Does the Orthodox Church Canonize People?

Catherine: Cause Newsletter #8 — Fall 2004

You may be wondering: What does the above question have to do with Catherine’s cause for canonization? 

Catherine Doherty wearing Russian pilgrim clothes.

Catherine wearing Russian pilgrim clothes.

Because Catherine was reared in both the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, and because unity between these two great ancient traditions was one of her intense desires, Madonna House is sensitive to what the Orthodox Church’s (and more specifically the Russian Orthodox Church’s) approach is to this whole question of the canonization of saints. Would the canonization, in the Catholic Church, of someone from Orthodox Russia (that is, Catherine), be an obstacle of any kind to Orthodox Russia’s openness to her gifts? In her deep heart, Catherine belonged to both the Orthodox and Catholic traditions. It is certainly the desire of Madonna House that we also, “in our deep heart,” embrace our Orthodox brothers and sisters. We try, therefore, to be sensitive to anything that would make us less of a welcoming presence in the Lord’s plan for our eventual unity. Is “canonizing someone” foreign to this tradition? Would Catherine’s canonization be an obstacle to her life and message being accepted by the Russian Orthodox? 

Another reason for treating this issue is this. It has been said to me on occasion, “Why do we have to go through this long and complicated process for canonization? The Orthodox just make saints by acclamation of the people.” We’ll see that this is not true. 

What is an Orthodox Saint?

A Russian Orthodox understanding of “Saint” may be a good place to begin. The following comes from the pastor of St. Nicholas Russian Church in Dallas, Texas, Fr. Seraphim Holland: 

The word ‘Saint’ literally means ‘Holy One’. We recognize the holiness of those who have struggled to live holy lives, above and beyond the average Christian, by calling them ‘Saints.’ All Christians are in some sense ‘saints’, since the word also implies a setting apart. In our Liturgy, the priest exclaims ‘Holy Things are for the Holy’ shortly before he breaks the Lamb, and this phrase includes all true (Orthodox) Christians who struggle to be saved, and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But when we refer to the ‘Saints’ we call to mind those who ‘fought the good fight and finished the course and kept the faith’ (1 Tim. 4:7) and in so doing, have ‘labored more abundantly than they all’ (1 Cor 15:10). 

God has sometimes revealed to the Church the sanctity of one of his great strugglers. The same Holy Spirit that enlightened the one who ‘fought the good fight’ also enlightens the Church and uncovers the sanctity of the Saints. At ‘a seasonable time’ the Church recognizes in an official way that a Christian is a ‘Saint’, and composes a service honoring them and asking their intercession, and declares a yearly date to observe their memory. The ‘glorification’ of a newly revealed saint is merely the Church accepting what God has already revealed. 

Then he quotes a certain Proto-presbyter Michael Pomazansky: 

What, in essence, is the Church’s formal glorification of saints? Persons who are great in their Christian spirit, glorious in their service to the Church, beacons illuminating the world, leave behind themselves a memory which is not confined to a narrow circle of people, but which is known throughout the whole Church, local or universal. 

In witness to the profound certainty of the Church that a reposed righteous man is with the Lord, in the choir of the Saints in the heavenly Church, the Church gives her blessing for the change from prayers for the reposed to prayer requesting for us his prayerful assistance before the throne of God. Such is the essence of the act of glorification itself. 

Although this term ‘canonization’ is etymologically derived from the Greek word ‘canon,’ it forms a part of the terminology of the Latin Church and is not employed by the Orthodox Greeks. This is an indication that we need not use it since the spirit and character of Orthodox glorification is somewhat different from the canonization of the Roman confession. The Roman Church’s canonization, in its contemporary form, consists of a solemn proclamation by the Pope: ‘We resolve and determine that Blessed N. is a saint, and we enter him in the catalogue of the saints, commanding the whole Church to honor his memory with reverence.’ The Orthodox ‘numbering among the choir of the saints’ has no special, fixed formula, but its essence might be expressed thus: “We confess that N. is in (numbered with) the choir of the saints of God.”’ 

