Sunday of All Saints: Orthodox Christians honor named and unnamed

SUNDAY, JUNE 15: It’s the Sunday of All Saints in the Orthodox Christian Church today, as the faithful recall the devoted saints of God, known and unknown—along with the Righteous, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Shepherds, Teacher and Holy Monastics. Although many saints are recognized on a specific, individualized day, there are countless others throughout history that Orthodox Christians believe will forever go unnamed. (Read more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.) It is those saints—those who have been keepers of God’s commandments and “shining examples of virtue”—who are recognized and celebrated today.

The Apostle Paul described the achievements of the saints this way: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every burden, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”


The Orthodox Research Institute points out that all Christians are called to become saints, and that the highly regarded figures were merely human beings willing to dedicate their entire being to God. Therefore, Sunday of All Saints also makes an appeal to every Christian, no matter the age or place in life, to dedicate all of life to God and become a saint. Orthodox teachers stress that the Gospels call saints to do three things: publicly confess Christ as Lord; love Christ and “take up his cross;” and follow Christ, no matter the sacrifice that must be faced.

While originally a feast for martyrs, it was Emperor Leo VI of the Byzantine Empire who all but transformed this Orthodox feast into a collective commemoration for all saints. Leo’s wife, Empress Theophano, had led a devout life before her death in 893 CE. Wishing to honor his deceased wife, Leo built a church for her—and was told the act was forbidden. Rather than forgo the church, Leo instead dedicated it to all saints, in the hopes that if his late wife were, in fact, among the righteous, she could be honored whenever and wherever the feast was observed.


Relations between the Orthodox Christian and Catholic churches have been warming lately. That doesn’t mean that major, historic splits are likely to be bridged anytime soon, experts warn. For example, the annual date of Easter often is different in Eastern and Western churches.

Nevertheless, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I recently met at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem, to pray together and hold dialogue. (Read more from Fox News and the UK’s The Guardian.) The two also marked, together, the 50th anniversary of the 1964 meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, in Jerusalem. That historical meeting is credited with ending 900 years of icy relations between the two churches.

In his public messages, Patriarch Batholomew has expressed a keen interest in continuing to improve relations between Eastern and Western Christianity.