On Hagiography

Hieromonk Seraphim Rose 1934-1982

A touchstone of true Orthodoxy is the love for Christ’s saints.  From the earliest Christian centuries the Church has celebrated her saints – first the Apostles and martyrs who died for Christ, then the desert-dwellers who crucified themselves for the love of Christ, and the hierarchs and shepherds who gave their lives for the salvation of their flocks.

…A person with a modern education must be taught how to approach these works, just as a person who has been trained in classical Western painting must be re-educated in order to understand the quite different art of the icon. Hagiography, like iconography, is a sacred art and has its own laws which are quite different from those of secular art. The Life of a saint is not mere history of him, but rather a selection of events in his life which reveal how God has been glorified in him; and its style is devout, and often exalted and reverential, in order to give a proper spiritual tone and feeling to the narration and arouse in the reader both faith and piety.  This is why a mere retelling of a saint’s life can never take place in the original hagiographical account.  A “Life” thus differs from a “biography” much as an icon differs from a naturalistic portrait. (Prologue to the Vita Patrum of St. Gregory of Tours)

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