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The Great Collection
of the Lives of the Saints
We offer to English-speaking Orthodox Christians a 12-volume set—corresponding to the months of the year—of full-length accounts of the struggles and martyrdoms of the most eminent saints.

Our devout forebears in the faith had as their daily reading not newspapers and novels but the Holy Gospels, the Psalter, the Book of Hours, and the Lives of the saints. Nourished constantly by these, their souls were filled with ineffable delight and spiritual yearning, and they lived not for this fallen world but in expectation of the eternal kingdom.

It is our hope that these volumes will likewise ever be in the hands of the Christians of our time.

Blessed is he who is able, every day, to read the Life of the saint whom the Church commemorates: such a man in some measure lives on earth the festive life celebrated by the inhabitants of heaven. For those yet unable to observe this custom, the present collection offers the possibility of at least reading beforehand of the saints and feasts they will hear praised at Vespers and Matins on those days when services are held in their parish churches.

The reader of the Lives of the saints should not expect to find in them the characteristics of a contemporary biography any more than one who regards a holy icon should expect to see a naturalistic portrait. Concentrating on what is of spiritual significance, the hagiographer produces a verbal image that enables us to gaze upon God’s favorites through the light of the unwaning Sun of righteousness, Christ our Lord. By the use of certain conventions, of predetermined phrases and formulae, hagiography creates a particular atmosphere, a particular rhythm, as it were, which elevates us from earth to heaven, just as do the Church’s other sacred arts—iconography, hymnography, and so forth.
“The lives and praises of the saints are like the stars in brilliance. Because of their number, we do not know the names of all the saints; still, they amaze us by their radiant majesty, as do the stars, which while fixed in their position in the heavens, illumine all that is below, being seen by the Indians, yet not concealed from the Scythians, shining upon the land and guiding by their light those at sea. Similarly, the radiance of the saints, though their relics be entombed in sepulchers, is not bounded by the ends of this earth here below. Therefore, we marvel at their lives and are amazed at how God has glorified them that please Him.”
—St Symeon Metaphrastes
The unbeliever, reading the Lives of the saints, may react skeptically to the miracles and numerous vicious torments described therein, but the faithful are reminded of our Saviour’s words: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto My Father (Jn 14:12) Indeed, we should understand that any recounting of the marvellous works and sufferings of the saints is likely to be, if anything, incomplete.

Saint Demetrius of Rostov himself relates an incident that illustrates this truth very clearly. “One night in 1685, during the Nativity Fast,” writes the holy hierarch, “I lay down to rest without undressing about an hour or so before Matins, having finished recording the account of the passion of the holy martyr Orestes who is commemorated on the tenth day of November. And in a vision during sleep I beheld the holy martyr Orestes, his face full of joy, who addressed to me the following words: ‘I endured more torments for Christ than those you have recorded.’

“Having said this, he uncovered his shoulders and revealed to me a great wound on his left side, which penetrated to his bowels, and he said, ‘Here they ran me through with a sword.’ Then, baring his right arm to the elbow, he showed me a wound directly opposite the elbow and said, ‘Here you can see how they cut through my sinews.’ Likewise, baring his left arm, he disclosed a similar wound, saying, ‘Here they also cut through the tendons.’ And stooping down, he uncovered his legs and showed me wounds on his knees, saying, ‘They cut through here with a wheel.’ Finally, standing erect, he looked me in the face and concluded, ‘Do you see? I endured more for Christ than you have recorded!’ “Not daring to say anything in contradiction to this, I remained silent.”

The Lives of the saints are a true continuation of the Acts of the Apostles, a fulfillment of Christ’s promise to be with us always, even unto the end of the world (Mt 28:20), and proof of the Apostle Paul’s assertion that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). They are the confirmation of all the holy and eternal dogmatic truths of the Orthodox faith, of the ethical theology of the Church, of the might of the precious and life-giving Cross, and of the entire economy of our salvation. In them the power of our risen Lord over sin, suffering, and death is abundantly demonstrated, and the soul hungering and thirsting for righteousness finds everything necessary for satisfaction.

May all who read these Lives be stirred up to obey the charge given us by the holy Apostle: Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ (I Cor 11:1), and may they strive to emulate the struggles of the saints to the measure of their strength. May they also not forget to pray for those who labored and sacrificed to make these texts available to them.

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