On the Veneration of Saints Who Shone Forth in the West

Report to the 1952 Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile.

Archbishop John (Maximovich) Archbishop John (Maximovich)

‘Set the bounds of the people according to the number of His Angels, and gathered the dispersed sons of Adam into His Church, causing a multitude of His saints to appear within her like the stars in heaven, shining forth in the East and the West, the North and the South’.

Very few of them have Church hymns composed in their honour, and feasts observed throughout the Church. Countless multitudes of others are known and venerated only in particular places, others are known in part through the stories of their lives, and through the calendars carrying the days of their commemorations. The compilation of the calendars began in the middle of last millennium; they were usually put together by particular persons on their own initiative, and their importance depended on the trust the Church had in its compiler, and its reception. The compilations known as Chetyi-Minei (Prologue), collections of the lives of saints, appeared much later. Russian people venerated the ones who pleased God, both those who shone forth in their native land, and those whom they knew from their lives. In Russia the calendars and the lives of saints have undergone many emendations, based on the recently collected material. The Chetyi Minei of St Dimitry of Rostov, one of his most important works, are a source for modern collections of the lives of saints in Russian. Later on the Holy Synod has published an augmented Russian version of it [the original was in Church Slavonic - tr]. Among the lives of the early saints there are names, who are no longer commemorated [in Church], and whose lives are virtually unknown. In Russia the most complete list of saints was compiled by Archbishop Sergii of Vladimir [(Spassky) – tr], which included great many saints of the East and West. No matter how thorough was the information in Russia about the saints who shone forth in foreign lands, when the Russians have completed their great exodus out of the land of their fathers, they found that there are great many of saints in other countries outside Russia, who were not known even to the most thorough researchers of the saints’ lives based on available lives and calendars.

Among the saints who shone forth in the nations closest to Russia by geography, national character and origin, even those who were directly connected to it through their works and lives, remained unknown within it. Such are disciples of the holy First Teachers of the Slavs, Sts Cyril and Methodius –  wonderworker Naum, holy hierarch Clement [of Ochrid] and others, whose teachings have given help to the translators of the Service books into Slavonic.

The saints venerated in the Greek Church, Saint John The Russian and Saint Pachomius, both 18th century prisoners of war from Little Russia [now Ukraine], are Russian saints who are not known in Russia. The countries of the East also boast many ancient and new spiritual athletes, who are not known elsewhere. But since these lands are Orthodox, and the saints are glorified by Orthodox Churches, there could be no hesitation or doubt in venerating these saints along those that are already known in Russia. Together with the peoples of these lands – Greece, Serbia and Montenegro, Bulgaria and Romania – all Orthodox ought to ask for their intercessions and venerate their memory.

More complex is the case of the Western saints. Christianity was preached here in the first centuries, in many cases by the Apostles. For many centuries the West stood firm in the Orthodox faith; indeed, when heresy held sway in the East, some confessors came here seeking support - St Athanasius, St Maximus. Many martyrs and ascetics shone forth here, giving strength to the Church. Yet through West’s moving away, then falling away from the One Universal Church the truth has become obscured here, and blended with delusion. It was necessary to determine who among those venerated here as the pillars and holy hierarchs of the Faith are rightly so called. It was wrong to let individual scholars do this, since it was a duty of the diocese; the diocese had to take up this work. Decisions of the councils of Russian elders on the veneration of the Western saints cannot be called their canonisation, but rather a determination that a given person was venerated as a saint before the falling away of the West, and that he is a saint venerated by the Orthodox Church.

Of course, when the [Orthodox] East has neither liturgical material to honour the saint, nor any information about him, it should not be seen as a refusal to acknowledge his sanctity. Indeed, the church services for many of the saints who shone forth in the East also do not exist. Almost every entry for the day in Synaxarion and Prologue indicates the commemoration of saints, whose memory is not celebrated in churches on that day. Many saints have no feast day appointed; some of them are mentioned in particular services, for instance that of the Synaxis of the Saints who Shone Forth in Ascetic Labours, others are known and venerated regardless [of no day or service]. Yet [there are] martyrs, ascetics and other saints, whose lives are known to God alone. They are all together commemorated on the Sunday of All Saints, as the Synaxarion for that day says. The saints who, until now (or at present time) are not known in the East, but venerated in the West, belong to different centuries, and were glorified in different ways.

