One of the greatest failures of Protestantism is the rejection of the saints as spiritual role models. The “Bible only” and “Jesus only” ideal has taken away the practice of personal imitation and replaced it with one book that is subject to denominational and personal interpretation. Jesus Christ is God the Son. But, to isolate the God the Son from God the Father and God the Holy Spirit is to throw the Trinity out of balance with a focus on One that can be taken out of the context of the other two. Part of the purpose of saints it to have a body of heroic believers in the Trinity to emulate. The Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, the Apostles, and a few others are readily found in the Bible. Others were honored during the great persecution (33 to 313 AD) as martyrs. Some were known for their efforts and wisdom in struggling against temptations and teaching the correct doctrines. A tradition of holy living continues to help us perceive saints and sainthood even to this day.
Our Christian atmosphere devoid of these spiritual heroes has given our society no one to look up to as we seek our soul’s salvation. The Apostle Paul instructed the Church to “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). No, Paul did not die and rise from the grave. But, as a fellow human who has lead a bold and horrific life for the sake of the Gospel, this saint is an excellent example of bearing great hardships for the faith. Why not follow him as a part of the Christian journey? Mary (Theotokos=God bearer) maintained her bodily purity and accepted the will of God the father to bear Jesus (Luke 1:26-56). Should we (males as well as females) not emulate her in seeking purity and having the Lord grow in us? I have no doubt and the saints of Orthodox Christianity teach that there is power in the name of Jesus. But without the examples and stories of those who have called upon it, the name is distant from the human condition. This distance causes it to be cursed and devalued.
The lack of spiritual heroes has opened an incredible vacuum of hopelessness that Satan fills daily. We have children in “good” neighborhoods emulating the “gangsta” and gangster characters in music and film. Too many clothing and lifestyles of “celebrities” are over-sexualized. The actions and attitudes of political leaders aren’t much better no matter if they claim to be conservative or liberal. It’s a small wonder that our younger generations are not only giving up on church. Some are giving up on life as well.
Purchasing the complete Synaxarion: The Lives of the Saints of the Orthodox Church can cost an arm and a leg. No one should be required to memorize the names of every person St. Nikolai Velimirovich mentions in the Prologue of Orhid. But, there are websites that have daily stories of saints. Among the resources available are the Orthodox Church of America site. The Greek Archdiocese of North America has a search calendar. Also, check out Ancient Faith Radio’s audio program as well. As you read and hear their stories, there will be a few that you will find convicting, comforting, and encouraging. St. Habakkuk of Serbia is just one who has been a great influence on me.