Hidden Saints

The first Sunday after Pentecost is traditionally observed as the Sunday of All Saints in the Orthodox Church – both those that are “hidden” and those who have been “revealed.” These are some thoughts on the “hidden” saints – by far the most numerous.

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 contemporary Christianity 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 baptismal cross is commonly worn “next to the skin,” and is not worn like a badge.

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 [Elder] 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 priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





27 responses to “Hidden Saints”

  1. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    No offense taken — I think you’re right — but it might interest you to know that among the Greek women in this neck of the woods, one’s cross is always worn outside one’s blouse, and not as jewelry, either.

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    Mrs. Mutton,
    Yes, indeed. In Greek culture the cross is normally worn in a visible manner. The Russian practice interested me as in interesting example of “hiddenness.”

  3. thirsty Avatar

    Thank you for this encouragement to examine our lives.

  4. Kate Avatar

    Father, what is the icon in this post?

  5. fatherstephen Avatar

    It is the traditional icon of All Saints with Christ seated in the middle. It’s a sort of “busy” icon with lots of detail.

  6. Kate Avatar

    Where can I find out who and what events are depicted in it? (especially at the bottom).

  7. […] all Saints, rather than just the ones who have been revealed to the Church.  Indeed, the number of Saints unknown to us far surpasses the number of Saints we celebrate.  Only God knows all of His […]

  8. Brian Avatar


    I don’t know all the detail at the bottom, but I do know that the man in the loin cloth in the middle holding the cross is the Good Thief – the one to whom Christ said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” I believe the man enthroned on the left is Abraham (“Abraham’s bosom”) and I would guess the man enthroned on the right holding the ark (the Church – the Ark of salvation) is Noah. The entire lower portion of the icon, which,as I understand it is the context of the entire icon. is Paradise.

    Perhaps an iconographer can correct me and/or fill in the gaps of my limited understanding.

    Seeing the Good Thief among the Saints always gives me hope when I venerate this icon!

  9. Romanós Avatar

    Excellent post and observations about the dangers of unsuspected voyeurism even in Orthodoxy, but certainly in the American culture at large. I recoil every time I see a blatant misuse of the cross as jewelry, and when I see the name of Jesus plastered on bumpers or worse places, emblazoned as tattoos on human bodies. But we’re here to love, not to judge, and so with full admission of my own sins and offenses, I just want to thank you, Father, for these thoughts, and hope that this cross, “next to my skin”, will not reveal me in the end to a have been merely a spectator or an actor.

  10. Seraphim Avatar

    I really like this icon, Father Stephen.

    The two saintly figures are looking for Christ precisely where they think He ought to be, in His earthly robes and on the mercy seat, but instead He is hypostatically present in a mandorla, at the centre of all things.

    The following words of the Psalmist seem particularly appropriate here: Thou hidest Thy face, they vanish…Thou sendest forth Thy spirit, they are created (Ps. 104: 29-31).

    Glory to God for all things!

  11. vagueperson Avatar

    What of Russians’ beards? What of our beards in America?

  12. Karen Avatar

    Dear Father, bless! Wise words. Thanks!

  13. Patty Joanna Avatar
    Patty Joanna

    The “hidden person” was very intriguing to me as I was turning toward Orthodoxy. I have a lot of outgoing characteristics, which inevitably led me to being put in “up front” positions, which I hated…but accepted because the culture (American Christian) put such a high value on it. But to be able to be a hidden person, even though outgoing, was where I always wanted to be.

    St. Joanna, “my” saint, was very appealing to me for this very reason. She is not well documented. But three things stood out about this lovely saint. She did what she could (she couldn’t stop the beheading of St. John the Forerunner, but she could provide decent burial); she went where Christ was–to the cross and to the tomb; and she went in the company of others. I don’t know that I could make it on my own, but I want to go where Christ is, and to do what I can, even if it isn’t The Greatest Thing That Could Be Done.

    Indeed, my life is hid in Christ. As if I even know what that means. But maybe with St. Joanna on my side, I will learn what it means by living it.

  14. Dn. Michael Sakran Avatar
    Dn. Michael Sakran

    Bless, Father:

    Thanks for the post. I just wanted to point out that Fr. Michael Plekon discusses this and similar topics in his book, “Hidden Holiness.” I haven’t read his whole book, but only a chapter or two for a class on spirituality at seminary. In any case, it may prove to be an interesting read for some.

    In Christ,

    Dn. Michael

  15. fatherstephen Avatar

    They are traditionally worn on the chin.

  16. vagueperson Avatar

    Indeed they are. I’m curious about beards and vanity.
    Are beards grown to eschew vanity for reasons of piety – only to become a source of vanity for some? In a culture of shaved faces and styled hair, are they then an external form of modesty or asceticism (along with other things), just as a cross worn outside the clothing may become an external sign that does not reflect an internal reality?

