A saint (from the Latin sanctus) is a human being to whom has been attributed (and who has generally demonstrated) a high level of holiness and sanctity in an exemplary life of virtuous behaviour. A saint is therefore not simply a believer but one who has been transformed by virtue and presents an example (often providing guidance) to other human beings striving to conform their lives to God. Such a person is often (but not always) recognized after their death by other human beings as someone who lived a divine life and who is in the Divine presence even in death. Saints are sometimes formally honored by fellow believers after their death being given the title of Saint before their name. Examples are the Apostles, Martyrs, and Doctors of the church.
Saints are not exclusive to Christianity. In every religion, in every nation, there are people who have been recognised as having fulfilled the highest aspirations of religious teaching and have realised God's will in their actions. In the mystical traditions of the world's religions one who has reached the uppermost level of purity and wisdom are also referred to as a saint.
In the Catholic Church, persons with stigmata, wounds of the Cruxifiction and Passion of Jesus Christ given to a person, is a sign of holiness or sainthood The anthropologist Lawrence Babb in an article about Sathya Sai Baba asks the question "Who is a saint?", and responds by saying that in the symbolic infrastructure of some religions, there is the image of certain extraordinary spiritual persons who are "commonly believed to possess miraculous powers", and to whom frequently a certain moral presence is attributed. These saintly figures, he asserts, are "the focal points of spiritual force-fields," exerting "powerful attractive influence on followers but touch the inner lives of others in transforming ways as well.
Within some Protestant traditions, saint is also used to refer to any born-again Christian.
Now therefore arise, O LORD God, into thy resting place, thou, and the ark of thy strength: let thy priests, O LORD God, be clothed with salvation, and let thy saints rejoice in goodness.The early Christians were all called saints (Book of Hebrews 13:24; Jude 1:3; Philemon 1:5, 7).
The concept of sainthood is rooted in the Christian belief that aligning one’s motives and actions with the will of God makes one more perfect and holy, and that it is possible in life to approach perfection. From early days of Christianity, Paul the Apostle and others used the word agios (“holy”) to refer not only to all living believers (as in or ) but, at times, also to those in heaven (as in ). As Christianity developed, the word saint came to be used more commonly to designate specific individuals who were held to be exemplars of the faith, and who were commemorated or venerated as an inspiration to other Christians. Initially, the term was used to describe those who had been martyrs for the faith. Other believers would gather at the martyr’s grave, and celebrate the Eucharist there. The ceremony took the form of a joyful, triumphant celebration. The first recorded instance of such ceremonies is the annual celebrations at the grave of Polycarp in the second century. From the beginning of Christianity, Christians prayed to departed friends and relatives to intercede on their behalf, and such prayers were soon extended to those regarded as saints. Rather quickly, the saints' intercession was sought more frequently than that of departed personal friends. Bishops and martyrs tended to be the most frequently venerated during these early years. Examples of early requests for intercession can be found in the Catacombs of Rome.
Shortly thereafter, another type of saint became recognized. This was the anchorite or hermit, of the type of Anthony of Egypt. Although hermits did not die in the physical sense, they did resolve to die to the pleasures of the world, making them effectively martyrs. Subsequently, after the formation of monasteries, monks came under consideration as saints. When convents were formed, nuns began to be canonized. Also, outstanding laymen became more frequently considered as saints.
To assist in the differentiation of the various kinds of saints, terms were invented to differentiate between them. In addition to the existing bishop, martyr, and hermit, Virgin and Matron for women, Confessor, Abbot and Abbess, Priest, and other words were added. Since then, churches have created additional such terms to assist in differentiating the ever-proliferating types.
Local saints were particulary popular. Someone who had led an extremely holy life could be canonized by a local Bishop. As the number of local saints grew, a formal process of canonization developed for identifying individuals as saints. Soon there were more saints than feast-days to honor them in the year. After the year 1234, only the popes had the right to canonize someone. Canonization involved a canonization trial, in which the holiness of the candidate was confirmed. Holiness was defined as a combination of a publicly recognized good and devout life, and the specific miracles that the saint-to-be had performed in his life or after his death.
