Who are the Saints?
The term “saint” is a translation of the Greek agios, meaning “holy one.” Strictly speaking, only God is holy, which is why one of his titles in the Bible is “the Holy One” (Isa 1:4; 2 Kings 19:22; Psalm 71:22). Yet God shares his holiness with others, so that the angels are also called “holy ones” (Zech 14:5). And, more astonishingly, He shares his holiness with us sinners as well, so that we Christians are also his holy ones or saints.
Thus St. Paul referred to the Christians of Rome as saints (Rom 1:7) as well as the Christians of Corinth (1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1), of Ephesus (Eph 1:1), of Philippi (Phil 1:1), and of Colossae (Col 1:1). The Orthodox Church continues this practice at each celebration of the Liturgy when the priest summons the faithful to partake of the holy Body and Blood of Christ by saying, “The holy things are for the holy!” In saying this, the priest is not summoning to Communion only those present who have been especially well-behaved during the previous week, but all the members present.1 Because they are holy, they are summoned to come forward and partake of the holy Gifts. Yet even here, the Church does not forget that this holiness is a gift from Christ, for the faithful reply to this summons, “One is holy, one is the Lord—Jesus Christ—to the glory of God the Father!”—that is, only one, the Lord Jesus, is truly holy in Himself, and our own holiness comes solely from him.
Therefore, all devout baptized Christians are saints, partakers of the Lord’s gift of holiness, and on a journey to the Kingdom of God. Yet some Christians manifest holiness in a particularly extraordinary way, so that they can be examples for the rest of us. It is these Christians that the Church refers to by the official title “Saint”. Put differently, all devout Christians are holy, but some of them have been chosen by the Church to be exemplars worthy of universal attention and imitation.
In the early church, all non-communicants such as the catechumens were dismissed after the first part of the Divine Liturgy, so that only communicants were present for Holy Communion. ↩