In the very first book of the Old Testament, we are told that, “God created man in His own image” (Genesis 1:27, NKJV.) Any detailed examination of the Orthodox faith will show that the largest calling we have received from God is to become like Christ. St. John explains this in the Gospel:
“He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (John 2:4-6)
In other words, if we say we’re Christians, we must walk the walk and strive to live our lives like Jesus lived His.
However, it’s easy to say that we must walk the walk. The more difficult question is, how do we walk the walk? Especially in today’s world, we hear so many different things about what’s right and what’s wrong, and what we’re “supposed” to do to love our neighbor. Especially on college campuses, we are constantly assailed with conflicting messages from different sources. It is so easy to become confused about which paths we should follow.
The good news is, we have as sources of wisdom and intercession those who have walked the walk before us! Truly, out of all people, the saints of our Church have most fully realized the image of God within themselves. When we read their lives, we can see how they have been set on fire with love for Christ, and we can see how that love looks different in each of their lives. Some saints, like St. Mary of Egypt, flees into the desert to wage war against their temptations. Others, like St. Luke, are surgeons—or midwives, like St. Olga. Some are artists, like St. Romanos the Melodist. Some are royalty, like St. Constantine and his sons. Some are martyrs, some are single, some are married, some are monastics. Regardless of your strengths, struggles, and callings, you can find a saint who shares them with you.
Notice that I am writing about the saints in present tense. The saints are not people who lived a very long time ago, then died, and that’s the end of that. They are people who lived earthly lives, and now in eternity intercede for us, constantly participating in our lives. And, importantly, there are people living their earthly lives today who will become saints, if they are not already! Every one of us is called to become a saint.
St. Nektarios of Pentapolis, after his death, said, “It’s as if we saints are in retirement…the people don’t pray to us, don’t entreat us, don’t ask us for anything, don’t give us any handiwork to do. They don’t give us the opportunity to pray to God for them.” The saints are looking for opportunities to help us! It’s up to us to become more aware of their presence.
It took me a long time to learn that the saints are still living and interacting with us, and my prime realizations of this fact occurred on OCF: Real Break trips. On my first real break trip, Thessaloniki 2018, I venerated the body of my patron saint, St. Demetrios, and saw the exact place where he was run through with lances. St. Demetrios is overwhelming for anyone to visit, because myrrh still streams from his body to this day—to the point that on his feast day, they open his reliquary and mop it up with towels! The Akathist to St. Demetrios reads, “Rejoice, you who ride throughout the world as one alive.” One can feel the power of his presence by how strong the smell of his myrrh is, even upon reaching the threshold of his cathedral.
Another example from my Thessaloniki trip is the relics of St. Gregory of Palamas. I visited him after St. Demetrios, but there is a little glass window in St. Gregory’s reliquary, through which you can see one of his bones. I watched a drop of myrrh materialize, seemingly out of thin air, and run down the length of the bone. It completely overwhelmed me. I had to step out of the room—but even though I had left that room and entered the nave of the church, I couldn’t get away from the smell of the myrrh! It was so strong, it almost hurt my nose. Even though, overcome with their holiness and their active presence, I had to turn away from them, the saints were still with me!
Finally, on my second Real Break trip—Romania 2020—we all became very stressed on the second-to-last day of our pilgrimage. It was at the height of COVID-related anxieties, since it had just been elevated to pandemic status. With travel bans instated and Europe suddenly spiking to high risk, we had to get home as soon as we could. We had just been informed we were leaving that night. We were fatigued, uncertain, and—speaking at least for myself—afraid. But our trip leader, Fr. Robert, took us to venerate the hand of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of travelers. The woman watching over his relics removed the glass in the reliquary so we could directly kiss his hand. I was brought such a sense of peace. I knew that St. Nicholas was watching over us and magnifying our prayers for safe travels, and that he would be present with us on our journey home.
Since the saints are powerhouses of intercession and full of wisdom, how can we get to know them better? There are practical steps you can take! I recommend learning more about your patron saint. Who are you named after? Is there an Akathist to them? Read their story and learn their Kontakion and Troparion.
Another step you could take is Googling Akathists to Orthodox Christian saints. You will be shocked at the number of saints you’ve never heard of, and you will truly feel their presence as you beseech them for their intercessions and learn their life story through prayer. You will start to see yourself in different saints and their walks of life, which will encourage you.
Finally, OCF has a resource as well, called There’s a Saint for That. It would also be a great idea for your chapter to have a meeting about saints, where people can share the lives of their patron saints or other beloved saints. In this time leading up to Christ’s birth, let’s all look to the saints together and, through their prayers and examples, learn how to emulate Christ.
My name is Demetra Chiafos! I was involved in OCF during my four years at The Ohio State University, serving on the student officer board for three years at OSU and participating in national events. I graduated in 2020 with a BFA in Dance and a BA in Japanese. I am currently teaching dance while completing my MA in Translation (Japanese) through SOAS University of London. I play piano and cello, and sing in church choir whenever I can!