The "cult of saints" and the associated competition in relic-worship is generally considered to have ended with the Reformation, but both within Roman Catholic and Lutheran tradition, the worship of saints continues, and a list of "official" saints by feast-day is kept on a calendar, while others are defined and remembered only by local churches.
There are more than 10,000 Roman Catholic saints. The older term for saint is martyr, meaning someone who would rather die than give up their faith, or more specifically, witness for God. However, as the word martyr took on more and more the meaning of "one who died for the Faith," the term saint, meaning holy, became more common to describe the whole of Christian witnesses, both martyrs and confessors. The Catholic Church teaches that it does not, in fact, make anyone a saint. Rather, it recognizes a saint. In the Roman Catholic church, the title of Saint - with a capital 'S' - refers to a person who has been formally canonized (officially recognised) by the Church.
Also, by this definition there are many people believed to be in heaven who have not been formally declared as Saints (most typically due to their obscurity and the involved process of formal canonization) but who may nevertheless generically be referred to as saints (lowercase 's'). Anyone in heaven is, in the technical sense, a saint. Unofficial devotions to uncanonised individuals take place in certain regions.
The veneration of saints, in Latin, cultus, or the cult of the saints, describes a particular popular devotion to the saints. Although the term "worship" is often used, it is intended in the old sense meaning to honor or give respect (dulia). Divine Worship is properly reserved only for God (latria) and never to the Saints. In Roman Catholic theology, since God is the God of the Living, then it follows that the saints are alive in Heaven. As "special friends of God" they can be asked to intercede or pray for those still on earth. A saint may be designated as a patron saint of particular causes or professions, or invoked against specific illnesses or disasters. They are not thought to have power of their own, but only that granted by God. Relics of saints are respected in a similar manner to holy images and icons. The practices of past centuries in calling upon relics of saints for healing is taken from the early Christian church. The worship of saints is referred to as 'hagiolatry'.
Once a person has been declared a saint, the body of the saint is considered holy. The remains of saints are called holy relics and are usually used in churches. The saints' personal belongings may also be used as relics. Some of the saints have a symbol that represents their life.
Orthodox belief considers that God reveals his Saints through answered prayers and other miracles. Saints are usually recognized by a local community, often by people who directly knew them. As their popularity grows they are often then recognized by the entire church. The formal process of recognition involves deliberation by a synod of Bishops. If successful, this is followed by a service of Glorification in which the Saint is given a day on the church calendar to be celebrated by the entire church. This does not however make the person a saint; the person already was a saint and the Church ultimately recognized it.
It is believed that one of the ways the holiness (saintliness) of a person is revealed is through the condition of their relics (remains). In some Orthodox countries (such as Greece, but not in Russia) graves are often reused after 3 to 5 years because of limited space. Bones are washed and placed in an ossuary, often with the person's name written on the skull. Occasionally when a body is exhumed something miraculous is reported as having occurred; exhumed bones are claimed to have given off a fragrance, like flowers, or a body is reported as having remained free of decay, despite not having been embalmed (traditionally the Orthodox do not embalm the dead) and having been buried for some years in the earth.
The reason relics are considered sacred is because, for the Orthodox, the separation of body and soul is unnatural. Body and soul both comprise the person, and in the end, body and soul will be reunited; therefore, the body of a saint shares in the “Holiness” of the soul of the saint. As a general rule only clergy will touch relics in order to move them or carry them in procession, however, in veneration the faithful will kiss the relic to show love and respect toward the saint. Every altar in every Orthodox church contains relics, usually of martyrs. Church interiors are covered with the Icons of saints.
Because the Church shows no true distinction between the living and the dead (the Saints are considered to be alive in Heaven), saints are referred to as if they were still alive. Saints are venerated but not worshipped. They are believed to be able to intercede for salvation and help mankind either through direct communion with God, or by personal intervention.
