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A saint is one who has been recognized for having an exceptional degree of holiness, sanctity, and virtue. While the English term "saint" originated in Christianity, the term is now used by historians of religion "in a more general way to refer to the state of special holiness that many religions attribute to certain people," with the Jewish Tzadik, the Islamic wali, the Hindu rishi or guru, and the Buddhist arahat or boddhisatva also referred to as saints. Depending on the religion, saints are recognized either through official church recognition or by popular acclaim (see Folk saints).
In Christianity, "saint" has a wide variety of meanings, depending on its usage and the denomination. The original Christian usage referred to any believer who is "in Christ" and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth. In Orthodox and Catholic teachings, all Christians in heaven are considered to be saints, but some are considered to be worthy of higher honor, emulation, or veneration, with official church recognition given to some saints through canonization or glorification.
The English word saint is a translation of the Greek ἅγιος (hagios), derived from the verb ἁγιάζω (hagiazo), which means "to set apart", "to sanctify" or "to make holy". The word appears 229 times in the original Greek manuscripts and appears 60 times in the King James version of the Christian New Testament. As used by the apostolic authors of scripture, saint did not refer to deceased persons who have been granted sainthood, but rather to living persons who had dedicated themselves to God.
The term in English was originally used in Christianity, though historians now use the term for representatives of all major religions who are considered worthy of veneration for their holiness or sanctity. Many religions also use similar concepts, but different terminology, to venerate individuals worthy of honor in some way, e.g., see Hindu saints. John A. Coleman S.J., Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, wrote that saints across various cultures and religions have the following family resemblances:
While there are parallels between these (and other) concepts and that of sainthood, each of these concepts has specific meanings within a given religion. Also, new religious movements have sometimes taken to using the word in cases where the people so named would not be regarded as saints within mainstream Christianity. Some of the Cao Dai saints and saints of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica are examples of such.
The anthropologist  Lawrence Babb in an article about Sathya Sai Baba asks the question "Who is a saint?", and responds by saying that in the symbolic infrastructure of some religions, there is the image of a certain extraordinary spiritual king's "miraculous powers", to whom frequently a certain moral presence is attributed. These saintly figures, he asserts, are "the focal points of spiritual force-fields", exerting "powerful attractive influence on followers but touch the inner lives of others in transforming ways as well."
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In the Anglican Communion and the Continuing Anglican movement, the title of Saint refers to a person who has been elevated by popular opinion as a pious and holy person. The saints are seen as models of holiness to be imitated, and as a 'cloud of witnesses' that strengthen and encourage the believer during his or her spiritual journey (Hebrews 12:1). The saints are seen as elder brothers and sisters in Christ. Official Anglican creeds recognise the existence of the saints in heaven.
So far as invocation of the saints is concerned, one of the Church of England's Articles of Religion "Of Purgatory" condemns "the Romish Doctrine concerning...(the) Invocation of Saints" as "a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God". However, each of the 44 member churches in the Anglican Communion are free to adopt and authorise their own official documents, and the Articles are not officially normative in all of them (e.g., The Episcopal Church USA, which relegates them to "Historical Documents"). Anglo-Catholics in Anglican provinces using the Articles often make a distinction between a "Romish" and a "Patristic" doctrine concerning the invocation of saints, permitting the latter.
In high-church contexts, such as Anglo-Catholicism, a saint is generally one to whom has been attributed (and who has generally demonstrated) a high level of holiness and sanctity. In this use, a saint is therefore not a believer, but one who has been transformed by virtue. In Roman Catholicism, a saint is a special sign of God's activity. The veneration of saints is sometimes misunderstood to be worship, in which case it is derisively termed "hagiolatry".
Some Anglicans and Anglican churches, particularly Anglo-Catholics, personally ask prayers of the saints. However, such a practice is seldom found in any official Anglican liturgy. Unusual examples of it are found in The Korean Liturgy 1938, the liturgy of the Diocese of Guiana 1959 and The Melanesian English Prayer Book.
