MODERN CHRISTIAN: Our conversation on the martyrs has really forced me to view them differently now. You made things so clear to me, and I now see them for the living examples of following Christ and not just as a group of people.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: I am glad that is so.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: But, you Orthodox Christians don’t only look to the martyrs but you look to all these other saints. Why is it you all hold the saints so close. Do you not know that you have the Scriptures, faith, and the Holy Spirit?
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: I know that we have the Scriptures, faith, and the Holy Spirit, and it is because of these that I hold the saints so close to me in my journey following Christ. You see our Lord Jesus is our Teacher (that is what rabbi means in Hebrew). He has taught us how to live and the Scriptures preserve His teachings. We are His disciples (disciple is the Latin word for student).
In order to understand the saints, I want you to imagine a classroom since that is the imagery our Teacher and His disciples give us. The Teacher truly teaches us, but the students also have an effect on how we learn. If we have good students with us (in behavior and in learning), then that makes our learning even better. In addition, if you don’t see other students succeeding, then it will be difficult for any student to believe that he or she can really succeed.
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Think of a school like Oxford. Not only do the Teachers attract others to the university, but also the students who have been educated by the teachers. They become the living examples of the power of that school to change and deepen lives. C.S. Lewis came out of Oxford. J.R.R. Tolkien came out of Oxford. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware came out of Oxford.
The first reason we hold the saints so close is because they are the students who went through the school which is Christianity, and showed us how the Teacher’s teachings do indeed transform lives, as a result we are strengthened in our faith to follow Christ. This is a type of preaching, but it is a preaching by living. We read and listen to the sermons of past Christians, but the saints’ lives are sermons too. The saints are the living examples of Christ’s teaching; they are students with us in the school of Christ, and they show us that we can be successful in following and growing in Christ.
If all we know are the people around us now in the 21st century, then we will not grow in Christ as best as we can. We must look to the whole body of believers including those past Christians that came before us.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: But that means you do not have a strong enough faith to follow Christ if you need the saints. Why would you need the saints if you had that faith?
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: For the same reason you need preachers to bring you the faith. Preachers speak about the works of God and praise Him, and the works of God are so powerfully evident in the lives of the saints.
In the early Church, Christians used a translation of the Bible called the Septuagint and often abbreviated today as LXX. In this version, which was translated from a much older Hebrew version of the text than you have today, Psalm 150:1 read, “Praise God in His saints” meaning it is through them and their lives that we learn how to praise God.
To not bring to remembrance the lives of the saints is to ignore the work of the Holy Spirit. You may think you are glorifying God, but in reality you are ignoring Him. It is just like having a Bible and placing it over your fireplace for all to see but never actually opening it up to read it, or only reading one book from it at all. Even so, it is the same if you give lip service to God but never consider the work He specifically did in each saint’s life.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Hmm…. This sounds new to me.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Totally ignoring the saints and focusing on the Holy Spirit’s work IN ONLY YOUR LIFE is actually a form of egocentrism. I am not saying you should not focus on His work in your life; you most definitely should, but you should also learn from His work in other lives.
The world does not revolve around you, but it revolves around Christ like the planets revolve around the sun. You are not the only revolving body around the sun. He is the light that shines forth from that Sun and illuminates our lives, and the Holy Spirit is the gravity that moves us and the other planets around Him.
To explain this analogy again, in our spiritual lives, we are like the planets revolving around the sun. The sun is like God, and the light it bears is like our Lord Jesus. The gravitational force that proceeds from the sun and that moves the planets is like the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father in order to revolve us around God. No planet moves by itself, and as such, no saint’s life is only simply a recognition of that person’s action, but it is a recognition of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and their cooperation with His grace. Other planets are also moved by that same gravity, and other Christians (those from the past) revolve around God too. That does not change because they are no longer living today.
The saints’ lives are the evidence of the Spirit working in every generation.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Hmm…. What you say is pretty convicting.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Another reason we should look to the lives of the saints is that they can help pastorally as well. They can give us a model of how to pastor our congregations. You are aware today that a large portion of millennials are leaving the church after high school?
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Yes, it is something very alarming, and I honestly do not know what we can do.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: I knew a kid once who was very intelligent. His mother was a Christian, and his dad had only drawn near to Christianity when this young man was a teenager. The young man himself had been raised in his mother’s faith. His parents invested heavily in this kid making sure he was educated by the best teachers in the best schools. When the time came for him to go to college, he went to a college in another city, and as he started reading more widely, he thought about reading the Bible; he had never really read the Bible before. When he read it, he was shocked and disappointed and left the faith. Then, he got caught up with the ladies and took up a girlfriend while in college and lived with her for 16 years and even had a son by her. How would you feel if you knew this kid or this kid was your own son?
MODERN CHRISTIAN: I have known too many like him sadly. It is the story of many of today’s youth.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Let me tell you about his poor mother then, who was now a widow. His mother did not stop praying (and crying about him) for almost 20 years in order that God would bring him back to the faith. She was not able to answer his objections because she was a simple lady, but she never stopped praying for him. Then, this young man became very well educated. He knew how to think very well, how to make very strong arguments, and had a lot of knowledge. He decided to become a teacher, like a professor, specifically of public speaking among other things. Well, things got worse for this kid. He started believing in weird cultish stuff kind of like your New Age stuff these days, just a mess of thoughts and beliefs. He could not establish himself in his career and make money, and he could not support his girlfriend and son. His whole life was a mess. But what is interesting, after all that, he heard that there was this great preacher in the city where he was living, and since he was interested in public speaking, he decided to go to church one time with his girlfriend and son; can you imagine the reaction of the church members, phew! It must not have been easy.
Then, there came the pastor and he greeted him, and asked him about who he was, where he came from, and what he believed. There was no judgment. So this young man, as many educated young men, was arrogant but also sincere in his questioning, and he explained to the pastor why he could not believe in the Bible and further in Christ. The pastor answered his objections on an educated level; he was able to follow the young man’s arguments and to truly show him why his objections were based on a mistaken understanding. After this conversation and others like it, and a little bit of a struggle, the young man truly converted to Christ and abandoned his former way of life, and followed Him faithfully.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: How?! How did he come back?! What did the pastor say?!
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Why do you care?
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Why?! Are you serious?! So I can have an idea how to pastor my young people especially those who go to college and question their faith or who get mixed up in a life of sexual impurity and sin.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: So you are willing to learn from the lives of the saints then?
MODERN CHRISTIAN: What? What do their lives have to do with any of this? I want to know how this pastor brought this young man to Christ and answered his objections.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: My friend, your answer is in the lives of three saints. The young man I mentioned is St. Augustine of Hippo. His pastor, who brought him to Christ, is St. Ambrose of Milan, and his mother who prayed and prayed and that is all she was able to do, but God answered her prayers, is St. Monica.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Oh my.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: You see, all I have been telling you all along is true. Your last set of questions has proven that. You wanted to know what the pastor did so you could use it as a model with your own youth. This saint’s life can become a model for us to pastor our congregations because we will see how the Holy Spirit moved him and his mother and his pastor and brought the glory to God in their lives. They were disciples of Christ long before we ever were, and by considering their lives, we will have a better idea of how to follow our Lord Jesus more carefully, how to bring to and care for others in Christ, and we ourselves will bring the glory to God by how we all will live.
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