The Church, the Body of Christ, is made of “members” also known as saints. Saints are men, women, and children – born again by, and through, the Holy Spirit, in the water of Baptism, and with the anointing of Oil in Chrismation immediately following baptism. And, there is only one “class” or kind of saint: living saints. On earth, we who breathe and move, are living saints who “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” and strive daily, through grace and works of mercy and righteousness to realize “Theosis” – i.e. to become like Christ in word, thought and actions. 2 Peter 1:4 It’s the battle of a warrior, it’s the training of a world class athlete for our souls. In one sense we are living, and yet, in another we are “dying” (at least physically), and still we strive for eternal life in Paradise. For those who have gone before us, the Church never calls them “dead” or “deceased” or “passed away”. Our brothers and sisters have “departed”. They are alive. They live now, awaiting the final consummation of all things when Christ comes again. The noble army of saints, and martyrs intercede, pray, and worship even now, and they are the great cloud of witnesses who have finished their course, and remain eternally vigilant – faithful to the Church and her prayer. With angels, and archangels, the saints pray with us everyday, they worship and intercede for the Church, and for us to finish the race strong, straight and true.
The highlight of our day as a family, is the evening meal. It’s the first time, and sometimes the only time, when we sit, breathe, talk, listen and laugh with each other. After the meal, we read the Scriptures appointed for the day. An Old Testament, Epistle and a Gospel lesson. Then comes the favorite moment for our kids, and I must admit, my favorite too! The reading of the “Saints of the Day”. In Orthodoxy we do not forget those who have departed. Everyday we remember not their birthday, but rather the day they departed from this life, to the presence of Christ, so on any given day there are several men, women and children whom we celebrate and remember reflecting on their life on earth, and the one they live now in the presence of our Lord. How tragic it is that many Evangelical Protestant Christians are not even aware of or are unfamiliar with our family members? This vast army of relatives, brothers and sisters, lie dormant and dead for them, and yet for us their lives are examples of faith, piety, suffering, sacrifice, joy and sometimes sorrow. But each day we read. Each day we learn. Each day our sons hear the stories of real heroes, warrior saints, men who exhibited courage, and true masculinity by serving God and all mankind. Our daughters learn of strong and noble, and equally courageous women, who gave their lives in defense of the Gospel.
Yesterday’s story about young Mary of Palestine was particularly profound for us. In a world where women are “air-brushed”, and forced by culture to become objects of desire/lust, with the emphasis on exterior beauty, or unbridled sexuality, with “next-to-nearly nothing clothing”, with nips, tucks, lifts and “enhancements” to make their sexuality more appealing. A culture that often “paints up” even our youngest daughters “Jon Benet Ramsey style”, where we allow, even exhort, young girls to broadcast bare mid-riffs via shirts and paints that do not cover, but merely advertise their bodies as objects of desire.
Is it accurate to say that our “advanced” culture has deviated from the historical Christian norm of modesty? Of chastity? Of humility? Normally, I like to post an image of the saint whose life we celebrate. In this case I could find no icon for St. Mary. At first that frustrated me, since there are literally millions of icons for all the saints, and yet I could not find one for Mary? Then it dawned on me. “That’s probably the way Mary wanted it! “ Her desire was to glorify God, and not fixate on her beauty, and not cause men to stumble through her exterior appearance.
Her beauty, as is all true beauty, was on the inside. Her beauty was her heart, not her face or her body. She loved God, and mankind, and instead of causing men to stumble and fall because of her beauty, she went willingly to a life set apart realizing the fullness of a life well lived. Now this is a counter-cultural concept if I ever heard one!
Saint Mary of Palestine
At first, Mary was a reader of the Psalter in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. Because she was of beautiful countenance, many who gazed upon her were tempted by lustful thoughts. So that she would no longer be a cause of temptation for men, Mary withdrew into the wilderness of Souka with a basket of beans and an earthenware jug of water. St. Mary lived in the wilderness for eighteen years. By God’s power, neither the beans nor the water ran out. The disciples of St. Cyriacus found her during her lifetime, and later buried her.
What do you think? What will it take for our culture to regain the early church commitment to modesty and humility? How can we help our daughters to work on their interior beauty, before they are fixated on the cultural lie that a woman’s true beauty, and worth, lies in her outward appearance?
PS Here is a great site to learn about the lives of the Saints!