Anglicans believe that the only effective Mediator between the believer and God the Father, in terms of redemption and salvation, is God the Son, Jesus Christ. Historical Anglicanism has drawn a distinction between the intercession of the saints and the invocation of the saints. The former was generally accepted in Anglican doctrine, while the latter was generally rejected. There are some, however, in Anglicanism, who do beseech the saints' intercession. Those who beseech the saints to intercede on their behalf make a distinction between "mediator" and "intercessor", and claim that asking for the prayers of the saints is no different in kind than asking for the prayers of living Christians. Anglican Catholics understand sainthood in a more Catholic or Orthodox way, often praying for intercessions from the saints and celebrating their feast days.
Now therefore arise, O LORD God, into thy resting place, thou, and the ark of thy strength: let thy priests, O LORD God, be clothed with salvation, and let thy saints rejoice in goodness.
In the Bible, only one person is expressly called a saint: "They envied Moses also in the camp, and Aaron the saint of the LORD." (Psalms 106:16-18) The apostle Paul declared himself to be "less than the least of all saints" in Ephesians 3:8.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church a saint is defined as anyone who is in Heaven, whether recognized here on earth, or not. By this definition, Adam and Eve, Moses, the various prophets, except for the angels and archangels are all given the title of "Saint". Sainthood in the Orthodox Church does not necessarily reflect a moral model, but the communion with God: there are countless examples of people who lived in great sin and became saints by humility and repentance, such as Mary of Egypt, Moses the Ethiopian, and of course Dysmas, the repentant thief who was crucified. Therefore, a more complete definition of what a saint is, has to do with the way that saints, through their humility and their love of humankind, saved inside them the entire Church, and loved all people.
Orthodox belief considers that God reveals his saints through answered prayers and other miracles. Saints are usually recognized by a local community, often by people who directly knew them. As their popularity grows they are often then recognized by the entire church. The formal process of recognition involves deliberation by a synod of bishops. If successful, this is followed by a service of Glorification in which the Saint is given a day on the church calendar to be celebrated by the entire church. This does not, however, make the person a saint; the person already was a saint and the Church ultimately recognized it.
It is believed that one of the ways the holiness (sanctity) of a person is revealed, is through the condition of their relics (remains). In some Orthodox countries (such as Greece, but not in Russia) graves are often reused after 3 to 5 years because of limited space. Bones are washed and placed in an ossuary, often with the person's name written on the skull. Occasionally when a body is exhumed something miraculous is reported as having occurred; exhumed bones are claimed to have given off a fragrance, like flowers, or a body is reported as having remained free of decay, despite not having been embalmed (traditionally the Orthodox do not embalm the dead) and having been buried for some years in the earth.
The reason relics are considered sacred is because, for the Orthodox, the separation of body and soul is unnatural. Body and soul both comprise the person, and in the end, body and soul will be reunited; therefore, the body of a saint shares in the "Holiness" of the soul of the saint. As a general rule only clergy will touch relics in order to move them or carry them in procession, however, in veneration the faithful will kiss the relic to show love and respect toward the saint. Every altar in every[dubious ] Orthodox church contains relics, usually of martyrs. Church interiors are covered with the Icons of saints.
Because the Church shows no true distinction between the living and the dead (the saints are considered to be alive in Heaven), saints are referred to as if they were still alive. Saints are venerated but not worshipped. They are believed to be able to intercede for salvation and help mankind either through direct communion with God, or by personal intervention.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the title Ὅσιος, Hosios (f. Ὁσία Hosia) is also used. This is a title attributed to saints who had lived a monastic or eremitic life, and it is equal to the more usual title of "Saint".
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The beliefs within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) with regard to saints are similar but not quite the same as to the Protestant tradition described below. In the New Testament the saints are all those who have entered into the Christian covenant of baptism. The qualification "latter-day" refers to the doctrine that members are living in the "latter days", before the Second Coming of Christ, and is used to distinguish the members of the LDS Church, which considers itself the restoration of the ancient Christian church. Therefore members are often referred to as "Latter-day Saints" or "LDS", and among themselves as "Saints".
The Syriac Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and Armenian Apostolic churches do accept the existence of saints, but officially recognize them via their own individual processes. For example, the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria canonizes saints, through the approval of that church's Holy Synod. A requirement of the Coptic Orthodox faith is that at least 50 years must pass from a saint's death to his canonization, and the Coptic Orthodox Pope must follow that rule.
