The similarity of the writings and the lives of the saints with the Scriptures – Part I
Comparing the lives and writings of the Orthodox saints with the Holy Scriptures (which also consists of the lives and writings of certain people)…… Are they not all the same thing or at the least very similar? Are they not all inspired by the same one Holy Spirit? Isn’t the Old Testament mainly about the lives of holy, notable and saintly figures? Weren’t Moses, Samuel the prophet, Elijah and King David great ascetics? Moses and Elijah fasted 40 days once, King David had the gift of visions and wrote prophetic psalms, Joseph had divine prophetic dreams, Samuel heard the voice of God, Elijah performed miracles.
These things are not accessible even in the least to people like me who are unholy, impure, proud people who are very weak and small in prayer and fasting. In the fraction of the Great Lent we say “Fasting and prayer are those which the prophets pursued, and prophesied concerning the advent of Christ many generations before His coming” – that is to say, that all the prophets of the Old Testament, were very holy people and were people of great prayer and fasting?
In the New testament, St John the Baptist (doesn’t his reclusive, ascetic life greatly mirror the life of a reclusive Orthodox monk?), St Paul the Apostle, St John the Theologian, St Mark the Apostle were these people not people of great prayer and fasting? In the fraction of the Great Lent do we not say “Fasting and prayer are those which the apostles pursued, until they preached to all nations and made them Christians, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”? Did they not perform miracles of healing, experience visions, possess the gift of clairvoyance/prophecy, boldly preach the faith despite adversaries, suffer and struggle enormously for the faith and some martyred?
Aren’t those similar characteristics to the saints of the Orthodox church? Such as St Kyrillos VI, St John of Kronstadt, Tamav Erini, St Matrona of Moscow, Fr Faltaous, etc? These people all healed people, prophesied the future, bore heavy crosses, prayed for hours a day, ate the same quantity of food as babies, loved others with extreme self-denial.
The similarity of the writings and the lives of the saints with the Scriptures – Part II
Did you know that St Mary herself was a women of extreme prayer and fasting? She was very very very nun-like. She used to give her food to the poor in the temple and then angels would come and give her food. That’s why she wasn’t scared when Archangel Gabriel appeared to her as she often saw angels. That’s how she attained such a great level of holiness and purity and was chosen to bear the Saviour of the world. I honestly won’t be surprised if I read that she performed miracles of healing for sick people whilst she was in the temple too.
Are not St Paul’s intense sufferings (shipwrecks, beatings, “in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in weariness and toil” – 2 Cor 11:26), Job the righteous’ many years of terrible sicknesses, Joseph’s 13 years of terrible and awful tribulations (imprisonment, slavery, etc.), King David’s 20 painful years on the run similar to the long years of sufferings and tribulations of illness endured by Mother Erini, Fr Mettaous El Sorianni, Mother Anastasia of St George convent? Isn’t St Paul’s zealous preaching and fervent desire for the salvation of others similar to the supernatural zealous preaching that Pope Shenouda, St John of Kronstadt or St Nektarios of Aegina had in preaching to tens of thousands?
Aren’t the writings of St Theophan the Recluse, St John Chrysostom, St Ignatius Brianchaninov just as clear, instructive, illumined by the Holy Spirit and penetrating to the heart as are the letters of St Paul, St Jude, St James, St Peter? Did you know that St Ephrem the Syrian and St John of Kronstadt had visions of the end of the world and they wrote about it? Is that any different to what St John the Theologian experienced and wrote in the book of relevations? You can’t say St John’s revelations were higher than the revelations of the other two.
A very very telling proof of how the post-resurrection saints are extremely connected to biblical figures is primarily because they appeared to one another. Typically saints appear only to saints. Hence Mother Erini saw Elisha, Christ, St Mary and desert father saints. St Nicholas Planas saw Elisha. Tunt Samira Doherty of California saw Job the righteous and Lazarus the beggar. Pope Kyrillos VI saw St Mark the Apostle. St John Chrysostom’s assistant saw St Paul the Apostle whispering into St John’s ear what to write for his commentaries – as if to mean that whatever St John Chrysostom says, we listen carefully, because it’s basically what St Paul is saying.
The similarity of the writings and the lives of the saints with the Scriptures – Part III
See! All these people are all part of the same family and group, all were filled and overflowing with the Holy Spirit, all of them were perfectly united with God through their ascetic struggles more in unceasing prayer. They all travelled the same narrow difficult path of Christianity, all of them led martyr-like lives, all of them mystically traveled on the road of Golgotha and were crucified alongside Christ and then resurrected with Him and were filled with grace. They all achieved the purpose and goal of the Christian life, which is theosis/deification/holiness/saintliness, which means to have perfect purity of heart i.e. 0 worldly desires.
Hence the lives and teachings of the holy men and women as written in the bible are identical to the lives and teachings of the Orthodox saints – from the early Egyptian desert fathers, the 19th century Russian Optina elders, the three Holy Hierarchs (St John Chrysostom, St Basil the Great and St Gregory the Theologian), the modern-day saints who died in the last few decades whether in Russia, Egypt, Greece or Ethiopia, etc.
If we reject the writings and the lives of the Orthodox saints from the birth of Christ till now we also proudly reject true understanding of the scriptures. Any Christian denomination that rejects the saints and their writings is a long-ago lost and lost, and darkened church. That’s not to say that everything that all the Orthodox saints say were 100% correct because they were still human and liable to make mistakes – some were simple people, not very intellectual and eloquent in their writings (some others didn’t write anything at all, not having that talent).
For that reason as well it’s important to compare and contrast their lives and writings from a few different saints to see if they are saying the same thing and not just foolishly act on what you read from what one saint says or did. However I would say 90% of what the saints say is very legitimate, very useful, very beneficial. The lives and writings of the Orthodox saints are a continuation of the bible, a continuation of the book of Acts, of the work of the Holy Spirit which worked so powerfully in the early church. Their words are the word of God just like the Scriptures is.
The only way the scriptures differs from the writings and the lives of the Orthodox saints is that it in the accounts of the gospel, it contains the words and life of Christ Himself. And where the saints become god-like by grace and adoption, Christ is God by His very nature and essence. Hence Christ’s words holds more authority than the words of saints. Although one definitely needs to understand His words and life with the right interpretation, and not make their own independent interpretation of what His words mean.
The similarity of the writings and the lives of the saints with the Scriptures – Part IV
I am not saying that we should heroically, stupidly and foolishly try to start praying and fasting extremely. For growing in prayer and fasting occurs very gradually over the years, requires unbelievable perseverance, unceasing contemplation of the lives of the saints and endurance of many tribulations (“We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” – Acts 14:22).
But when you read the characters in the scriptures, read them with great reverence and humility because essentially you are doing the same as reading the lives of the saints. When you read them, compare their lives to what you know about from modern-day saints and the great prayer and fasting they had and the tribulations they faced. The bible characters achieved very high levels of prayer and fasting and love for others, which really is honestly truly impossible to achieve. Impossible really. Imitate their lives only for one day and you’ll see how great and holy their devotion to God was. Try to pray 1.5 hrs straight or fast till sunset for 3 days in a row. Impossible!