I have found, in Orthodox statements, both the words “canonization” and “glorification” so it seems that different Orthodox communions use different words. If I understand the above quote correctly, our Catholic tradition means the same thing as glorification: When a person is canonized, the Church declares that that person is now in heaven, “numbered among the choir of the saints,” and may be invoked in prayer. A liturgy is composed in the person’s honor. 

Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew I

Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew I

In John 17:5, Jesus prays: “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” And then, a little later on (v. 22) “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.” The Eastern Church uses the Lord’s own word for what happens when we come into his presence: we receive his glory, are glorified. Our Catholic word canonization refers more to what happens here on earth when someone is declared a saint: he or she is included into the canon of the saints by an act of the Pope. 

Recent Examples of Glorification in the Russian Church

Archpriest John Kochurov (1871-1917) was “the first clergyman of the Russian Orthodox Church, whom Our Lord Jesus Christ made worthy of bearing a martyr’s crown in the 20th century from the hands of the godless Bolshevik authorities.” (Note the word “canonization “ in this official decree): “Proclamation of the Holy Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church on the Canonization of Archpriest John Kochurov.” The Decree then outlines what this means practically. A comparison of these steps with our Catholic practice may be instructive for Catholics. 

1. “That Archpriest John be numbered among the hieromartyrs for Church-wide veneration.” 

For us also, canonization means insertion in the universal calendar of the Church. The person’s veneration is no longer restricted to a particular area or community. 

2. “That the righteous remains of the Hieromartyr henceforth be considered holy relics and be left to the care of God’s mercy, until such time as they may be uncovered.” 

At a certain point in our process, a request may be made for the transference of the remains of a Servant of God to another place. There are very specific guidelines for doing this, to assure the identity of the person, and that proper decorum can be observed in the question of relics. Sometimes, in both East and West, the bodies are found to be incorrupt. This is not taken as an absolute sign of a person’s “glorification,” but it is an added cogent argument. 

3. “That the service of the hieromartyr John, following the day of his glorification, be the general service for martyrs and that a blessing is given for the composition of a special service for him.” 

For us as well, canonization means that a Mass and Office may be composed in honor of the new saint. 

4. “That the memory of hieromartyr John be celebrated on October 31, according to the Julian Calendar.” 

The new saint is assigned a date in the universal calendar of the Catholic Church. 

5. “That the name of hieromartyr John be included in the synaxis of the new martyrs and confessors of Russia.” 

The person’s name may now be included in the canon of the Mass where saints are mentioned. 

6. “That an icon for veneration of the newly glorified hieromartyr John be painted according to the Decree of the Seventh Ecumenical Council.” 

While pictures of a Servant of God before canonization may be painted, anything—such as a halo —which anticipates the decision of the Church, must be avoided. After canonization, the full religious symbolism of sanctity may be used. 

7. “That the life of the hieromartyr John be published for the edification in piety of the Church’s faithful.” 

8. “That, on behalf of the Holy Council, the great and grace-filled joy of the glorification of the new hieromartyr of Russia be announced to the flock of all Rus.” 

Step #8 would be taken through the offices of the Congregation for the Saints. For example, on May 16, 2004, the canonization of six new saints, appeared on the official Vatican web site. 

9. “That the name of the newly-glorified hieromartyr be made known to the Primates of the sister Orthodox Churches for inclusion in their calendars.
+ Aleksy, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and the Members of the Holy Council.”

I may be overly ecumenically minded, but I don’t see any essential difference between these steps outlined above and the process for canonization in the Catholic Church. I simply conclude that our Catholic canonization of holy people is in keeping also with the present practice of the Russian Orthodox Church. 

