“Holiness needs to be studied in action. Read less theology and more lives of the saints.”
The Orthodox liturgical calendar serves also as a record of the rich history of the church. The major feast days like Easter, Nativity, and Theophany celebrate the vital moments in the life of Christ. We commemorate also the lives and work of the saints and the sacrifices of the martyrs.
I like using this calendar, run by Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church in Baltimore. It contains a list of the commemorations for the day, with a detailed background for a few of the major celebrations. Here is one example, an account for St. Boniface of Florence who is celebrated today (Dec 19 in the Julian calendar):
Sainted Boniface the Merciful, Bishop of Firentium (Florence): [trans. note – his very name “Bonifacius” in Latin means “good-doer”, and hence “merciful”]. From his very childhood he was distinguished by his non-covetousness and love for the poor. On the street when he saw a destitute man, he took his own clothes and gave them away to those in need, to the chagrin of his widowed mother. One time he gave away a year’s supply of the bread grain, but the Lord worked a miracle through his prayer, and the granary was again full of grain.
Saint Boniface became bishop of the city of Firentium (Florence), situated to the north of Rome (Tuscany region). And even with his lofty position as bishop he remained totally non-covetous and merciful towards people, and wisely he directed his flock, exhorting it to attend to even its least among neighbours.
Keeping in touch with the calendar is an important part of my daily routine. I tend to be someone who likes to think in abstractions. There is a danger in letting my faith become simply a collection of tenets to believe rather than a life to be lived. Reading the stories of the saints in the calendar grounds me, in that I see the Christian faith in the lives of those who have lived it well, from the founding of the church to the present day.
Perhaps I will see a remembrance for people in the gospels, and see how their encounter with Jesus transformed them into bold leaders of the early church. Perhaps I will read an account of a brave martyr, whom Christ has given strength in terrible circumstances. Perhaps I will read of monks and nuns, who renounced riches and marriage so they could follow Christ the best they could. And most of all I get to see the mark of God’s hand throughout all of history: the divine presence even in the midst of dreadful persecutions from Roman emperors, Persian shahs, pagan chiefs, Arab and Ottoman invaders, communist despots.
These stories remind me that the faithfulness of God is not just expressed as words on a page, but rather as the divine presence, providing for the lives of real men and women in need. In the lives of the saints, I see that following Christ is not a matter of belief, but a matter of concrete action, of charity, compassion, self-sacrifice. Through the calendar, I am reminded that the resurrection isn’t a 2000-year-old fable, but rather a singular event which has exercised a decisive, continuous influence on world history.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.