Abba Seraphim came back to Mickfield in Suffolk on 24 November to speak on the Fathers and the Saints.
This was his third visit to us, and he asked whether this time, being more accustomed to him, we might have a more discursive style of talk; this turned out to be a very good idea, since we were able to have a good give and take in which most members of the audience were able to join ; it was certainly well suited to bringing out Abba Seraphim’s lively sense of wit.
His Grace began by posing a question that would run through the lecture – what place is there for saints in our society? He reminded us all that, of course, we are all called to be saints, and that thinking of the saints as dead people is to miss the fact that in repose they continue to be active parts of the body of Christians, to whom we can pray for intercession and to whom we can look for support.
Saints tended to fall into two categories, only one of which we emphasised: these were: universal saints, such as St. Cyril of Alexandria, or St. Augustine; and local saints, such as some of the Cornish and Welsh ones, of whom little was known save sometimes only the name, but who, nonetheless, spoke of ‘memory eternal’.
A discussion of this last point brought out some striking examples, including not only ones local to East Anglia such as St. Felix and St. Edmund, but also the practice in some circles of the Reformed churches of looking to specific individuals as ‘saints’ whose lives and work deserved respect – and emulation. This suggested that, whatever gloomy conclusions one might be tempted to make about the results of the Reformation in the West, the concept of the saint remained important for Christians.
Abba Seraphim gave some fascinating accounts of the fate of the relics of Saints, pointing out the importance attached to physical remains; in past times Christians had stolen relics, not least the crusaders in 1204 in Constantinople; but now a more eirenic approach prevailed – as evidenced by the Papal decision to return some part of the relics of St. Mark to Egypt.
Saints provide a pattern and an example, and a reminder to us all of the call to sacrifice that is such a part of our life in Christ. They helped link the people to the Church in times past, and can still do so if we remember to incorporate them into our prayer life.
Saints also link us to God, showing how the human can become divinised; they are an example and a call to repentance and regeneration. How popular are they in the west though? On that question it was pointed out that the BOC is currently carrying out a poll on the website – so, especially for good Durham men like Mickfield’s Mark Wright, a vote for St, Cuthbert seemed in order.
We thanked Abba Seraphim for his talk, and expressed the hope he would continue with his talks in Suffolk.