Held By Saints

Held By Saints

Often when I’m in church, I look at the icons surrounding me, and this sense of peace overwhelms me. I feel held by the stories of the lives of the saints. When I was first exploring Orthodoxy, I was excited to learn more of the saints’ stories, but I soon found myself balking at some of the things I read. Some of the stories seemed so strange and unbelievable to me! I brought this struggle to my catechist, and he told me that whether or not these were factual accounts was not a question that would help me grow from these stories. There were more beautiful questions to ask. Now when reading the stories of the saints, I try to be mindful of questions like “What does this story teach me about who this saint was?”

Another thing that has been difficult for me to embrace about the stories of the saints is how I often feel I can’t relate. They are so holy, and I can’t do the things they did. I am reading a book now about Saint John the Wonderworker, and recently I was reading about how he prayed all night and scarcely ever slept. If I go without sleep, I can’t function, and this usually leads to me acting far from saintly. The thought of never sleeping being a goal to work towards was overwhelming to me. I was talking with my fiancé the other day about this, and I loved what he said. He reminded me that we aren’t supposed to imitate the actions of the saints, but instead imitate their virtues. Instead of feeling intimidated by not being able to pray all night, I can look to cultivate a spirit of prayerfulness and vigilance, whatever that looks like for my life. I am learning now that the spiritual life is not about trying to make my life look a certain way; it’s about letting God refine His Image in me and letting Him set a rhythm out of which my life with Him flows.

A few weeks ago at St. Vladimir’s we had a guest lecturer, Dr. Alice-Mary Talbot, give a talk on the varieties of monastic life in Byzantium. It was beautiful to hear how different each of these saint’s journeys were. Some lived in rural settings, some in urban. Some were business owners, while others disavowed all possessions. Some practiced extreme asceticism, whereas others believed in moderation. Each of these monastics was led on a different path, and God was glorified in each story. I love what Metropolitan Kallistos said in The Orthodox Way: “God is both end-point and starting-point. He is the host who welcomes us at the conclusion of the journey, yet He is also the companion who walks by our side at every step along the Way.” I love that picture of God being the journey.

I love that we as Orthodox have patron saints, and we get to specifically try to emulate the virtues our patron saints embodied. When I was looking towards chrismation, I was scouring the stories of saints for one that really resonated with me. I was of course deeply moved by a number of them, but I hadn’t found a story that I felt particularly compelled by.

The day before my chrismation, a dear friend sent me the story of Saint Zenaida. From the moment I first read about her, I felt a deep respect for her, connection to her, and a strong desire to live my life as she lived hers.

 

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