Sunday, December 24, 2017

Worshiping with St. Herman

Today we celebrated St. Herman of Alaska (also called "the wonderworker").  In the Orthodox Church we don't believe death is final. Neither do we believe that death has separated us form each other.  We and they are both alive and in a common fellowship, worshiping the God of glory.  This gives a whole new dimension to worship.  We aren't just worshiping here and they are doing so there (although there is an element of here/thereness) rather we are worshiping together in a very real sense of the word "together".  Because there is no division we are free to ask them (yes! All of them!) for prayer and help in times on need.  This has been a great comfort to me and millions upon millions of Christians throughout history.

St. Herman of Alaska was one of the first missionaries to our neck of the woods.  Alaska still belonged to Russia and the church there was very keen on sending out missionaries to every part of the world.  If you want to read more (and you should!) here is a link to a site with a biography and some other information:

https://oca.org/fs/st-herman-of-alaska

I commented above that we don't believe death  separates us from each other.  Oddly enough most Protestant Christians do believe that death separates, like some giant wall.  When some discover that I've joined the Orthodox Church and that we pray to saints, they ask, "Why do you pray to dead saints?" Or when they ask why we pray to saints I will respond, "Why not?". To which they inevitably respond, "Because they're dead".  Or they might reply, "Because we are suppose to only pray to God." To be honest I said the same sorts of things when I was Protestant.  But the answers betray a pronounced theological misunderstanding or ignorance.  Where in the Bible does it say we are never suppose to ask for help from brothers and sisters?  Oh, that's right, we've made the logical jump that "pray" means something theological.  In truth to "pray" only means to ask or make request.  Even that aside where in Scriptures does it command us not to ask for help from the church body?

"But they are dead!"  Really?  Does the Bible say that when we die a wall is thrown up so that we can no longer interact one with the other?  That we go into the ground and turn to dust and float off into oblivion?  Of course not. Their bodies are gone, true. But they are quite alive.  Doesn't the Bible teach that?

"But the Bible doesn't say anything about asking dead saints for help."  To the "dead" part of that sentence, see previous paragraph. As to the rest, didn't we just establish that the Bible does not forbid us asking for help from one another? In fact, the Bible commands us to help one another.  So why wouldn't I ask for help from those who have successfully lived a life that resulted in God saving them and bringing them into communion with Him?

Part of the problem here is not really a mere confusion about what the is state of saints who have gone to be with God or what it really means for us to be "dead".  The confusion is much deeper than that.  It has to do with the question of what do we mean when we use the word "Salvation"? Or some other variation of that word. There's the real crux.  I'm not going to lay that topic out here because this post is already longer than most moderns have the patience for (myself included). So I'll save that discussion for another post.  I also hope to post some thoughts on what the Church means by the word "Saint".  In the meantime feel free to think deeply about what it means to be saved and how that salvation ultimately comes about.