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In many Protestant churches, the word "saint" is used more generally to refer to anyone who is a Christian. This is similar in usage to Paul's numerous references in the New Testament of the Bible. In this sense, anyone who is within the Body of Christ (i.e., a professing Christian) is a 'saint' because of their relationship with Christ Jesus. Many Protestants consider prayers to the saints to be idolatry as an application of divine worship that should be given only to God himself is being given to other believers, dead or alive. Many Protestants sects also consider the practice to be similar to necromancy as the dead are believed to be awaiting resurrection, unable to do anything for the living saint.
Within some Protestant traditions, "saint" is also used to refer to any born-again Christian. Many emphasise the traditional New Testament meaning of the word, preferring to write "saint" to refer to any believer, in continuity with the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.
In the Lutheran Church, all Christians, whether in heaven or on earth, are regarded as saints. However, the church still recognizes and honors specific saints, including some of those recognized by the Catholic Church, but in a qualified way: according to the Augsburg Confession, the term "saint" is used in the manner of the Roman Catholic Church only insofar as to denote a person who received exceptional grace, was sustained by faith and whose good works are to be an example to any Christian. Traditional Lutheran belief accounts that prayers to the saints are prohibited, as they are not mediators of redemption. But, Lutherans do believe that saints pray for the Christian Church in general. Philip Melancthon, the author of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, approved honoring the saints by saying they are honored in three ways: 1. By thanking God for examples of His mercy; 2. By using the saints as examples for strengthening our faith; 3. By imitating their faith and other virtues. The Lutheran Churches also have liturgical calendars in which they honor individuals as saints.
While Methodists as a whole do not practice the patronage or veneration of saints, they do honor and admire them. Methodists believe that all Christians are saints, but mainly use the term to refer to bibilical people, Christian leaders, and martyrs of the faith. Many Methodist churches are named after saints, such as the Twelve Apostles, John Wesley, etc. Although, most are named after geographical locations associated with an early circuit or prominent location. Some Methodist congregations observe All Saints Day if they follow the liturgical calendar. Many encourage the study of saints, that is, the biography of holy people. The 14th Article of Religion in the United Methodist Discipline states, "The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardon, worshiping, and adoration, as well of images as of relics, and also invocation of saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warrant of Scripture, but repugnant to the Word of God." John Wesley, the theological father of world Methodism, did not practice or permit Roman Catholic practices associated with the veneration of the Virgin Mary or prayers to saints.
The Catholic Church teaches that it does not make or create saints, but rather, recognizes them. In the Church, the title of Saint refers to a person who has been formally canonized (officially recognized) by the Catholic Church, and is therefore believed to be in Heaven.
By this definition, there are many people that the church believes to be in Heaven who have not been formally declared saints but who are otherwise referred to as saints, since they are believed to be completely perfect in holiness. Unofficial devotions to uncanonized individuals take place in certain regions. Sometimes the word "saint" is used to refer to living Christians.
Rev. Alban Butler published Lives of the Saints in 1756, containing 1,486 saints. The latest edition of this work, edited by Father Herbert Thurston, S.J., and British author Donald Attwater, contains the lives of 2,565 saints. Monsignor Robert Sarno, an official of Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints, expressed that it is impossible to say the exact number of saints.
In his book, Saint of the Day, editor Leonard Foley, OFM, says this of saints: "[Saints'] surrender to God's love was so generous an approach to the total surrender of Jesus that the Church recognizes them as heroes and heroines worthy to be held up for our inspiration. They remind us that the Church is holy, can never stop being holy and is called to show the holiness of God by living the life of Christ."
In his book, on Making Saints, author Kenneth L. Woodward notes the following:
A saint is always someone through whom we catch a glimpse of what God is like—and of what we are called to be. Only God "makes" saints, of course. The church merely identifies from time to time a few of these for emulation. The church then tells the story. But the author is the Source of the grace by which saints live. And there we have it: A saint is someone whose story God tells.
The veneration of saints, in Latin, cultus, or the "cult of the saints", describes a particular popular devotion or abandonment to a particular saint or saints. Although the term "worship" is sometimes used, it is intended in the old-sense meaning to honor or give respect (dulia). According to the Catholic Church, Divine Worship is properly reserved only for God (latria) and never to the saints. They can be asked to intercede or pray for those still on earth, just as one can ask someone on earth to pray for them.
