SUNDAY, JUNE 30: Orthodox Christians commemorate saints every Sunday, but today, all tiers of the righteous are elevated for the Sunday of All Saints. As designated by St. Peter of Damascus, five categories of saints exist: Apostles, Martyrs, Prophets, Heirarchs and Monastic Saints. St. Nicodemus later added one more category to Peter’s lineup: the Righteous. Today, the hymnology for the feast of All Saints lists these six categories, in order of their importance to the Church and how they helped it to either establish or retain true to its values.
As noted in our Orthodox Pentecost story last week, the Sunday of All Saints always falls on the first Sunday after Pentecost—owing to the belief that the descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) allows humans to rise above a fallen state and attain sainthood. (Learn more from the Orthodox Church in America or the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.) Christians view saints as the ultimate keepers of God’s Commandments; prime examples of God’s virtue on earth; as true friends of God. It’s held that all saints, no matter the rank, were perfected by the Holy Spirit.
The Paschal season comes to a close in the Orthodox Christian Church today, and more localized saints may be honored on the Sundays immediately following today’s feast. (Wikipedia has details.) Veneration is to an icon depicting Jesus Christ upon a throne in heaven, surrounded by the saints.
A BYZANTINE FEAST; A ROMANTIC GESTURE
The feast of All Saints gained immense popularity in the 9th century, during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Leo VI. Leo’s wife, Theophano, was renowned through the Empire as benefactor to the poor, a caretaker for orphans and widows, and a counselor to the grieving. After Theophano’s death, Leo declared that the Sunday after Pentecost would be dedicated to All Saints, so that his wife—one whom he regarded as among the Righteous—would be honored forevermore, whenever the Feast of All Saints was observed.