The word of the day is “glorified.” Today with 2 Thessalonians 1:1-10, we begin to read St. Paul’s second letter to his congregation in Thessalonica, the important crossroads of Macedonia. The apostle writes from Ephesus in about 51 AD within months of his first letter. But now, he refers to the “persecutions and tribulations” that his congregation is undergoing (vs. 4). He consoles his flock in this port city that their afflictions are evidence that they are worthy of the kingdom of God, the reign of God for which they now suffer (vs. 5).
St. Paul assures the faithful that God will settle accounts with their persecutors and those who neither know Him nor obey the gospel. God will carry out His justice when the Lord Jesus Christ returns in glory and power. In that “Day,” Paul writes, He will return “to be glorified in his saints” (vs. 10).
Orthodox hymnody periodically declares that “God is glorified in His saints.” For example, in Vespers on the Sunday of the Forefathers (Dec. 11), the choir remembers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Daniel, and the Three Youths. At the end of the hymn, the choir sings, “Let us ask forgiveness of Christ our God who is glorified in His saints.
The thought that in the saints God is glorified comes from the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament (LXX). The Orthodox Study Bible translates the Hebrew text: “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints” (OSB Ps. 89:7). However, the Greek LXX renders the same verse, “God is glorified in the council of His saints” (Brenton Septuagint 89:7). In today’s reading from 2 Thessalonians, Paul follows the Septuagint Greek, not the Hebrew text. This term intensifies the sense that in the righteous, God is highly exalted, esteemed, and honored (Strong’s #1740 and 1741, 88).
The Glory of God Magnified
Glory belongs to God. Thus, the multitude in heaven cry out in Revelation: “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God” (Revelation 19:1). So how is God “glorified” in His saints? Chrysostom teaches that Christ will not come in divine glory in order to be glorified in the saints. He already sits in glory on the right hand of God, the Father. But the magnification of His glory will be an effect of His return. As the achievements of students point to the greatness of their teacher, so the holiness of the saints will amplify the glory of God.
Likewise, Christ will not return in order to be admired by the believers. It will be the saints. The Greek word for “admired” suggests that one marvels or is awestruck (Strong’s #2296, 113). Chrysostom, therefore, teaches that the saints will receive the reward of spellbinding wonder when He appears (vs. 10).
These thoughts prompt us to ask, does the honor given to the saints take away from the glory of God? Our answer is, “Not at all.” As Orthodox, we do not worship the saints. We reverence holy persons precisely because they worshipped the Holy Trinity and devoted their lives to that praise and adoration. The belief that God is “glorified in His saints” means that honoring the saints does not diminish God’s glory but enhances its manifestation.
When we honor the saints such as St. Nicholas during the Nativity Fast, we can gain inspiration and spiritual guidance from their presence and example. Thus today’s reading promises that Contemplating the lives of the saints will increase our hope in the imminent coming of Christ.