A saint may be designated as a patron saint of a particular cause or profession, or invoked against specific illnesses or disasters, sometimes by popular custom and sometimes by official statements of the Magisterium. Saints are not thought to have power of their own, but only that granted by God. Relics of saints are respected in a similar manner to holy images and icons. The practices of past centuries in venerating relics of saints for healing is taken from the early Church.
For example, an American deacon claimed in 2000 that Blessed John Henry Newman interceded with God to cure him. The American, Jack Sullivan, asserted that after addressing Newman he was cured of spinal stenosis in a matter of hours. In 2009, a panel of theologians concluded that Sullivan's recovery was the result of his prayer to Newman. According to the Catholic Church, to be deemed a miracle, "a medical recovery must be instantaneous, not attributable to treatment, disappear for good."
Once a person has been declared a saint, the body of the saint is considered holy. The remains of saints are called holy relics and are usually used in churches. Saints' personal belongings may also be used as relics. Some of the saints have a symbol that represents their life.
In Church tradition, a person who is seen as exceptionally holy can be declared a saint by a formal process, called canonization. Formal canonization is a lengthy process often taking many years, even centuries.
The first step in this process is an investigation of the candidate's life, undertaken by an expert. After this, the report on the candidate is given to the bishop of the area and more studying is done. It is then sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome.
If the application is approved, the person may be granted the title of "Venerable". Further investigations may lead to the candidate's beatification and given title of "Blessed." At a minimum, two important miracles are required to be formally declared a saint. These miracles must be posthumous. Finally, when all of this is done the Pope canonizes the saint.
The use of the term "saint" is not exclusive to Christianity. In many religions, there are people who have been recognized within their tradition as having fulfilled the highest aspirations of religious teaching. In English, the term saint is often used to translate this idea from many world religions.
Cuban Santería, Haitian Vodou, Brazilian Umbanda and Candomblé, and other similar syncretist religions adopted the Catholic saints, or at least the images of the saints, and applied their own spirits/deities to them. They are worshiped in churches (where they appear as saints) and in religious festivals, where they appear as the deities. The name santería was originally a pejorative term for those whose worship of saints deviated from Catholic norms.
There are individuals who have been described as being Hindu saints, most of whom have also been more specifically identified by the terms Sant, Mahatma, Paramahamsa, or Swami, or with the titles Sri or Srila.
The Arabic term wali (Arabic ولي, plural Awliyā' أولياء) is commonly translated into English as "Saint". However, the wali should not be confused with the Christian tradition of sainthood. A prominent early scholar of Sunni Islamic beliefs, Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Tahawi, mentioned in his book "Al-Aqidah At-Tahawiya":
We do not prefer any of the saintly men among the Ummah over any of the Prophets but rather we say that any one of the Prophets is better than all the awliya' put together. We believe in what we know of Karamat, the marvels of the awliya' and in authentic stories about them from trustworthy sources.
Unlike Prophets and Messengers, the awliya can be either male and female. One of the best known female saints is Rabi`a al-Adawiyya.
Scholars have also noted the parallels between the regard for some Sufi figures in popular Muslim observance and Christian ideas of sainthood. In some Muslim countries there are shrines at the tombs of Sufi saints, with the observation of festival days on the anniversary of death, and a tradition of miracle-working.
The term Tzadik "righteous", and its associated meanings, developed in Rabbinic thought from its Talmudic contrast with Hasid ("Pious" honorific), to its exploration in Ethical literature, and its esoteric spiritualisation in Kabbalah. In Hasidic Judaism, the institution of the Tzadik assumed central importance, combining former elite mysticism with social movement for the first time.
The concept of sant or bhagat is found in North Indian religious thought including Sikhism. Figures such as Kabir, Ravidas, Nanak, and others are widely regarded as belonging to the Sant tradition. Some of their mystical compositions are incorporated in the Guru Granth Sahib. The term "Sant" is still sometimes loosely applied to living individuals in the Sikh and related communities.
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|Stages of canonization in the Catholic Church|
|Servant of God → Venerable → Blessed → Saint|