All Saint’s Day and The Cloud of Witnesses

All Saint’s Day, November 1, observed by Christians in many countries around the world, is traditionally a celebration of all Christian Saints. In some countries cemeteries are crowded with people who come to clean and decorate the family graves and bring flowers and light candles on the graves of their loved ones to remember them. Having experienced this first hand living in Austria, a Catholic country, I was struck by how honoring this was of the families whose loved ones had died.

While it was a solemn occasion it was also an impacting experience to walk through the Freidhof (cemetery) in the evening with Austrians who had come to remember. The lights of the candles illumined the darkness. The fresh greenery and flowers displayed almost extravagantly.

Here we were in the company of “saints” departed in what could be a tangible expression of Hebrews 12:1 being surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses”.

In Scripture “saints” is almost always used to refer to a group of believers who belong to God – His own. The Apostle Paul addressed his book to the Romans (1:6b) “ to all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” and in his book to the Ephesians (1:1) “ to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful”. The word “saint” was used to identify a person who was a believer in and disciple of Christ. 

While some who have died are remembered simply for their lives others are remembered as martyrs because they lived for Christ and gave their lives for it. Some sources say that a commemoration of “All Martyrs” began to be celebrated as early as 270 CE but no specific month or date is recorded. Pope Gregory IV made All Saints' Day an authorized holiday in 835 CE.

There is no better way of honoring those who have gone before than remembering the 21 Coptic Christians who were martyred for their faith in Christ in February of 2015.

From Christianity Today – “Islamist terrorists in Libya sought attention in filming the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians. And they got it—for the martyrs, honored with an icon (above) and a day in the Coptic church calendar. The Bible Society of Egypt transformed the ISIS propaganda video’s “two rows by the sea” into its largest outreach in 130 years. In 1.65 million tracts on God’s promise of blessing amid suffering, it asked: “Who fears the other? The row in orange, watching paradise open? Or the row in black, with minds evil and broken?”

The impact of this killing reverberated around the world and is a strong reminder to all believers world wide that we belong to a great company of witnesses- some gone before us and some as fellow travelers now in our journey on earth and some who have been martyred for their faith. We are truly encompassed about.

How do we live in light of this? What is our takeaway from this ancient holiday, this killing of the Coptic believers and  how do we interpret the meaning of “saint”? First, from scripture saint usually meant in Hebrew “separated” or “pious ones”. In the New Testament “saint” usually referred to members of the Christian Church with all believers called saints. The term is usually referring to a group of believers rather than an individual.

Second, knowing about these believers should motivate us to live for Christ in our geographical location and period of time in history. We are a part of a much bigger story.  I am the only one who can live the story God has ordained for me and He offers me the opportunity to live it with others in the company of witnesses both those who are alive and those who have gone before. I may not be called upon to be a martyr but I do have the opportunity to be salt and light in this generation

Third, be more aware of the largeness of the Body of Christ and remember that Jesus prayed in John 17: 20-21  “that all who would believe on Him might be one…so that the world may believe that You sent me.” May those we join the witnesses that are in the cloud  to help the light of Christ!



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Gail Seidel served as Mentor Advisor for Spiritual Formation in the Department of Spiritual Formation and Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and as an Adjunct Professor in the D Min in Spiritual Formation in the D Min Department at Dallas Theological Seminary. She has a BA in English from the University of Texas, a Masters in Christian Education from Dallas Seminary and a D Min in Spiritual Formation from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is a contributor to the textbook, Foundations of Spiritual Formation, Kregel Academic. She served as co-director for Christian Women in Partnership Russia with Entrust, an international church leadership-training mission. She and her husband Andy live in Fredericksburg, Texas. They have 2 married children and 6 wonderful grandchildren--Kami, Kourtney, Katie, Mallory, Grayson, and Avery.