Saint. Sanctus. Agios. Svyatoy. Holy. We have journeyed through the whole drama of Christ's redemptive work, through which our very nature was hypostatically united to God, and through this union humanity is given to be united to God by grace: Theosis. We become participators in the Divine Life by grace. Even now from the right hand of God the Father the God-Man, the Theanthropos, Christ Jesus beckons to us: “Come follow me.” The journey, the life of a Christian is one of ascent from this fallen world to heavenly God-like living, an abiding in the Life. This is an ascent that begins here and now, it is an ascent of transfiguration. I have heard that the Greek word for saint, or holy one, agios, means not of this earth, not of this world. There is a subtle insinuation in much modern non-Orthodox theology: Christ has achieved everything (which is true) and now all a person has to do is mentally believe and confess Christ and His work and this brings about salvation. Salvation is primarily a complete transfer of status from “not saved” to “saved” via confession on the part of man and decree on the part of God. In some regard this passive faith brings about a slight apathy in spiritual life. Christ has achieved it all, all I have to do is believe it (and claim it)! In believing one is said to go from the total state of being condemned to the total state of having been saved. True personal transfiguration is not of primary importance, in fact it contributes very little to actual salvation. Of course there are moral standards that must be kept, but in many modern groups there is a strong impression that we, humans, cannot really live God-like lives. Theosis is impossible, and thus the whole phenomenon of saints.
The whole reality of saints, holy ones, in the Christian experience testifies against this new teaching, indeed it testifying to the fact that all of us today, in committing to be Christians, have committed ourselves to deepening our abiding in the Divine Life by grace.
I would conjecture that one reason why many western confessions do not have holy ones, saints, besides a very egalitarian take on the issue - we are all saints and there are no “special” saints - is the fact that to have men and women as examples of holy living is to challenge our current comfortable worldly standard. Our times are quickly losing any value or like for standards. Most things, from education to exercise are being dropped to a lower standard. Standards and challenge might make someone feel bad, so instead of helping people work to meet a higher measure society seeks to create environments of egalitarian “standards.” Now everyone can not be challenged and feel good about it! This is first and foremost a spiritual malady. What has been passed as Christianity in the Modern world has so lowered Christian living that now we can all be saints because there really are no saints! And if there is the off chance there are, their lives are most likely quaint mythical stories only meant to inspire (or possibly fantasy stories made up after the style of ancient legends that are intended to awe the uneducated). In other words, I do not really have to personally strive to emulate them, and thus, in the long run Christ. And so we are conveniently not spiritually challenged from the “status quo:” we can indulge our passions and be “saved” all at the same time! We can neatly pursue the obese acquisition of innumerable things, most of them unnecessary to life, to satiate our desires and attain to heaven too! We can live in comfort and easy, after all I worked hard to earn all this, and “pray to Jesus in our hearts.” Salvation is easy, anyone can be an armchair saint. The modern gospel has become: you do not have to be holy, you do not have to be ontologically not of this world (all you have to do is get a bumper sticker).
It is not pleasant to hear about fasting while our bellies are full; it is not convenient to hear about ascetical living while we live our life of ease. After all isn’t Christ suppose to make us feel good? All these examples of self-denial do not allow me to pat myself on the back and say “you are doing just fine.” Instead they say, “there is much that you have yet to do in Christ, arise work while it is day; repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
Christianity is always incarnational. And the saints are those flesh and blood epistles that prove Life in Christ is real. Without saints Christianity is a philosophical teaching of the mind. Saints are special in the sense that they have applied in a concrete and serious manner the teachings and life of Christ Jesus: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Saints are those who have applied themselves to being true humans. Most of us are simply use to living in a state that is often devoid of true holiness. Yet in truth human nature is in God, in Christ. Thus the truly human manner of living is holiness, not the “norm” of enslavement to sin that we have become sadly accustom to. We are all called to be saints, to be holy in Christ; but we have not all fully desired this with all our heart. Mankind's true vocation is to be made God-like, and the saints prove this.