    I believe it is a temptation for converts like me to grow longer beards, such as those of our heroes, the apostles and saints, as an external show of clubishness, as you described.

    In Tennessee would it be strange to see a man with the beard of St. Silouan? Whether this beard is an outgrowth or reflection of an inner holiness, would it serve more as a distraction than anything else?

    Do Russian laity, who wear the cross near the skin, still grow long beards?

  17. fatherstephen Avatar

    Beards are probably no more common on laity in Russia than in our general American culture. Priests grow beards as “an icon of Christ” but this varies. Some priests, in some places (this varies) do not wear beards, some wear short, some long – some are indeed perhaps vain in the matter. Monastics generally do not trim their beards.

    Here in East Tennessee, Appalachian culture being what it is, I have seen many beards on men (particularly true Appalachian natives) that would make a monk envious. They draw no particular attention in this local culture.

    I would generally say to a layman – if you’re going to wear a beard but think about it a lot – then maybe you need to shave. I generally like to only think about my beard about once every month or two. But for a layman, jobs, and many other things may need to be considered. The last thing to consider is “trying to look holy.” That is a waste of time. Holiness is apparent only in the heart – and even then is usually a hidden thing.

  18. Prudence True Avatar

    *Hidden*, to our Western mind, is a *hidden* concept. How can we stroke our egos if we’re to remain *hidden*?

    Can we spread the Word in a quiet and *hidden* manner? Perhaps *hidden* removes the ego, thus our struggle with the concept.

    *Hidden* and *quiet* sit side by side, and they sit across from *obvious* and *loud*.

  19. Sean Avatar

    A very nice post indeed. We have a parish in my little hometown dedicated to All Saints and there is a great feast every year on this day. Our priest makes it a point to explicitly pray to all the saints (with – perhaps especially on this particular occasion – the unknown ones) to intercede for us.

    @ Mrs. Mutton: Greek women do wear the Cross outside the blouse but men are required to wear it (if they wish to wear it of course) hidden. It is considered, well not a sin exactly, but severely inappropriate for a man in Greece to wear the Cross in a way that makes it openly visible. There is also a recent tendency by women to do the same due to the fact that it has become somewhat of a “fashion” to display a cross on the neck, so some women (especially in larger cities) opt to wear it inside as a reaction.

  20. Steve Avatar

    I enjoyed the post. It reminds me of the verse in 1 Samuel 16 where the LORD said to Samuel “for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart”.

  21. vladimir deczynski Avatar
    vladimir deczynski

    Is it more appropriate to wear a plain cross or is a Orthodox crucifix acceptable?

  22. fatherstephen Avatar

    Both are perfectly fine.

  23. vladimir deczynski Avatar
    vladimir deczynski

    Why does it seem that a gold cross is more acceptable than silver or other material? Isn’t the priest’s blessing enough regardless of the material the cross is made of?

  24. fatherstephen Avatar

    I am not aware of any preference for gold over silver – certainly a priest’s blessing is sufficient. During fasting seasons, I wear a wooden priest’s cross. Material does not matter. Gold does not tarnish. My baptismal cross (which I wear under my shirt) is silver. Material is not important.

  25. vladimir deczynski Avatar
    vladimir deczynski

    Thank you, Father!
    Is the teaching of the “Toll Houses” required of belief by all Orthodox? Or is this just the idea of the Righteous Father Seraphim (Rose)?

  26. fatherstephen Avatar

    It is the teaching of a number of Orthodox writers, including a couple of modern saints- but is not a dogma of the Church. It is based on the visions of a nun, which would not normally be the basis for doctrine. I know many Orthodox of serious maturity who do not hold with what has been a controversial teaching.

  27. Mary Avatar

    I received two crosses at baptism, though only one was presented during the baptism itself. (The other was blessed later) I alternate between them because I do not wish to give either one away, nor do I wish them to sit in boxes.

    It is difficult to maintain dignity, spiritual or otherwise, when everything is on view. Oppressed people are well aware of this and make it a point not to share every movement of their heart or with others. They well know how the ignorant can thoughtlessly trample things of the heart (the seat of true dignity) underfoot.

    In one of Kyriacos Markides’ books featuring Fr. Maximos/Bishop Athanasios of Cyprus he notes the travellers’ surprise when the outgoing Fr. Maximos, their tour guide to the Island of Patmos and other holy places, broke down and cried while venerating an icon. As outgoing and personable as Fr.Maximos was, he still kept his spiritual life and trials hidden from all but God, the saints, and his spiritual father. Many saints are like that; open and personable, but keep their spiritual lives under wraps. On the other hand, even the most private hermits have to share their lives with others at some point in their lives.

    In our zeal for Eastern Orthodoxy we do have to be careful not to place icons everywhere to show that we’re Orthodox and therefore different (special) from others. Though, I’m sure in Orthodox countries some people have icons everywhere either to show that they are pious, or out of custom.

    This reminder of the value of keeping things of value hidden, is good for all.

    In Christ,

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