I remember hearing the way my grandparents talked about the saints and trivializing it. Whenever I’d have a challenging exam my grandmother would ask me to just “ask the Theotokos to help you, she’ll never turn you down”, I’d say “yeah, ok!” and walk away. Years later, I’m just starting to learn how to make friends with the saints and really start to understand the deep connection they fostered with our spiritual heroes.
I witnessed friendship with the saints firsthand when one of my closest friends and mentor started sharing his personal friendship with Saint Antony. On Saint Antony’s feast day, he would invite us over to sing midnight praise, read st. Antony’s life in its entirety, then spend the night at his place to wake up and go to liturgy. Every feast day we felt real joy. It felt like celebrating a birthday of one of our own. When I started drawing again, I started sketching saints and decided to draw a graphic novel, but thought St. Antony is too close to me for my first graphic novel. That’s actually why I picked Saint John the short (or he picked me!) and after four years of drawing St. John every single day, I’ve grown incredibly close to him as well.
Here are a few things I learned along the way about fostering friendship with the saints.
5 ways to make friends with the saints:
1. Read their stories and know their sayings.
As with any friendship, it starts with an interest in the person’s life. Find their story, start with their biography/Synaxarion. Actually, rather than picking a saint at a whim and searching for information on them, start by reading various stories and finding ones that resonate with you. Some identify more with martyr saints, some with desert mothers, others with theologians. Read the story with the intent to know who they were and what they’re like.
2. Celebrate and get excited for their feast days.
One year, we ordered a custom cake for Saint Antony’s feast, not even kidding. For Saint John’s feast, I make sure to share his sayings and illustrations all week long, I make sure to teach the kids in Sunday school his story either the Sunday before or after the feast. At first, it will feel forced, but then I promise you will feel inexplicable joy whenever their feast days come around. Gift them whatever you have to offer, I draw, so when their feast days come I make sure I illustrate parts of their lives. Do you bake? Make bread or cookies and give it to friends and family, reminding them of the occasion! Do you write? write a veneration or poem about your saintly friend’s life!
3. Treat them as you would treat any close friend.
As your friendship develops you’ll learn how to speak to them and how/when to ask for their intercessions. This might be a bit funny, but I wouldn’t take to St. Antony for relationship-related intercessions! ^_^ (there are saints Timothy and Maura for that!). Share your worries and joys with them. I call Saint John the short “Abba”, because I see him as my father. When friends ask for prayers, I make sure to say “Prayers of abba John be with you”, and when I’m asked to pray among friends I make sure to mention the “intercessions of abba John”.
4. Most importantly, remember that they’re human.
It’s easy to see the saints under an unrealistic perfect light. Even when their stories contain horrific beginnings and great repentance, we usually focus on the part where they’ve figured it all out! Don’t. Sometimes you’ll even read stories about your favourite saints acting harshly or, worse, being accused of heresy. For this, I advise to seek your Father in Confession’s advice, but also be reasonable! Remember that no one is perfect, save for Christ. 🙂
5. Pay special attention to their relationship with Christ
Never lose sight of why we look up to the saints. The focus of their lives is always Christ, and that’s what you need to learn from them. Observe how they addressed Christ, and how they reacted to their various callings. In the case of Saint Antony, I never fail to be amazed at how receptive he was to liturgical readings. He listened to the same gospel reading I’ve heard hundreds of times, but he was immensely receptive to it and let it change his life accordingly.
It takes time.
As with all friendships, this takes time, guidance and patience to build. Some of us are fortunate enough to have their friendships with the saints sprout miracles, and at times the saints would even appear to them face to face. I can’t promise that, neither should you expect that! It’s almost like making friends with someone, and then expecting them to throw you a surprise birthday party regardless of their character, and their way of celebrating you and communicating with you. Aside from the supernatural, the saints are as alive as the eternal Church and will manifest their works (in Christ’s name) in your life one way or another.
Every time I reached a milestone for Saint John the Short’s graphic novel, it would somehow fall on a feast day. when I printed a proof to revise, it got delayed 4 weeks for no reason, and arrived on his feast day. When I finished inking the book, I thought it was the first time I reach a milestone on a random day, then I checked the calendar to find that it was the feast day of Saint Zacharaias of Sakha, the writer of saint John’s life!
Speaking of! I just got a second print proof for the Harrowing of Hades graphic novel and I finally think it’s good to go! If you can’t wait a bit more you can get the e-book on amazon here (make sure you’re on your local amazon page, com/ca/au!).
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