What is a Saint?

First published November 2015

Reverend John Chandler reflects on who saints really are.

Sunday 1st November was All Saints' Day. It's an opportunity to remember with gratitude all who have made a positive impression on our lives, thanking God for them and deciding to learn from their example.

But what is a saint? We think we know of course, because there's a long list of individuals stretching back 2,000 years who are considered saints, and nearly every Church is named after one - including our own St. Michael's. There's a tradition, of course, of declaring that individuals are saints because of their contribution to Christian history - yet I prefer to open the Bible to find out what a saint truly is. And there we find that saints aren't people of previous generations who have been declared by the Church to be especially holy. That's a much newer tradition. Saints in the Bible are the living Church of people who have decided to live their lives God's way.

That definition says two things - firstly that saints aren't perfect, holier-than-thou people. Nobody's perfect - so all saints are imperfect people who are doing their level best to follow Jesus' teaching. Secondly, that people in the present age (including in our Churches, every week!) who decide to live that way are saints, in the way the Bible defines them.

So go on - be a saint! Except there's something else in the Bible that's worth mentioning. The word "saint" doesn't appear in the Bible at all! It always appears in the plural, because it is a description of the gathered Church. Just as we depend on one another for our physical needs every day of our lives, so our spiritual wellbeing as individuals and as a community relies on mutual help.

But is it right to celebrate Saints' Days, such as St. Michael's Day on 29th September? Yes of course! We should celebrate and thank everyone who has lived a life of Christian determination and love, because in doing so they have set us good examples for us to follow. And it's no coincidence that the day following All Saints' Day is All Souls' Day, when we remember with gratitude all those who have died, especially family members and friends who have been dear to us and guided us along our path through life.

"I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers"
(from. Paul's letter to the Church in Ephesus)


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