There are martyrs of the first centuries, ascetics and holy hierarchs (the last two ranks are to some extent combined, since many ascetics have been made bishops later in life). Regarding the first rank, that of martyrs, no doubts arise. Their sufferings for the sake of Christ make them equal to the other martyrs venerated by the Church; some of them are even included in the best Russian Synaxaria, and so are being mentioned here only because they aren’t known to the majority of lay people, who use only the abridged versions of calendars and Synaxaria. Such are, for example, the holy hierarch Pothinus, Bishop of Lyon, and other martyrs of Lyon. The people, who live near the places of their martyrdom and where their holy relics rest, had to be reminded of these priceless spiritual treasures, and the Orthodox faithful were urged to venerate their memory. There are multitudes of martyrs in the West. The pilgrimages to the neighbouring holy sites have started in the first decades of our dispersion through individual effort; yet many people still know nothing about these, unlike other places of interest.

In Marseille martyr Victor, who suffered along with his prison guards whom he brought to Christ, Alexander, Felicianus and Longinus, are venerated from ancient times. Over their graves Venerable Cassian the Roman has built his monastery, in which he laboured and reposed. There are several martyrs named Victor in the Orthodox calendar, but from the stories of their martyrdom it is clear that he [St Victor of Marseille] is not listed.

Equally ancient is the veneration of martyr Alban, [who suffered martyrdom] near London; his relics are there till this day; a detailed description of his struggles survives. Some Church sources mention the Legion of St Mauritius, which suffered for Christ in the Swiss mountains, like the army of Andrew Stratelates in the East; this Maurice bears the same name as the other Maurice, who was martyred with his son Photinus, but the place and manner of suffering are not the same, so it is clear that we are dealing with different martyrs. Also Toulouse was sanctified with the blood of Bishop Saturninus, who was dragged along its streets for Christ’s sake in the middle of 3rd century.

All of them are martyrs, whose drops of blood were seeds for Christ, and whom the Church glorifies almost every day in the troparia and stichera for the martyrs [muchenichen], and who are also remembered in the places where flowered and brought fruit the seeds of their blood. They are themseves like blood, as the blood of other ‘martyrs in all the world’, which adorned the Church ‘as with purple and fine linen’. Following in martyrs’ footsteps, the hierarchs and venerable ascetics had established the foundation of faith and piety in the West and East alike. The early Western monasticism had close links with the East. The works of the disciples of its founders and of other writers who lived near that time bear witness to it.

One of the main ‘seedbeds’ in the West was the monastery of Lérins. The life of its founder St Honoratus [mistakenly named here Honorius, Гонорий] is preserved in a eulogy by his disciple Hilary, Bishop of Arles. It speaks of St Honorius’ travelling with his brother in Egypt and Palestine, and on return establishing his monastery at Lérins. Several miracles were attributed to St Honorius’ intercessions during his life. St Paulinus of Nola, who had a spiritual bond with the monastery, sent there St Eucherius, whose several extant works include The Life of St Mauritius and the Holy Martyrs of the Legion of Thebes, which was mentioned earlier. The Ven. [John] Cassian, who later established his own monastery in Marseille, also spent some time in Lérins. It is worth mentioning that Ven. Cassian, while being honoured by the entire Orthodox Church (although his memory is celebrated once in four years), is considered only a local saint by the Roman Catholics, and his memory is kept once a year only in Marseille, where portions of his relics, which were spared destruction during French Revolution, still rest in the church of Priest-Martyr Victor. St Vincent of Lérins, who is venerated in the East more than in the West, and who died [instead of ‘погибший’ – ‘lost his life’ – a mistake in the Russian text] around 450, has left us a treatise on the Holy Tradition of the Church. Through monastery of Lérins both England and Ireland are also linked with the East, as it gave spiritual foundation to Holy Hierarch [instead of ‘преподобный’ – ‘Venerable’ – a mistake in the Russian text] Augustine, who with his fellow-workers enlightened England; St Patrick, enlightener of Ireland, also spent some time there. The monastery founded by St Columba in Ireland had communications and contacts with the Eastern monasteries in the 11th century, and these, according to some sources, continued for some time after the fall of Rome – the severing of Rome’s relations with the East.

The remains of that monastery, along with the relics of its venerable founder, still exist, and recently a pilgrimage was made there, which left a profound impression on the pilgrims, as did the detailed life of St Columba., The Venerable Columbanus, Fridolin and Gall, followers of Ven. Columba, who in the 7th century went from Ireland to Switzerland, helped to <re>establish Christianity in Gaul and Northern Italy, and defend the Orthodoxy from heretics. They had gifts of working miracles and knowing the future. Their detailed lives were kept in the monasteries there, and their memory is until this day is venerated in the places connected with them.