A few more recent examples of the glorification of saints in the Russian Orthodox Church may also be of interest. On the web site Sobornost: Russian Orthodox Inter-net magazine, I read: 

On 9 October 1989 the Russian Orthodox Holy Bishops Council declared its decision that Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow and all Russia was enrolled in the list of saints of the church. Tikhon had been elected patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Moscow eleven days after the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace in Petrograd in 1917. This man represented steadfast rejection of the socialist revolution. The canonization of Tikhon came in the aftermath of the observance of the millennium of the Christianization of Russia. (Paul Steeves, Berlin Colloquium, May 24, 1996) 

The Russian schema-nun Annushka—she who prays with us in heaven—lived a hundred years ago. She was known as a foreseeing and righteous woman. Peoples’ memory has passed unto us amazing testimonies of her selfless life in Christ. ‘If you love God and the Mother of God, you should also love the sorrows they send you,’ she used to say. She was able to feel at a distance the spiritual condition of her children, sending them her prayerful help at the right moment. We collect the testimonies of peoples’ veneration, of her miracles and spiritual help for applying to the Synodal Committee on canonization of saints. (The Novo-Tikhvin, Women’s Monastery, Ekaterinburg) 

I simply state, therefore, that there is a process for canonization among the Orthodox. Fr. Michael Pomazansky sums up the Russian’s Church’s approach to it in this way: 

The glorification of the saints consisted and consists of a general statement of faith by the Church that God himself has united the departed one to the assembly of his saints. This faith is founded on the facts of a death by martyrdom, or upon a righteous life that is apparent to the whole Church, or upon the glorification of the saint of God by instances of wonderworking during his lifetime or at his tomb. Glorification is usually an expression of the voice of the people of the Church, to whom the higher ecclesiastical authority, after due verification, gives synodally the final word, establishment, recognition, confirmation and the sanction of the Church. (Missionary Leaflet, Holy Protec-tion Russian Orthodox Church) 

Around the 11th and 12th centuries, in both the Latin West and the Greek East, a discerning process of canonization began, mostly because of excesses, and because the Church needed more “proofs” of a person’s holiness. Towns would vie with one another in their claims to miracles and saints. 

One other insight from an Orthodox theologian is very fruitful, I think, for fostering union between these two great traditions. It comes from Creation and Redemption, Vol. III of the works of George Florovsky: 

Reverently the Church watches for any signs of grace which witness and confirm the earthly struggle of the departed. By an inner sight the Church recognizes both the righteous living and departed, and the feeling of the Church is sealed by the witness of the priesthood of the Church. In this recognition of its brothers and members who have ‘attained to perfection’ consists the mystical essence of that which in the Christian West is termed the ‘canonization of saints,’ and which is understood by the Orthodox East as their glorification, magnification and blessedness. And firstly it is a glorification of God, ‘wondrous is the Lord in His saints.’ 

And it is not only to get help and intercession that the Holy Spirit teaches every believer to pray to the glorified saints but also because this calling on them, through communion in prayer, deepens the consciousness of the catholic unity of the Church. In our invocation of the saints our measure of Christian love is exhibited, a living feeling of unanimity and of the power of Church unity is expressed; and, conversely, doubt or inability to feel the intercession of grace and the intervention of saints on our behalf before God witnesses not only to weakening of love and of the brotherly and Church ties and relationships but also to a decrease in the fullness of faith in the Ecumenical value and power of the Incarnation and Resurrection. 

I don’t have the whole text before me, so I don’t know if I am reading my following reflection into Florovsky’s beautiful insight. But isn’t he saying that the whole Church meets in the saints? Perhaps he is only speaking about the saints of the various Orthodox communions. But would this not apply to the saints of the West as well? 

The saints express the unity of the Church in their persons; they have achieved the fullness of Christ. The ancient saying in Orthodox/Catholic relations, that “our divisions do not reach all the way to heaven,” has been achieved in the saints. 

Reverencing the saints of one another’s traditions is a way we can share our common life in the Holy Spirit. If we cannot totally agree on doctrine, if we still cannot share the same Eucharist together, can we not reverence together in each other’s traditions those who have joined the choir of the saints and “pray with us in heaven”? 

St. Seraphim of Sarov, an icon of whom Catherine placed over her bed.

St. Seraphim of Sarov, an icon of whom Catherine placed over her bed.

I had a profound personal experience of this. I was visiting the Russian monastery of Panteleimon on Mt. Athos. It was of special interest for me as it was the monastery of the great modern Russian elder Silouan, for whom Madonna House has a special love. I was with a small group of Greek men who translated for me (from English to Greek) for the young Russian who was touring us. In the magnificent Church there were many icons of Russian saints such as Boris and Gleb, Seraphim of Sarov, and others. I knew who most of them were, and reverenced them. 

