All Saints Day
By Cheryl Arnold
All Saints’ Day is a principal feast day in the Episcopal Church and is one of four days recommended for baptism in the Book of Common Prayer. It falls on November 1 but is celebrated on the following Sunday, if November 1 is not a Sunday. What is All Saints’ Day and why do we celebrate it? According to All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Concord, North Carolina, “All Saints’ Day is a time to remember our connection to the great cloud of witness who have gone before us, to be inspired by their lives, and to recommit ourselves to the work of doing the will of God on Earth. Traditionally, it was reserved for those inspiring figures recognized across the Church…Today, it is more common to celebrate all those who have been baptized in the name of Christ, thereby joining the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1:12b).”
All Saints’ Day is sometimes confused with All Souls’ Day, which falls on November 2. All Souls’ Day is a time to remember the faithfulness of all Christians who have died.
The history of All Saints’ Day goes all the way back to the early years of the Church when the Roman Empire persecuted and killed Christians for their faith. The Church set aside special days to honor these martyrs. Later, in 607 A.D. Emperor Phocas offered the Pantheon temple to Pope Boniface IV, who removed the statues of the Roman gods and consecrated the Pantheon to the saints who had been martyred during the first three hundred years after Christ. There were too many martyrs for each to be given an individual feast day, so all the saints were grouped together and celebrated on one day. Somewhere between 731 and 741 A.D., Pope Gregory III ordered All Saints’ Day to be observed on November 1. As time went on, its observance spread throughout both Eastern and Western Christianity, although Eastern churches observe it on the first Sunday after Pentecost.
So who is a saint? According to the Episcopal dictionary, a saint is “a holy person, a faithful Christian, one who shares life in Christ.” In the New Testament, the term is applied to all faithful Christians (Acts 9:32, 26:10, Romans 8:27, 1 Corinthians 1:2). It is also applied to believers who have been formally canonized as a saint by church authority.
On this day, we often think about our connection to those who have lived or continue to live out their faith. We remember the faithful ones mentioned in Hebrews 11, as well as other saints from the past and present. We can give thanks for them and be inspired by them. Hebrews 12:1-3 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
This Sunday at Grace we will celebrate All Saints’ Day with a baptism and with the hymn For All the Saints. This beloved hymn looks back on earlier saints and offers encouragement to believers today, reminding us of that day when we will join those saints in glory singing “Alleluia” to God.