An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church


A holy person, a faithful Christian, one who shares life in Christ. The term may also indicate one who has been formally canonized or recognized as a saint by church authority. In the NT, the term is applied to all faithful Christians (see Acts 9:32, 26:10). Paul addresses the saints or those called to be saints who are the members of Christian communities that receive his letters (see Rom 1:7, 1 Cor 1:2, 2 Cor 1:1, Eph 1:1, Phil 1:1, Col 1:2). Christ makes it possible for us to be saints as we share his life. We are washed, sanctified, and justified “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11).

The term later came to be applied to “elite” Christians whose lives were distinguished and exemplary because of their self-sacrifice, witness, virtue, or accomplishments. Special recognition was given to the martyrs of the early church. A feast of All Martyrs dates from at least the third century. The saints were the heroes of the church. The identification of saints as exceptional Christians has been associated with the legalization of Christianity and the growth of the church to include members who were not fervently committed to Christian faith. The celebration of All Saints’ Day in the west dates from at least the ninth century. In the western church, the requirement for papal approval for canonization of a saint dates from the twelfth century. An elaborate and complicated process for canonization developed in the Roman Catholic Church. A multiplication of saints’ days followed the establishment of Christianity in the Roman world. This may reflect a need to provide a Christian alternative to days of celebration for pagan gods and heroes. The saints came to be seen as protectors and intercessors rather than witnesses for the Christian faith. Saints’ days proliferated in the western church during the middle ages. Churches and institutions were named for saints. Many faithful people made pilgrimages to shrines of saints, such as the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury.

Lutheran church orders restricted holy days to feasts of our Lord, the days of apostles and evangelists, St. Stephen, the Holy Innocents, St. John the Baptist, St. Michael the Archangel, and All Saints. The BCP followed the example of the German church orders, although other observances were later added. The calendar of the church year of the 1979 BCP includes the names of saints and many others whose lives are commemorated with feasts (pp. 15-33). The BCP provides collects, psalms, and lessons for holy days, including apostles such as St. Andrew (Nov. 30) and evangelists such as St. Mark (Apr. 25). The BCP also provides collects, psalms, and lessons for the Common of Saints for commemoration of saints listed in the calendar for which no proper is provided in the BCP (pp. 246-250, 925-927), including propers such as “Of a Martyr” and “Of a Missionary.” Lesser Feasts and Fasts provides collects, psalms, and lessons for commemorations in the calendar that do not have propers appointed by the Prayer Book, such as Nicholas Ferrar (Dec. 1) and John Henry Hobart (Sept. 12). Lesser Feasts and Fasts also includes a short biographical sketch for each person commemorated. New commemorations may be added to the calendar with the approval of two General Conventions.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.