Friday, April 14, 2006

Patron saint of Cheese.

I just heard about a book, "My life with the saints", which I've just put on reserve at the library. It sounds a like a really interesting read. I must admit, I'm still searching for a deeper understanding of prayer to the saints. I read "The Song of Bernadette" a long time ago, and I remember I had mixed feelings about it even then. Residual romaphobia? Maybe. I can't say.
A review of the book states: "He draws a distinction, however, between the superstition that sometimes surrounds Catholics' reverence for the saints and true devotion to them."
This has always been my sticking point regarding prayer to the saints. I've always been wary of the superstitious aspect, overly careful maybe. I still recoil a bit when I hear one of my orthodox friends ask, "I've lost ____; who's the patron saint of lost things?". Actually, I recoil a lot. To me, this is trivializing. I signed out a book from the library, I think it was the Oxford book of the saints, or somesuch title. The book was set up as a sort of 'traveler's guide to the saints'. There was a small bio, a story of his/her miracles, how he/she came to be reverenced as the patron saint of _______. I can't remember the name of the saint, but there was the "patron saint of salt and cheese merchants, tanners, and leather-workers, invoked against nervous diseases and twitching." If this is not trivilializing the life of a great man of God, I don't know what is. I wonder if they sit in the kingdom, just shaking their heads at these definitions we've given them. And the language: "invoked"?! I wonder at the fruitfulness of these terms.
My own patron saint is St.Cassianne the hymnographer. I pray to her occasionally, but primarily, all my prayers are directed to Christ my Saviour. I can ask St.Cassianne to intercede on my behalf, but I must admit I do this rarely, although I do feel a real affinity, and also that I've become 'closer' to her over the years. This is something I can't explain. It just is what it is.
I saw Millions a few months ago, and I really enjoyed it. I found his reverence of the saints so innocent, sincere and illuminating.
I am still searching for a deeper understanding of prayer to the saints. I don't think I'm there yet, and I don't know what it will look like.
I hesitate to post this here, for fear of offending some, but my intent and stance are not combative. These are questions that have long plagued me. I don't expect any quick answers, I'm just interested in how others see this, and maybe I'm hoping for a little light shed. I find I am forever modifying, analysing, rethinking. Please take this post the right way, which is as an inquiry only.
Peace.

9 comments:

Fr. Justin (Edward) said...

Good thoughts, Victoria. As Fr. Lawrence puts it in the introduction to his A Calendar of Saints (and as he heard it from our own Vladyka Seraphim), a relationship with the saints is (like any relationship) something that needs to be cultivated. It is also something that those of us who have converted to Orthodoxy from Protestantism very much have to "work through." It sounds to me like you are doing a find job of working the question!

MatDonna said...

It still doesn't come that naturally to pray to my patron saint or the other saints for me either, even after 20+ years in Orthodoxy. However I do like to pray "through the prayers of" the Theotokos and our family's patrons when I have my personal prayers. (is that correct, though? are we supposed to pray only through the prayers of our brothers and sisters for daily prayers, or can we do the saints as well? Or is that pronouncement reserved to the priests?) I also use the daily tropars from the Menaion, which help make these many less famous saints seem more like real people with a connection across the years and across the divide between earth and heaven...

I would sure like us to make a bit of a bigger deal of our parish patron's celebration, though this is difficult, since one of his feast days is in the Dormition fast, and the other in the Nativity fast-- not the best of times! And I like our Saturday post-vespers informal prayers to the Mother of God and St. Herman. People at a distance like you, Vic, unfortunately don't get to be at this too often; but I think it helps those of us who are at vespers regularly feel a real connection with St. Herman and the Theotokos; I also believe these prayers are really, really instrumental in the blessings of growth that we have seen in our parish over the years.

What about family prayers in your home icon corner, do you include prayers to your family patrons there?

I wonder how the kids in our next generation feel about this, since they have grown up in the church and don't have the Protestant baggage so many of us their parents have?

myn said...

