Wondrous In His Saints (Sun. June 19)

The word for today is “wondrous.” Today on All Saints Sunday we commemorate the saints who have gone before us. And during Matins (Morning Prayer), we sing “God is wondrous in His saints.”[i] From a worldly viewpoint, we might ask what is “wondrous” about the trials of the saints? What is so glorious about the suffering that we read about in today’s reading of Hebrews 11:33-12:2? Our commentary will explain how the saints are wonderful as they give glory to God.

The Glories of the Saints

In this well-known passage from Hebrews 11, the apostle recounts the astounding examples of the saints of the Old Testament. Through faith these holy ones subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to fight the armies of the alien, etc. …” (Hebrews 11: 32-34). We praise God for these heroes of the faith today and we remember with thanksgiving countless saints and martyrs for Christ in whom God is glorified.

That “God is wondrous in His saints” sounds the theme of commemoration for this day. It comes from the Septuagint (LXX) Greek version of the Old Testament. The term wondrous means held in awe, marveled, or admired (Strong’s 2296, 113). And The Orthodox Study Bible translates the term ( hag’-ee-os) which literally means “holy” or “sanctified.”

The Worthiness of the Saints

The worthiness of the saints is a repeated theme in the New Testament. Paul refers to the Second Coming of Christ as the time “when He comes in glory to be glorified in His saints.” (OSB 2 Thessalonian 1:10). The apostle also prays that “the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you and you in Him (2 Thessalonians 1:12).

But this thought comes from the Lord Jesus Himself who prays to the Father, “I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for these are Yours and all Mine are Yours and yours are Mine and I am glorified in them (OSB John 17:9-10).

The term glorified in these examples means to be exalted in honor, and of high repute (Strong’s #1740 and 1741, 88). The two words wondrous and glorified mutually express the thought of the awesome splendor and grand exaltation of what is worthy of praise.

Yet some will ask how those who suffer such deprivation and brutality could be considered so magnificent and their deaths so glorious that the Almighty God is glorified in them. The Matins service answers that by their virtues they “made earth to be ‘heaven-like’.”  They lived and died as if they were in heaven and not on earth. So, they brought the hope of heaven down to earth.

By the Surgery of Grace

How did they do this? The song declares that “by the surgery of grace,” they removed human passions as healers of mankind.” That is, the saints and martyrs were like surgeons who removed the cancer of the passions from their souls by God’s grace. In this manner, they demonstrated the way of the healing of corruption.

Thus, as the song goes, they “walked the way that led to immortal life.” The Lord Jesus pointed to that path in our Gospel when he said, “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me (OSB Matthew 10:38). Thus, to enter into immortality, we must leave the mortal behind us. This is what the saints did. Obeying the Word of the Lord, they let go of all in this time to grasp the glory of the age to come.

The Matins verses say that they “imitated the death of Christ” and again it says, they “shared in His sufferings.” Accordingly, we honor their trials and martyrdom because they reflected the greater Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we did not think the travails of the saints and martyrs are worthy of special esteem, then we would have to question whether the Lord’s suffering was laudable. If the trials of the saints are not worthy of praise, then we cannot boast in the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:14).

God Is Glorified In Them

However, after Judas has left the Supper to carry out his plan to betray Him, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him (OSB John 13: 31). The passion of the Lord is the most glorious revelation of God. The saints followed His example, and their tribulations reflected his agonies. Therefore, God is glorified and made wondrous in them.

Of course, from the world’s perspective, they did not accomplish anything. But from the viewpoint of the Kingdom, they achieved everything. They realized the hope we share in resurrection to eternal life. And they made that hope a living reality for us.

And so, we proclaim “God is truly wondrous in His saints” (Psalm 67:36; The Service of Matins). St. John Chrysostom wrote that he often felt sad when hearing the lives of the saints. When he compared himself to them, he said that even in his dreams he had not experienced what the saints had gone through; “not paying the penalty of sins, always doing rightly, and yet always afflicted” (Chrysostom, Home 28 on Hebrews 11:1-4). As the saints glorified God so we glorify them this Sunday. We should not be disheartened by their valiant testimony of the faith but rather encouraged by them. For they surround us as a great cloud of witnesses to take up our cross with them and follow the Crucified Christ from death to the glory of life eternal.

For Reflection

“What does the daily invocation of the saints signify… different ones each day, during the whole year, and during our whole life? It signifies that God’s saints — as our brethren, but perfect — live, and are near us, ever ready to help us, by the grace of God. We live together with them in the house of our Heavenly Father, only in different parts of it. We live in the earthly, they in the heavenly half; but we can converse with them, and they with us. God’s saints are near to the believing heart and are ready in a moment to help those who call upon them with faith and love.” — Saint John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ

Works Cited

Trans.God is wonderful in His saints.”  Sept. (1979, Ps. 67:36) 1979. Septuaginta. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft. 

About Fr. Basil

Now retired, the Very Rev. Archpriest Basil Ross Aden has served as a parish priest, parish pastor, diocesan mission director, writer, and college teacher of New Testament and Religious Studies. He has a Master of Theology and a Doctor of Ministry degree from the University of Chicago and has published daily devotional and stewardship materials as well as a college textbook on Religious Studies. He also has published papers and/or lectured on the Orthodox perspective on Luther and the Reformation. religious freedom, current issues of religion and society, and St. John Chrysostom. He is married to Sandra and has two sons and three grandchildren. He is still active as a priest as well as a writer of articles and materials on Orthodoxy and topics of faith and life today.

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