I think it was because I seemed to know and love these saints that, as I was leaving, our young tour guide motioned me and the others over to a door. He took out his keys and opened it. In the center of the room was a stand with a small wooden box on top. He opened the box. There was a skull in it. I said, “What is this?” He said, “Silouan.” I immediately feel to my knees, and so did everyone else. Whatever our differences—we were Russian, Greek Orthodox, and Catholic—at that moment we were all one in the presence of one who was now glorified in the choir of the saints. This holy man unified us, at least for the time we were together on our knees, beyond all our differences. The saints can be holy presences where we experience our unity; they are powerfully praying for this unity in their heavenly choir. 

This spiritual communion in the saints was expressed by the Russian Orthodox priest-theologian, Fr. Sergius Bulgakov, in relation to Mary, after his pilgrimage with his wife to Lourdes: “The remembrance of this place embalmed by the presence invisible to our eyes, but clearly perceptible to our souls, of the most holy Mother of God, will remain among the dearest memories of our lives. At least in our heart, the interior dividing wall which separates us from the roman church has lost much of its opaqueness.” 

An Orthodox artist and historian, the lebanese Lina Murr Nehme, has written a book on the now Blessed mystic Anna Katharina Emmerick. When asked why she was interested in Emmerick, she said: “In heaven there is no Orthodox schism. Either Anna Katharina Emmerick lived the Gospel and is in heaven and so belongs to us all, or she did not live it and then we are not interested in her. To be Orthodox or Catholic does not change the attitude of one Church towards the saints of the other, as we think alike on the important problems of the faith. I don’t understand why I should deprive myself of half the saints.” (Zenit, Oct. 3.) 

— Father Robert Wild, Postulator for the Cause 

Publications featured in this issue: 

Strannik: The Call to the Pilgrimage of the Heart by Catherine Doherty 

Molchanie: Experiencing the Silence of God by Catherine Doherty 

A VHS videocassette of Father Robert Wild presenting information about canonization and Catherine’s cause is available. Suggested donation: $25. To order, write to: Vice Postulator, Madonna House, 2888 Dafoe Rd, Combermere ON, K0J 1L0 


I begin this section with a different kind of witness, not exactly about Catherine, but about some of her contemporaries who were united with her in her journey to Catholicism. Perhaps many people believe that Catherine’s entering the Catholic Church from Russian Orthodoxy in 1919 was very unusual, and that hers was an exceptional case. Not true. 

We came across the web site recently of our friend, Pavel Parfentiev (, which opens with the statement: “The following is the list of candidates proposed for beatification among Russian Catholic Newmartyrs.” From the few lines of biography given for each it is not clear if they were all martyred or sent to the camps, or even if all were converts from Orthodoxy. Some are specifically spoken of as converts. In any case, they are presently Russian Catholics whose causes are being considered for canonization. 

What struck me, especially, was the date of birth of all these people, more or less in Catherine’s time frame (b. 1896). There is not much about the reasons for their entrance into Catholicism, but it would be a fascinating study. Here is the list. I’m sure Catherine must feel especially united with them in the “cloud of witnesses.” Perhaps they could become part of our own devotion? 

  • Mother Catherine Abrikosova (b. 1882, Moscow). Received into the Catholic Church, Paris, 1913. She died in a camp hospital. Pavel has written her life.
  • Fr. Epiphany Akulov (b. circa 1900) He was attracted to Catholicism through the influence of Blessed Leonid Feodorov, the Catholic Exarch of Russia who also died in the camps.
  • Fr. Constantine Budkiewicz (b. 1867, Zubry, Dvina Province)
  • Fr. Frantiszek Budrys (b.1882).
  • Fr. Pavel Chomicz (b.1893).
  • Fr. Anthony Czerwinski (b. 1881, Bilgorai, Lublin, Poland).
  • Fr. Potapy Emelianov (b. 1884, Ufa Province).
  • Sr. Rosa of the Heart of Mary (b. 1896 Vitebsk Province).
  • Camilla Nikolaevna Kruczeinicka (b. 1892, Baranovichi).
  • Bishop Anthony Malecki (b. 1861, St. Petersburg).
  • Bishop Edward Profittlich, S.J. (b. 1890 near Coblenz, Germany).
  • Fr Stanislaus Szulminski, SAC (b. 1894 Odessa, Ukraine).
  • Fr. Jan Trojo (b. 1881 Grodno Province (present Belarus).

