MAY, 2016

When I was younger, I participated in many 5k runs.  For those of you not into the metric system, this is about 3 miles.  I was never very fast, but I was pretty persistent. I always finished.  Sometimes I had to walk along the way to finish, particularly when I was doing the 10k or six mile runs.  Those were pretty tough, especially for a guy of my size.  My friends often joked they timed me with a calendar instead of a stop-watch.

There was one point in the race I wouldn’t walk though.  That was when I was coming to the end of the race and I was heading to the finishing line.  The very good runners had already finished, and would run back along the course to loosen up.  They would cheer us laggards as we were coming in.  They would yell encouragement such as “only a quarter mile left!” or “You can do it!”  As the finish line approached, the spectators would be cheering as well.  Somehow those leg cramps I used to get when I ran didn’t matter anymore.  Their support would lift me up.  Like all the other runners, I would pick up my pace and come across the finish line running.

The readings and prayers for All Saints Sunday in the Byzantine Rite talk about the vast number of saints there are.  We hear about martyrs, confessors (those who suffered for the faith), monks, angels, unmercenary healers, bishops, priests, and so forth. The author of Hebrews goes on to say:

“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us. “

The author of Hebrews specifically says the saints are witnesses to us.  By definitions witnesses are alive. They cheer for us, just as those kind people cheered for me all those years ago on the race course.  What is a saint? A saint is a friend of God. To be a saint means to be alive and to stand in the presence of God, to see the face of God.  That is something we all pray for. Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believe something else. The saints pray for us, and they intercede for us in front of the throne of God.  The icons we typically see around the church remind us of that great cloud of witnesses and we should think of them as friends. Since they are alive, we can have a relationship with them. To be sure, it is not a worship relationship.  Only God is worthy of worship.  We venerate the saints as the friend of God.

The book of Revelation talks about saints being under the altar.  Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches  do have relics of saints under the altar,  We all know someone we believe to be a saint, someone who is in that cloud of witnesses we see.   They are too many to count.  And that is why the churches of the Byzantine Rite has All Saints Sunday and the Roman Catholic Church has All Saints Day on November 1. . These days are set aside for the commemoration of every saint   from every corner of the world, and from all times, even to the end of the world.

Be insistent when you petition in your ask.  Eastern Christians say “Lord have Mercy” seemingly a hundred times during the Divine Liturgy.  Be insistent when you ask for help from a saint.  We need all the help we can get from the saints.   Your homework this week is to pick a saint, known to the world, or known only to you—and ask for their help.  You may be surprised at what happens.