Hidden Saints


It is surely the case that most saints are hidden. St. Paul says that “our true life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).  I believe that it is for our own sakes that these things are hidden. We’re told that the Theotokos “pondered these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19) which is a world away from walking around asking everybody, “What do you think about this?”

There is much about our life with God that remains hidden and should remain hidden (except, perhaps in confession). We live in a voyeuristic culture that reveals what should never be revealed and finds itself morbidly fascinated by hidden things. The hiddenness of the heart is part of modesty and humility and is a hallmark of authentic Orthodox spirituality.

There is much about modern American spiritual life that runs counter to this. Some segments of Protestantism are almost as voyeuristic as the popular culture itself. The same can be a temptation present to Orthodox within our culture. Some of this varies from Orthodox culture to Orthodox culture – but, in Russia, for instance, the cross is always worn “next to the skin,” and is not worn like a badge. In other Orthodox cultures this is not so.

In America it is easy for a cross to become little more than jewelry. At such a point, it probably needs to become “next to the skin,” in my opinion (take it for what it is).

By the same token any number of things associated with the Orthodox life, even icons, can be used in a way that has more to do with American “show” than with any particular act of devotion. We Americans have a sort of “clubishness” about ourselves and we tend to want to fly the colors of our groups (hence all the sports paraphernalia sold). But the saints and their icons are persons, or personal representations, given to us as “windows to heaven.” Some restraint should be shown in how we use their images as well. There are many things like this for us to give consideration. Do I pay more attention to my outward self and the signs of my allegiance, or do I concern myself with the hidden things of the heart? Forgive me if anything I’ve said gives offense. If it leads you to think on the hiddenness of the heart, then my purpose was served. I intended nothing more.

Some final thoughts on the hiddenness of saints. This is from Archimandrite Sophrony’s Saint Silouan the Athonite:

For the superficial observer, the Staretz continued to the end of his days to be an ‘ordinary’ man. He lived like all good monks in general, fulfilling his tasks of obedience, abstinent, observing the monastery rules and traditions, taking communion twice a week – three times during Lent and other fasts. His work in the store-house was not difficult – for a man of his physical strength it was even easy, requiring comparatively little time although it did demand his presence during the daylight hours. To the end he continued tranquil and good-tempered. There were never any outbursts, no ugliness, external or internal. Like a really experienced ascetic he showed nothing outwardly, standing before the Father in secret, as the Lord commanded. To the end he stayed remote from mundane interests and indifferent to the things of this world. But deep in his heart the fire of Christ-like love burned without cease.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





14 responses to “Hidden Saints”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    The photo is of St. Silouan.

  2. Alice C. Linsley Avatar
    Alice C. Linsley

    There is blessedness in being hidden. Hiddeness also makes it easier to do the work one is given to do.

  3. axegrinder Avatar

    Fr. SF,

    Excellent points for self-examination. Our desparately wicked hearts will miss no occasion for tainting even the holiest exercises we attempt, such as prayer before icons or almsgiving. I’m sure it’s good to be a team player, but I certainly don’t want to be guilty of gamesmanship, cheerleading, or trash-talking.

    Lord have mercy.

    Jason Kranzusch

  4. Canadian Calvinist Avatar
    Canadian Calvinist

    As a Protestant, I see this lack of hiddenness permeating most of Evangelicalism. Just peruse the aisles of any local “Christian” bookstore or watch “christian” TV programs and notice how the loud and proud are lauded as successful, confident and bold etc. Even the typical Evangelical “cell” group has become more important than church for many and yet often, it facilitates a lot of talking (sharing) with little real devotion thus becoming a window on ourselves rather than a window to heaven. I think the fact that we have jettisoned monasticism, liturgy, mystery, silence, reverence, fasting etc has left us open to be more concerned with being on display for others rather than walking quietly before the face of God.
    Now having said that, I know my own heart with it’s “outbursts and ugliness” as was mentioned in your post, but there is hope….God resists the proud BUT gives grace to the humble.

  5. Demetrius Avatar

    My two children, both diagnosed with autism, are nonverbal and therefore removed from the temptation to sin in the ways this “cult of personality” leads many of us; even their father from time to time.

    No wonder many see my son as a saint and my daughter as an angel among us. Maybe they are!

