Christian Saints East and West, Themes in Variation

Fr. Prof. Sidney H. Griffith
Professor in the Department of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures
Catholic University of America

The lecture concerns itself with the two different categories of saints in the Christian tradition, martyrs and confessors. It explores these two categories both from an historical and theological perspective. The martyrs were the first types of holy people to be venerated in the early Christian community, as they were seen as emulating the martyrdom of Jesus. There was even a tendency among the early believers to strive to be martyrs. A confessor is a person who acknowledges and lives his/her faith sometimes in the face of great hardships, but did not face the test of giving his/her life. The tombs of the martyrs (martyria) became places of pilgrimage and prayer, and eventually developed into the first churches. In the discussion that accompanies the lecture, Griffith explains that while Jesus himself could be seen as a martyr or saint, most Christian believers don’t have this perspective, since in Christian belief, Jesus is a synthesis of the human and the divine. All Catholics are taught that they should strive to be saints in the sense of confessors, to live their lives as an affirmation of their faith. Christians do not pray to the saints, but ask the saints to be intercessors for them to God.