I LOVED MILLIONS!!! such a great movie. i own it!!! i too loved how much he loved the Saints...and really...everything is cute with that accent!

kimberley said...

i'm glad you brought this question up, Vic. My natural instinct is to talk to Jesus, especially as a first reflex like when I'm scared.

The ones (the saints) that I just know the bare basics about, kind of feel like distant relatives who died before I was born.

But now that I'm becoming acquainted with some of the more recent ones, I think that's changing. Maybe it will change even more when one in our community that we are close to will die. Maybe? I think Olga (who died in the 70s)was one of the first who I really got a personal sense of; and now Matrona who died in early 1950's. A friend just gave me a collection of personal accounts of peoples interactions with her, similar to the Fr. Arseny stories. The more I learn of her personal history, the more 3D to me she is becoming, rather than 2D, you know?... One of the simple things that resonated with me about Mother Olga, is that in her picture she is wearing one of those hooded sweatshirts with flowers that some older ladies like to. My mom for example has a bunch of them, so yeah...she seems like a quiet lady my mom might know. And then after meeting those guys in Edmonton, with Fr. John and Mira on the street who knew her, and her kids! Well now I feel like I've met her too! Kind of like how we know Stacy a bit... I probably sound a bit like I'm a five year old. I realize.

I don't generally say too much though to either of them yet. Still kind of just smiling at each other from across the room.

Simply Victoria said...

Thanks for the comments. They do encourage me. Can you believe I haven't read that book, Fr.Justin? I will have to sign that one out soon, (that is, now that I can read ANYTHING I want to read! yay!)
matdonna, it's encouraging to me that someone who has been orthodox for so long still has similar struggles. Makes me feel like less of a heathen. For some reason, I always feel so self-conscious about my particular 'protestant-transitioning-to-orthodoxy' struggles. hmm, not sure why. but thank-you.
hey kim, if you sound like a five year old, do I sound three?;)
Actually, it's funny that you should mention Fr.Arseny. I remember reading that book about him; I found it harrowing. It seemed so unreal, what he had to go through. It seemed so strange that all of this had happened so recently. He died when I was 1 year old!! in 1973!!! Bizarre. so yeah, these types of saints seem more real to me. St.Theresa of Calcutta, St.Arseny...

elizabeth said...

i love it when my internet works at home! albit briefly im sure. i just wanted to say thanks Victoria for posting this question; i find it hard too...

for another week (before i move) i will have my best-icon-corner yet still in my life; i have 5 icons there... St. Nicholas, Christ, the Theotokos, Mother (St) Xenia and Christ on the Cross with the Theotokos there, St. John, Three other Women and the centurion...

i find just standing there, w. tea lights lit (the icons are just above my eye level, so i have to look up at them), and looking at them; and seeking to pray helps me; and i am honest; if i am feeling unsure about the Thetokos, i tell her and ask for her prayers...

not that what i am doing is The Best Way or anything; just thought i would share...

anyway. i find it very comforting and meaningful that you did this post Victoria; thanks again....

thomasw said...

i am a big on the mother of god and the holy guardian angels. the angels are not just for mondays and monastics :) i think one of the reasons luke and hannah and i are alive today is because of the aid god sent to us through our guardians when we were hit by another driver a couple of years ago.

Simply Victoria said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kai said...

My "first" patron saint is St. Josef. He's the one showing me the example how to take responsibility for my family, and to do my work as it should be done. I think he's hit his thumb many times, being a carpenter, and thus knows how it feels when I hit mine (literally and metaphorically)and feel some very unchristian utterances coming on.

When I became a catechumen on a Thomas Sunday, I thought that it happened on this day because it is more than just a coincidence. St. Thomas had difficulties believing without "touching". So do I, much too often.

So, I think of my patron saints as of my "older brothers"! They know about and went through much the same trepidations I go through some times... if that happens, I ask them to help me out of the mess I have created and if necessary to stand beside me when I have to apologize to my Lord for being such a klutz....

And on my "better" days, I just tell them that I have no srew-up to report, but just in case, please keep watch over me...