Let us now praise famous men, our fathers in their generations. I guess it strikes me as a little sad that nowadays so many of our famous men are perhaps only worthy of the faintest praise. Maybe I’m being a bit too harsh or maybe our definition of famous has changed or leaned toward infamous rather than famous.
But this being All Saints’ Sunday, our famous men are supposed to be famous for their faith. One such famous man, a father of his generation, was Byzantine Emperor, Leo VI “the Wise” (It was during his reign that All Saints’ Day rose to prominence). His wife, Empress Theophano, lived a devout life. After her death in 893, her husband built a church, intending to dedicate it to her. When he was forbidden to do so, he decided to dedicate it to “All Saints,” so that if his wife were in fact one of the righteous, she would also be honored whenever the feast was celebrated. According to tradition, it was Leo who expanded the feast from a commemoration of All Martyrs to a general commemoration of All Saints, whether martyrs or not.”1
Another famous man, this time a father of our generation, was Andrei Bloom, better known as Anthony of Sourozh (Sow-ros). Anthony “was asked once in an interview about turning points in his journey toward Christ. Until his teenage years Bloom was “an unbeliever and very aggressively anti-church.” He knew no God and was repulsed by any ideas relating to God. As a boy, young Anthony spent many years in boarding schools as a result of his father’s itinerancy at the time of the Russian Revolution. During this time Bloom recalls his first “spiritual experience”:
I was sent to a boys’ summer camp when I was about eleven years old and there I met a priest who must have been about thirty. Something about him struck me – he had love to spare for everyone and his love wasn’t conditioned by whether we were good and it never changed when we were bad. It was an unconditional ability to love. I had never met this in my life before. I had been loved at home, but I found it natural. I had friends too and that was natural, but I had never met this kind of love. At the time I didn’t trace it to anything, I just found this man extremely puzzling and extremely lovable. Only years later, when I had already discovered the Gospel, did it occur to me that he loved with a love that was beyond him… This experience I think was the first deep spiritual experience I had.
“In the midst of his spite and opposition to the church, this young boy was met face-to-face with the love of God, and could not make sense of it. “I just found this man extremely puzzling and extremely lovable.””2
If you asked me what a saint is, that sounds like a pretty good definition: “I just found this man extremely puzzling and extremely lovable.” I especially like the puzzling part; is there something about you that makes people wonder about you, makes people want what you got? Is there something about you that puzzles people about you, maybe makes people feel like because they know you, they know Jesus?
Not that that is the perfect definition of a Saint. This is All Saint’s (Sun)Day, and so today we commemorate those big-S Saints who have reached Heaven, and therefore can intercede on behalf of us little-S saints down here. The Christian world, then, is, not unlike the Transformers, more than meets the eye. From the bottom up we have the Church Militant, that’s us; the Church Expectant, those in Purgatory (Paradise) we will be praying for on All Souls’ Day; and the Church Triumphant, those Saints we celebrate today.
The best part of this set up is that we are all in this thing together. The Church Militant gets to ask the prayers of the Church Triumphant; the Church Triumphant gets to intercede for the Church Militant; and we both get to pray for the Church Expectant.
That might be a bit puzzling, but maybe that’s because the love of God is puzzlingly strange and mighty and unconditional and overwhelming. That same love of God shines through the lives of the big-S Saints we praise today, it shines through the small-S saints like Anthony’s priest, and if we let it, it shines through us little-s saints as well. So I guess my prayer for us all on this All Saints’ Day is that we all become extremely puzzling.
2Cameron MacMillan, Puzzling Presence, http://blog.nashotah.edu/blog/2014/10/24/2308/