Clockwise from left: St. Nikolai Velimirović, Father Pavel Florensky, Father Seraphim Rose
I happened to be already at work on this article when John Stamps’ Tell the Truth: We Must Have No Bogus History appeared at Public Orthodoxy to mark the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross. I have somewhat modified my original text in an attempt to address the tensions and ambiguities raised—but left entirely unresolved—in the Stamps article.
The Orthodox Church’s formal glorification of modern-day individuals as saints presents difficulties to a certain kind of piety characterized by a reluctance—or refusal, in the case of some believers—to accept as factual the inconvenient truths of a revered person’s biography. Our wilful blindness to the realities of a saintly person’s life, documented in his or her published writings, diaries, letters, photographs, the diaries and letters of friends and acquaintances, etc., in favour of a sanitized and partly fictitious narrative, appears to spring from two interrelated motives. First, we sometimes expect doctrinal infallibility and moral purity at every stage of a saint’s life—notwithstanding St. Augustine of Hippo’s illegitimate son and St. Mary of Egypt’s insatiable lust, to cite two examples among many from our earlier saints. Second, each of us individually seems to trace a line in the sand that we simply will not or cannot cross when faced with the unvarnished evidence from a saint’s or prospective saint’s biography. Read More