Orthodox Canonization of the Saints

by Tasha Brandstatter

Saints are those who are recognized as extraordinarily holy people in the Christian church. In the Orthodox tradition, they help people's prayers to be heard in Heaven and serve as models for living a holy life. Unlike in the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church's process for the canonization of saints is very informal and organic.

History of Canonization

For the first millennium of the Christian Church, there was no formal canonization process. Generally, people were recognized as saints who martyred themselves for their faith, or who were acknowledged as especially holy during their lifetimes. In the 10th century, the Vatican began to compile a list of recognized saints, and in 993 Ulrich of Augsburg became the first officially canonized saint in Christendom. With the Great Schism, however, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches developed completely different approaches to how they defined sainthood and the process of canonization.

Definition of Sainthood

In the Orthodox theology, God is the only true saint, as the word saint means "holy." People become saints who are ikons, or images of, God. In other words, they set out to live holy lives by imitating Jesus, a process called theosis. They avoid sin, live in accordance with nature, and always look to God and the Holy Spirit for guidance. This is how a person becomes a saint. Unlike in the Roman Catholic Church, there is no miracle requirement for sainthood in the Orthodox Church.

Types of Saints

Considering the Orthodox definition of a saint, it could be argued that all Christians are saints to some extent. However, in order to be called a saint, a person much be exceptionally holy and fit into one of seven categories: the apostles, the first to follow Jesus' teachings; the Old Testament prophets who predicted Jesus' coming; those who have martyred themselves for the faith; the fathers of the early Christian church; the monastics; and the just, or those who live in the world.

Canonization Process

There is no formal canonization process in the Orthodox Church. This is because it is firmly believed God creates saints, not the church. A person who is recognized as holy receives prayers from people who ask the saint to intervene for them in heaven. In this case, saints are considered specialists in prayer who can help people's prayers be heard. At some point the saint's name will be listed among the choir of saints on their feast day and a liturgical cycle will be performed in their honor, at which point they will be considered canonized. There is an informal process whereby the bishops might review the saint's history, but this is not a requirement for sainthood.

About the Author

Natasha Brandstatter is an art historian and writer. She has a MA in art history and you can find her academic articles published in "Western Passages," "History Colorado" and "Dutch Utopia." She is also a contributor to Book Riot and Food Riot, a media critic with the Pueblo PULP and a regular contributor to Femnista.

Photo Credits

  • Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images