Among the venerable saints of France most prominent were St Genevieve and St Clodoaldus [in the Russian text - Clotuald], also known as Cloud.

Ven. Genevieve was born in 423 and reposed in 512. From childhood she was marked by exceptional piety, and spent all her life in prayer and abstinence. St Germanus of Auxerre had foreseen her calling, and gave a blessing to her, still a child, to dedicate herself to God. She had a spiritual link with Ven. Symeon the Stylite, who knew about her. In her life she worked many miracles, one of which, the saving of Paris from Attila through her prayer, is the best known one. The memory of that miracle is not only is preserved in legend, but is also marked by the column, erected on the spot Attila has reached. She is known as the protector of Paris and France, and neither the destruction of her relics during the Revolution, nor the battle against the faith, could not stop this veneration.

Ven. Clodoaldus belonged to a royal dynasty that perished in civil strife. When he grew up and understood that earthly glory counts for nothing, he chose not to claim his [dynastic] rights. Having received monastic tonsure, he lived the life of strictest ascetic labours. He lived alone for some time, then a monastery grew around him, and his relics until this day are venerated in the monastery church. He reposed in the Lord in the mid-6th century.

Ven. Clodoaldus was raised by his grandmother, St Clotilde, Queen of France. Her figure is as important to France as St Olga is to the Russians, St Ludmilla to the Czechs and St Helena to the peoples of Roman Empire. Thanks to St Clotilde, her husband King Clovis I received baptism, and finally became firmly rooted in Orthodox faith. Through her life, advice and prayer she preached and established Christianity in France. Following the death of her husband she spent her life in abstinence and care for people in trouble. Having received a sign from above regarding her coming repose in thirty days’ time, St Clotilde has peacefully fallen asleep in the Lord on 3 June 533. Her relics were carried in procession until the time of French Revolution, when they were burned, and now only fragments remain.

The Christianity in France, first preached in Apostolic age, was established in the following centuries through many labours of the holy hierarchs, who also had to fight the invading heresies. The most famous of them was St Martin, bishop of Tours. His life is found in the Russian Chetyi Minei, although it is placed under 12 October, rather than 11 November, the day of his repose, when he is commemorated in church. His teacher, St Hillary of Poitiers, is also universally venerated among the saints.

St Martin, whose memory is much venerated, has helped to enlighten not only Gaul (France), but also Ireland, since St Patrick, its enlightener, was his close relative and spiritual charge.

St Patrick led a very strict life, and, like St Martin, combined works of a bishop with monastic labours. His fame as a miracle-worker has helped conversion of the Irish. He was venerated as a saint from the day of his repose in 491 or 492, which was followed by a number of signs that confirmed his holiness. His contemporaries, who also worked in Ireland, which they visited to fight Pelagianism, were two pillars of the Church in Gaul (France), holy hierarchs Germanus of Auxerre and Lupus of Troyes. Both were famous as fearless preachers and defenders of their flock from the barbarians, and also for many miracles, both during their lives and after their repose.

St Germanus of Auxerre reposed in the Lord in 439; his relics remained incorrupt until they were destroyed by the Calvinists. St Lupus, mentioned by St John, Archbishop of Chernigov (later Metropolitan of Tobolsk) in his work Iliotropion, has received monastic tonsure in the monastery of Lérins, and was under spiritual charge of St Honoratus, worthy successor of St Honorius, founder of that monastery [a mistake – the founder was St Honoratus]. Later St Honoratus became Bishop of Arles, where the Church was established and first led by St Trophimus, a disciple of St Paul. St Lupus was chosen to be a bishop of the city of Troyes, but continued leading a strictly ascetic life. Having saved his city from Attila, and working a number of miracles, he died [Russian text has ‘погиб’ – lost his life – a mistake] in 479. His relics remained intact until the French Revolution, when they were burned; only small fragments remain.

St Germanus of Paris lived a century later. We have his very old life, which speaks of his deep piety from early childhood, which was very hard. Having received a monastic tonsure in the monastery of St Symphorian, he led a very strict life, combining it with pastoral labours and works of mercy. He lived to an old age, and, having received the news from above about his coming departure, he reposed in the Lord on 28 May 576. His relics were kept for a long time; it was not possible to find their current location. He started the building of the present church, now dedicated to him, over a pagan shrine of Isis, dedicating it to holy Martyr Vincent. He also built a church of St Germanus of Auxerre, whom he greatly venerated and strived to emulate. Through his works and life Christianity in France has been firmly established.

