Saints and Holy Ones


It has come to my attention in the past that Orthodox converts have taken pride in referring to the saints as “Holy Ones” instead of saints. Thus, St. John is “Holy John,” St. Paul is “Holy Paul” and St. Augustine is a heretic. Yet “Saint” in fact means “holy one,” and is an inheritance from Old French.

CO, in short, is a religious form of failed cultural appropriation. It’s like healing crystals for conservative Christians.

I suspect that Orthodox insistence on abstract images is much the same. Unless someone can correct me, no patristic source I am aware of condemns anatomically-sophisticated sacred art or realistic use of perspective. Nicea II only prescribes sacred art, produced “as was piously established by ancient custom.”

Here’s the kicker: Custom is nowhere defined, the use of abstraction is nowhere mentioned, and iconographic style already varied by region long before this Council convened. Even Renaissance art, which was guilty of some excess, still follows undisputed ancient customs, like the use of the halo, clothing the Blessed Virgin in blue and suchlike.

A secular source has engaged with this this in depth.

Further, many Easterners regard statuary as an abuse. Again, correct me if I’m wrong, but I know of no patristic arguments for this position. There are aesthetic arguments that images “in the round” are less mystical, but that’s entirely relative. Jesus Christ is a three-dimensional icon. I sometimes wonder whether the condemnation of statuary is semi-iconoclastic, an assertion that certain images are unworthy to be made or venerated.

This sort of thing helped me to stay on our side of the Bosporus. The Orthodox were more confident in these little “triumphs” over the logical Western mentality than anything else. Their clergy had made massive life decisions based on quibbles with no more apparent substance than pop psychology.

Since we’re reading theology into tiny details of the liturgy, what about the ornaments of the ministers? If antiquity indicates the one true Faith, Anglicans win. Our aesthetic is Gothic-to-Romanesque. Even the phelonion is a conical chasuble, cut away to reveal a stole, the sides now buttoned together from collar to calf. It’s no more traditional than a fiddle-back chasuble or a lace alb.

At the same time, an acquaintance has reminded me that speaking the truth in love means both criticizing the bad and raising up the good. As is often true when someone is critical of something I say, he had a point!

Some time ago, I went to a Serbian church for Vespers. Once there, I shook hands with the pries, and a parishioner showed me where to stand. I realized my mistake only after everyone else kissed the priest’s hand, in-keeping with Eastern practice. Reluctant to elevate himself, or demand that I make a show of piety, he still hasn’t said a word.

I learned some theology that day.


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