  6. Fatherstephen Avatar


    They both give a definition to hiddenness that transcends the rest of us.

  7. Dolly Avatar

    Just having posted on Martha Jane’s blog, my mind remains oriented to garments, clothing, covering. My initial thought around hiddenness turned to the irony of God clothing himself in ordinariness, the irony of His entering into the mundaneness of our self-interested lives. Further thought, however, jettisoned me to God’s changelessness: as uncreated light, He remains as He is. The cloudedness of our eyes, the dullness of our vision sees ordinary, thus, God and those like Him are hidden, overlooked, discarded. Help me to wear ordinary, Lord.

  8. Fellow Sojourner Avatar
    Fellow Sojourner

    There is a cost, a cost some are not willing to pay, for living a more hidden life. For me, it recently cost me my job in ministry at a protestant mega-church where programs and “the show” is everything. Those that walk in quiet obedience and worship of God will be completely misunderstood, not only by our culture, but by many who call themselves disciples of our Lord. Pray for me as I seek a job where I can quietly be salt and light, attempting to simply love others.

    May God give you strength each day to raise those two blessed children. You, also, are blessed, to walk in the presence of Christ each day as you serve, what our culture considers, “the least of these.”


  9. Meg Lark Avatar

    I was once reproved at a Russian monastery for wearing my cross outside my blouse and not next to my skin, and was a little taken aback, since among the Greeks (where I worship), wearing the cross outside is the norm. I certainly can see the Russian point of view, and the overall hiddenness of Orthodoxy, the quiet contemplation of God and profound relationship with Him, is one of the chief things that drew me to this faith to begin with.

    But I keep thinking of the Russian lady who approached me at the local university and hesitantly asked me where the Russian church was — she had seen my cross, so assumed I was a “safe” person to ask. As it happens, the nearest Russian parish is 40 miles away, so I don’t go there too often; but I was able to drive her and her two sons there during the Paschal season, something she would otherwise have missed — if I had worn my cross “next to the skin.”

    To me, therefore, wearing my cross where all can see it is its own confession of faith. Those who see it as jewelry, can see it that way. Those who are curious will ask, and I will tell them what it means. (And it reminds me to behave in a way consistent with who I say I am, so as not to give scandal.) And those who are strangers — Orthodox strangers — know when they see it that I am their sister in Christ. Speaking as one who lived in a completely foreign culture for three years — that’s *awfully* important.

  10. fatherstephen Avatar


    No need to defend what is a perfectly good practice, and has obviously been of benefit. As I said, my only intent has been to direct our attention to meditate on the hiddenness of sanctity.

  11. handmaidleah Avatar

    Such a wonderful conversation all of this has created, thank you Fr. Stephen. I wear my cross wherever it happens to land when I put on my clothes, it has never really been a conscious “thing” to me, like adding jewelry would be, maybe because the only jewelry I wear is my wedding rings and my cross. Not much call to on a ranch… but I have noticed that, it is a silent witness to who I am and to Whom I belong. However, I try to live my faith, not wear it on my sleeve
    On an interesting side note, whilst driving to town Denis Prager made the comment that our society so tears down its heros by knowing everything about them, that had the OT prophets lived today, they wouldn’t get God’s word out because people would never get past their personal lives to hear what they had to day. Nothing is sacred or private anymore, or hidden.
    Fellow Sojourner, all things work for the glory of God, my prayers are with you…
    Only in the United States would we have Starbucks Spirituality, has anybody else heard about that one?
    the handmaid,

  12. Athanasia Avatar

    The language of heaven is silence.

  13. Roland Avatar

    Mary-Leah paraphrased Dennis Prager as saying, “Had the OT prophets lived today, they wouldn’t get God’s word out because people would never get past their personal lives to hear what they had to say.”

    The prophet Hosea took full advantage of his neighbors’ fascination with his personal life: He dramatized God’s word to Israel by marrying a harlot!

  14. Grumpy Old Man Avatar

    This brought to mind a beautiful hymn, a setting of a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier. It ends like this:

    Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
    Till all our strivings cease;
    Take from our souls the strain and stress,
    And let our ordered lives confess
    The beauty of Thy peace.

    Breathe through the heats of our desire
    Thy coolness and Thy balm;
    Let sense be numb, let flesh retire;
    Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
    O still, small voice of calm!

    The whole thing here

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