In the land of France, a host of hierarchs and ascetics, pillars of Orthodoxy and teachers of piety has shone forth. The enlightenment through Christian faith of the North-Eastern Europe has begun later. A great contribution to this was made by Holy Hierarch Ansgar, Bishop of Hamburg, later of Bremen.

The life of St Ansgar, written by his disciple Archbishop Rimbert, survived. We learn that the saint was born in 801, and at the age of seven had a vision that called him to serve God. He was educated in a monastery, where he received tonsure when he was 12. Ansgar led a strict ascetic life, and later, when he turned 21, he, encouraged by visions, went North to preach the Gospel to pagans there. His mission began in Hamburg, then moved to Denmark, where he baptised the King and people, and later to Sweden.

In 831 Ansgar was consecrated Bishop of Bremen and of all Northern peoples. He also preached to the Laba (Elbe) Slavs (now Northern Germany). St Ansgar was full of zeal, and was ready to die for Christ. Saddened about not being granted martyr’s crown, he was comforted by the voice from above, and has fallen asleep in the Lord on 3 February 865. St Ansgar alternated his apostolic labours with periods of reflection in solitude. He was exceedingly merciful, giving help to those in need as soon as he learned about it, regardless of where it was, caring especially for those who fled their homes, for the widows and orphans.

Many miracles of healing were wrought through St Ansgar’s intercessions, although he believed himself to be a sinful man, and preferred to keep these, and his good deeds, secret. But manifest abundance of Divine Grace that shone upon him, and the universal veneration of his memory, led to his glorification in the saints merely two years after his repose. In 870 St Ansgar’s name already appears in a Martyrology.

His incorrupt relics rested in Hamburg until the time of Reformation, when they were buried; only small portions now remain. His life and the abundance of God’s grace that was manifested through him, together with the fact that he was glorified in the saints when the West was still part of Universal Orthodox Church, should leave us in no doubt that St Ansgar is a saint pleasing to God. Archbishop Alexander [Lovchy] collected information about him available in German, from both Roman Catholic and Protestant sources. All these confirm what was said before, describing this great man’s life of humble labours and works of mercy, and his miracles. We also received his extensive vita in Danish.

However, since one of our fellow bishops expressed misgivings over these conclusions, it is important to stress that these misgivings are unfounded. First of all, there are absolutely no reasons to believe that St Ansgar was a tool in the hands of the Roman See, keen to establish its domination, and that he spread ideas that led to the falling away of Rome. Yet all attempts to find evidence for the above in the available sources were unsuccessful; moreover, this fact is a testimony that the opposite is true, otherwise present-day Roman Catholics would have trumpeted these, and would praise St Ansgar for doing them.

The fact that his name is not found in Greek Church calendar and service books should not lead us to doubt his sainthood; equally it does not mean that the Eastern Church rejects it. The names of St Ansgar’s contemporaries Sts Cyril and Methodius, although well known in Constantinople, are still not found in the Greek calendars and service books.

Neither is St Boris (Michael), the Tsar who received Baptism from the Greeks and brought Light of Christ to Bulgaria, nor St Ludmilla of Bohemia, who received Baptism from St Methodius, nor St Wenceslaus are found there. Nor St Vladimir, nor Sts Boris and Gleb, who were glorified with the blessing of the Patriarch of Constantinople, nor St Peter, Metropolitan of Moscow. Among all Russian saints only two names are mentioned in the Greek Synaxaria (without a service): St John, Archbishop of Novgorod, and St Barlaam of Khutyn. The Church of Greece keeps memory of St Olga, Equal to the Apostles, although they use different troparion and kontakion. This does not mean we should cease commemoration of saints who shone forth in the Russian land, neither that the Greeks reject them. There are also many Greek saints whose names are not listed in the Menaia and calendars, but whose memory is locally venerated, and services to whom are celebrated in those places.

St Ansgar served Christ, not some political interests; the lands he brought to Christ are the seal of his apostleship. The falling away of the same at a later date does not take away from his service, the same way as falling away of Moravia and Pannonia does not take away from the service of St Methodius.

In different parts of the world the righteous of Christ worked for One God, led by One Spirit, and by Him glorified. The wave of revolutions and reformations that swept over the West destroyed their relics, as, having later reached our Motherland, it also sacrilegiously touched Russian saints. It tried to erase their memory, as Julian the Apostate did when he burned the holy relics of the righteous. But as they are now rejoicing in the Heavenly Church, we on earth should ever more zealously proclaim their labours, glorifying God, who works wonders through them.


Transl. by M. Sarni

Note: the most likely source of the original text is an inedited longhand version of the notes taken at the Synod meeting, so occasional corrections were called for.