Some of the most famous members of this community are also perhaps some of its least remembered. Physically, they are silent and unmoving. Spiritually, they active here and throughout the world, and their written words resound like trumpets sounding from heaven, calling us to Jesus. Theirs are the loud voices in hearts, crying out and saying: “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of the Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15.)
And yet they can be visited in the chapel: John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, and Gregory the Theologian; Basil Aleksandrovich Martysh; Ignatius of Antioch; the Great Martyr Panteleimon. Fragments of their relics, minute physical reminders of their spiritual presence, tiny conduits of Christ’s grace: every day the seminarian has the opportunity to venerate these small pieces of dead bodies and so encounter, and be confronted by, the life-giving presence of the saints.
Life-giving, indeed, for if Christ is the true Giver of Life, where else can we expect to find that life, apart from in his saints, those in whom he is wonderful, those with whom he shall abide always, even unto the end of the age (cf. Psalm 67:36 and Matthew 28:20)? Yes, as every Christian knows, we are an ecclesial organism, we expect to encounter Christ and serve him in our neighbor, in the community of the Church. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the Church beyond the chapel walls, and of our Christian brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, who have gone before us and who now intercede for us, those whose very blood cries out to God on behalf of the whole groaning creation.
For at least one seminarian, this time at St Vladimir’s has provided an opportunity to remember these forebears in the faith more than ever, both those who are physically present in their relics and those who are not. On the one hand, there are those I have venerated since before I came: Tikhon of Moscow, Seraphim of Vyritsa, Tikhon of Kaluga, Emperor Justinian, Tsar Nicholas, Alexander Nevsky, and of course my patron, John Chrysostom. But here at the seminary, not only have I deepened these relationships with God’s holy ones, but I also have formed new connections as well: some with popular saints like Luke of Simferopol, but others with more controversial saints like Peter Mogila, Cyril Loukaris, and Nicodemus the Hagiorite.
There are some of whom I had never heard before, such as Alexis of Zosima Hermitage, and then there are some to whom I had never paid sufficient attention, such as the Evangelists Matthew and Luke. And then there are the newly canonized saints: Elder Porphyrius is rightly known by all, but what of Bartholomew of Chichirin, canonized one week ago, and of the Righteous Dmitrii Gorskii and the Blessed Parasceva, glorified in October? May we each have their prayers.
Yes, the saints are there, in the chapel, in their reliquaries, ready to help and guide each of us, ready to be encountered. But they are also there whose relics we don’t have, whose bodies are long gone to dust. Indeed, a multitude of saints are present with us at every place and in every hour, if we open our spiritual eyes and turn to them in prayer. Sometimes they comfort us, and sometimes they confront us with our sins. But there is one constant, and that is he to whom they lead us, he whom they make present for us: none other than our Lord and God Jesus Christ, the Savior of us all. To him be glory forever. Amen.
John Max Mikitish is a second-year M.Div. student at St Vladimir’s Seminary and a member of Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church in New Haven, CT. Born in Alabama, he graduated from Yale with a B.A. in Russian and East European Studies. He will be married in January 2015, and his soon-to-be wife is also a Yale graduate and a member of the same parish. This reflection first appeared in the Seminarians Speak section of the St. Vladimir’s Seminary website.