious name, evermore praising Thee . It was the Communion of Saints in action!
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