All Saints Day – 1 November

1 November is when the western church celebrates All Saints – remembering all the saints that have lived and inspired their fellow Christians to live a life that is pleasing to God.   In the bible ‘saint’ is used to describe those who believe in Jesus and live a life of faith.  Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount talked about the characteristics of those who live a life of faith in him.  He refers to them as ‘blessed’:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. [1]

The saints are those who go about their daily life trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ and seeking to live a life that reveals the presence of God to those around them.  Not all who fulfil Jesus’ categories of sainthood are designated Saints by the church and given a place in the liturgical calendar.  Many are ordinary men and women.


In this blog I have been writing about Christian women who have lived in what is now modern day Turkey but was formerly Asia Minor, made up of many different parts – Cappadocia, Galatia, Bythinya and Pontus.   Many of these women are designated by the Church as Saints and have a place on the liturgical calendar.  But there are also those who have lived a life of faith who are not recognised in the liturgical calendar but none the less have lived faithful lives and are saints in the New Testament use of the word.  The New Testament refers to the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ (Hebrews 12:1) – these are those Christian people who have died and gone to be in heaven, who make up what is known as the ‘Church Triumphant’ – they have gone before us into the presence of God in the heavens and from there watch over us, pray for us and ‘cheer us on’.  One of these unknown women is remembered because of her epitaph that has been commented on by Dom Gregory Dix:

“There is a little ill-spelled ill-carved rustic epitaph of the fourth century from Asia Minor:—“Here sleeps the blessed Chione, who has found Jerusalem for she prayed much.” Not another word is known of Chione[2], some peasant woman who lived in that vanished world of Christian Anatolia. But how lovely if all that should survive after sixteen centuries were that one had prayed much, so that the neighbours who saw all one’s life were sure one must have found Jerusalem!”[3]

We do not know who Chione was, the only detail of her life is that “she prayed much”.  Surely Chione, with many other faithful women who have lived in what is now modern day Turkey are part of the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ who we will one day join.

The writer of the last book in the New Testament, Revelation, says in his vision of heaven that he:

“…saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed. [4]

Some of those written about on this blog are women who have been martyred for their faith.  They were seen crying out to the Sovereign Lord, the Pantocrator.  This group too are part of that ‘great cloud of witnesses[5]’.

In the next chapter of Revelation the writer has a vision of  “…a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.  They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”” [6]

Heaven is populated by those who during their earthly lives were part of the church here on earth, the Church Militant, but upon death they have passed over into the heavenly realms where they are part of the Church Triumphant.  Both parts of the same whole, what is also referred to as ‘the body of Christ’.  That interaction between both parts of the Church is referred to in the Nicene Creed as ‘the communion of Saints’ – because of our common faith in Christ there is a oneness, a fellowship between us even after death.

All Saints[7] day is an opportunity in the churches’ calendar to celebrate those in whom the church has recognised the grace of God at work in a recognisable way.  That grace and their sanctification comes in the context of ordinary every day life as well as, a result of the extraordinary crises of life.

After Emperor Constantine’s edict of Milan Christians were less likely to be martyred.  This led some Christians to live the ascetic life, to seek spiritual martyrdom.  Celtic Christians talk about Red, White and Blue martyrdom:

“Now there are three kinds of martyrdom which are counted as a cross to man, that is to say, white martyrdom, and blue[8] martyrdom, and red Martyrdom (bdanmartre ocus glasmatre ocus dercmartre).  This is the white martyrdom to man, when he separates for the sake of God from everything he loves, although he suffer fasting or labour thereat.  This is the blue martyrdom to him, when he means of them (fasting and labour) he separates from his desires, or suffers toil in penance and repentance.  This is the red martyrdom to him, endurance of a cross or destruction for Christ’s sake, as happened to the apostles in the persecution of the wicked and in teaching the law of God.  These three kinds of martyrdom are comprised in the carnal ones who resort to good repentance, who separate from their desires, who pour forth their blood in fasting and in labour for Christ’s sake.”[9]

According to this designation those like St Euphemia who were killed for their faith suffered Red Martyrdom.  Those who left the comfort of their homes and lived as hermits in caves or lonely places were Green martyrs.  There they studied scripture and communed with God.  This green martyrdom gave way to monasticism.   Some of the women who have been featured as examples of Christian women in what is now modern day Turkey felt the call of monasticism and lived in convents.

White martyrs were those who sailed off into the unknown, not knowing where they would end up and whether they would come home again.   The challenge for us is to live sacrificially and faithfully no matter what one’s circumstances.

The Anglican collect for All Saints day is:
Almighty God,
you have knit together your elect
in one communion and fellowship
in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord:
grant us grace so to follow your blessed saints
in all virtuous and godly living
that we may come to those inexpressible joys
that you have prepared for those who truly love you;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.  Amen

[1] Matt 5:3-12

[2] Chione or Khione in GK: Χιόνη

[3] Pfatteicher, Philip H.. Journey into the Heart of God: Living the Liturgical Year (Kindle Locations 6493-6496). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.  Quoting from Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (Westminster: Dacre Press, 1945), pp. 744–745.

[4] Revelation 6:9-11

[5] Hebrews 12:1

[6] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Re 7:9–10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[7] The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates All Saints after Pentecost.

[8] Or Green Martyrdom

[9] Taken from the Cumbrai Homily which is dated to the seventh century or early eighth century.  It is written in old Irish and is found in:  Dorothy Whitelock, Rosamond McKitterick, David Dumville (Eds) Ireland in Early Medieval Europe: Studies in Memory of Kathleen Hughes (CUP, Cambridge, UK 2011) p.23

Copyright©2019 Rev Ros Wilkinson