When a person is baptized in the Orthodox Church, he or she is given a new name, always the name of a saint. Regardless of the name a person was born with, the person begins to use his saint's name as his own during Communion, to help indicate that through his baptism the person has begun his life anew. This saint becomes one's personal patron, and his saint's day is also celebrated as a personal holiday. After infant baptism became widespread, though, the child usually received the name in a ceremony held 8 days after the birth, inside the house. Nowadays this service has almost become obsolete and the child is named at baptism.
In the Anglican Church, the title of Saint - with a capital 'S' - refers to a person who has been elevated by popular opinion as a pious and holy person. The saints are seen as models of holiness to be imitated, and as a 'cloud of witnesses' that strengthen and encourage the believer during his or her spiritual journey (). The saints are seen as elder brothers and sisters in Christ. Official Anglican creeds recognise the existence of the saints in heaven.
So far as saintly intercession is concerned, Article XXII of Church of England's Articles of Religion "Of Purgatory" condemns "the Romish Doctrine concerning...(the) Invocation of Saints" as "a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God". However, each of the 44 member churches in the Anglican Communion are free to adopt and authorise their own official documents, and the Articles are not officially normative in all of them (e.g., The Episcopal Church USA, which relegates them to "Historical Documents"). Anglo-Catholics in Anglican provinces using the Articles often make a distinction between a "Romish" and a "Patristic" doctrine concerning the invocation of saints, permitting the latter.
Some Anglicans and Anglican churches, particularly Anglo-Catholics, personally ask prayers of the saints. However, such a practice is not found in any official Anglican liturgy. Anglicans believe that the only effective Mediator between the believer and the Father is the Son, Jesus Christ. But those who pray to saints make a distinction between "mediator" and "intercessor," and claim that asking for the prayers of the saints is no different in kind than asking for the prayers of living Christians.
Santeria, Haitian Vodou, Brazilian Umbanda and other similar religions adopted the Roman Catholic Saints, or the images of the saints, as representations of their own spirits/deities or 'Orishas' in Santeria and 'Lwa' in Vodoun. Although there are many similarities between Vodoun and Santeria, they are different in respect to origin and language (Vodou is French, Santeria is Spanish). The adoption of Catholic Saints was fairly common in the religions that were adapted by the slaves in the New World. It can be understood as an example of faux-Catholicism.
The concept of sainthood developed in the Christian tradition. However, there are parallel concepts in other religions that recognize certain individuals as having particular holiness (or enlightenment). Judaism speaks of a class of (unidentified) individuals known as Tzadikkim. Some other faiths honor individuals as "saints" or equivalent as well.
There are individuals who have been described as being Hindu saints, most of whom have also been more specifically identified by the terms Mahatma, Paramahamsa, or Swami, or with the titles Sri or Srila. Some Indian Saints avoided titles and fame such as Neem Karoli Baba. Buddhists hold the Arhats and Arahants in special esteem. Some groups of Islam hold the Hadrat (literally, Presence, a title of Sufi Saints) in similar esteem.
Anthropologists have also noted the parallels between the regard for some Sufi figures in popular Muslim observance and Christian ideas of sainthood. In some Muslim countries there are shrines at the tombs of Sufi "saints", with the observation of festival days on the anniversary of death, and a tradition of miracle-working. In some cases, the rites are observed according to the solar calendar, rather than the normal Islamic lunar calendar.
While there are parallels between these (and other) concepts and that of sainthood, it is important to remember that each of these concepts has specific meanings within their given religion, and not all of those meanings are identical with the meaning of the idea of sainthood. Also, several religions which are at times considered to be new religious movements have taken to using the word, sometimes in cases where the people so named were generally not regarded to be Christians, in the conventional sense. Some of the Cao Dai saints and Saints of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica are examples of such.
The concept of sant or bhagat found in North Indian religious tradition, is unrelated and a false cognate of "saint". Figures such as Kabir, Ravidas, Nanak, and others are widely regarded as belonging to the Sant tradition. Some of their mystical compositions are incorporated in the Guru Granth Sahib. The term "Sant" is still sometimes loosely applied to living individuals in the Sikh and related communities.