“Dear Sisters and Brothers: glory to Jesus Christ. Glory forever. We have been on this site for quite a few months now, and can only say this one thing: “The breath of the Holy Spirit” was truly not just on Catherine, it overflowed in and out of her. We are Russian Orthodox and we will write to you for the canonization cause news letters. We pray all churches one day will be with our Holy Father, the Pope. Catherine’s intercession is very, very powerful, for we feel it in these pages. May the Lord Jesus and his all pure Mother, the Bogoroditza, and all the Saints intercede for you, grace you and may God bless you. We have a personal prayer request.
Catherine, intercede for us. ”
— Your Brethren, Russian Orthodox Old Rite Monks, Holy Nativity of the Mother of God Skete-Russian Orthodox Old Believer, Voltaire, North Dakota. 

“Catherine most certainly is a saint for me. Her love of God and of creation was always inclusive and passionate. She combined Eastern rite traditions with Western ones in ways that spoke to me personally, as my mother was Catholic and my dad Orthodox. But my dad did not go to church. Indeed, he was a fan of Communism and rejected organized religion. So the community in Combermere showed how faith and religion function at their best. And this struck me as a particular blessing as the Soviet Union was still very much in power. One of the miracles she wrought was right here: she transmitted to North Americans, many of whose immigrants had suffered directly or indirectly as a result of Soviet totalitarianism, she transmitted a sense of God’s love for Russia. Now I ask Catherine to pray to the Lord for a miracle: my great nephew Sam, age 12, who suffers from schizophrenia.” — EM, Toronto, June 2004 

“We receive, at the chancery, the newsletter you publish regarding the Servant of God, Catherine de Hueck Doherty. I became an admirer of Catherine when I was in the Seminary. Particularly influential were her classic works, Dear Seminarian and Dear Father. How relevant are those teachings today. Because of her love for the priesthood we should especially seek her intercession regarding the clerical scandals, which have harmed so many souls in so many ways.” — TT, Lincoln, Nebraska, Jan. 2003 

“I met Catherine in the late 1930’s and she brought me to Chicago to work for Bishop Bernard Sheil in 1943. Catherine truly influenced Bishop Sheil in interracial justice. As a result, he hired black people to be department heads, wrote about interracial justice, and was a powerful apostle. I am an old friend of Dorothy Day and went to N.Y. and met with Cardinal O’Connor re Dorothy’s cause.” — Nina Polcyn Moore, Evanston, IL. 

“On a cold March day many years ago, a cab dropped me off in front of a storefront called Friendship House on 135th St. in Harlem. The lady at the desk wore a blue dress. She had blue eyes, blonde hair and a wonderful voice. She was direct. She was charismatic. She was like no other person in the world. She was the Baroness de Hueck and she changed my life. Friendship House was an infinitely personal experience. It taught me about love and charity. It gave the tools with which to fight injustice. It showed me how to see beyond the ugliness that poverty often breeds in the very poor. Years later, Friendship House was with me in our urban jungles, in our prisons and in the jungles of South America. FH was innovative. It preached and practiced racial equality, and, if love is innovative, we were taught to love our fellow man. I am a luck lady to have been part of this. I am also damned, in a way, because my commitment never ends.” — Mary Jerdo, 1978 Memoir

Favours Received

“I attribute to Catherine the speedy recovery (two years ago) from a severe brain operation of a member of my parish. She still continues o be a very active member of her church in so many ways.” — Anonymous, Sept. 2002

“Finally! Finally! Thank you for your prayers for the recent court case for the mother and child we’ve been involved in! Through the intercession of Catherine, it turned out to be good news. The Judge seemed to be considering reunification [of the mother and child] in the near future. We thought it all sounded very hopeful! Catherine did it again!” — TC, Toronto, 2004

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