Last night I was asked: “Deacon, how do you feel about saints canonized after the 1920s, like St. Paisos and St. Silouan?”

I figured the answer would be a bit too complex and wordy for Twitter, so I’m going to unpack it here.

Let me preamble by saying I am no fan of the question of “modern saints”. I am not sure I like my saints knowing Twitter and the television exist. I feel like people saying “well, they’re newer so they’re more approachable” is bunk: I would question the authenticity of a saint who sounds “like me”. No one reads the history of the civil war and says “that’s too unapproachable”. The saints of all ages are real people with real lives. While there are great saints of the modern era (see St John of Shanghai for example) their behavior was often considered insane, and so I imagine they will appear more and more “insane” to a more and more insane world. The lives of Saints should not confirm us. They should correct us.

On to the question.

In the first place, there is no such thing as “canonization” as it exists in the Roman Catholic Church in Orthodoxy. Local Bishops in fact have the right to glorify local saints, and it is up to the Church to recognize them. My Synod’s calendar often corresponded to a calendar ROCOR produced of Western and Eastern Saints until the mid-2000’s. Because of this, it contains a wide number of insertions to the calendar which are often uncommon among other True Orthodox (the most recent insertion being that of St Philaret of New York, whom we didn’t actually glorify but did quietly attend one of the various glorifications done among True Orthodox Russians.)

That said, I presume you are talking about recent additions to the calendar by the EP of more recent Athonite Elders (ones glorified after 1920 but who died before often had a local cultus anyway). The question in such a case is not so much who’s doing the glorification (that is important, but often a formal glorification consists of nothing but insertion of the saint’s name into a diocese’s calendar) but whether the saint is in fact a saint, and that is a function of time. Some saints will never be known to the world; by contrast, some who were claimed to be saints (such as the Patriarch Michael Cerularius at the time of the schism) were forgotten as saints over centuries, despite being public figures. So we need to put aside the idea of an “official list” in the way the Roman Catholics do. The saints are there for more than simple commemoration but their lives are meant to be emulated. The saints on our local calendar are sufficient, but thanks to globalization and the internet local glorifications now get worldwide treatment.

Now the deeper question of these saints’ positions during a time of polarization and heresy can often be quite revealing and which leads to the question of “politicisation” of glorifications: when Russian True Orthodox in different Synods glorified St Philaret it was referred to as “political” (though his body was found to be perfectly incorrupt.) This can probably also be said for Athonite elders who have condemned the Greek Old Calendarists. It is a complex question, and one that has to be looked at from the entire life of the saint. I have less to say about an elder who condemned ecumenism and modernism and viewed Old Calendarists as schismatics than one who would claim that ecumenism is from God– the former can be in simple error, and the latter would be a flaming heretic. But since we are living through a time of polarization and heresy, the former example and St Philaret could still end up on the same calendar 100 years after our deaths, as this would all be seen as something as tame looking as the “ecumenist controversy” in Church history books for future generations, the struggles will be those recorded through their lives.

This can manifest in many forms: we cannot forget the name of new-martyr Katherine Routis, a wife and mother who was killed by police while protecting a priest of the Old Calendar in Greece. Is that the extremism decried? We can look at other confusing examples, such as St Nicholas Planas, recognized by the EP and Old Calendarists alike? Or the incredible case of St Myrtidiotissa, recognized as a Saint in Kleisoura, glorified as a nun of the Matthewite Old Calendarists– but as a pious laywoman of the Ecumenical Patriarchate???

History, in the end, must make sense of this in ways we cannot. We look at the writings of no less a Saint than St Jerome, who was literally decrying other saints of his day as heretics and schismatics. Thus, in a time of controversy, it is best, as St Vincent of Lerins writes, to cleave to what is ancient, and accept the wisdom and counsel of the Fathers who agree with those before them. If a pious departed Orthodox elder inspires you to a greater life of prayer and Orthodox practice, far be it from me to tell whether his glorification is “valid.” Only his life can do that. I’ll end like I started: Older Fathers are always better than newer ones.