The feast of Saint Barnabas may make us think about the ‘saints of the church’. In the Calendar of the Book of Common Prayer, though it is a ‘Protestant’ payer book, there is a surprisingly long list of saints. They are called ‘black letter saints’, they don’t have special prayers unlike the ‘red letter saints’, like the apostles.
The Church of England, just like the main branches of Protestantism, was not terribly keen on the veneration of the Saints. The Lutheran Augsburg Confession decries their role as intercessors, yet encourages us to see in them, as an inspiration, what grace had done in their lives.
My point is not lamenting over the terrible loss, what has gone with the ceased veneration of saints. (Which was definitely a long-term own goal for the Protestant churches, and one of the key factors in their present inability to ‘reproduce their numbers spiritually’.)
Our focus of attention rather should be the amazing vitality of the early church, via their saints. Saint Barnabas, the apostle, was one of the ‘saints’. Of the fervent company of the early believers, one only is singled out by name, Joseph, a rich Levite from Cyprus. He, ‘having land, sold it and brought the price and laid it at the feet of the Apostles.’ They gave him a name, Barnabas, ‘the son of consolation’. He was chosen for an important mission to the rapidly growing church of Antioch.
Let us not overlook how inspired and motivated the early joiners were. The apostles imitated their Lord, and the impact of their Lord was inspiring, and visible; ‘flammable’ way. It seems that the early church is just one single vibrant web of imitation. Passionate people, burning for their cause, were encountered. And this ‘joyful and passionate’ conviction in the Lord called for followers who, in return, became infiltrated with their burning passion.
In our age of numeric decline of church attendance, it is worth giving a thought to this dimension of ‘passionate imitation’. It seems that a rediscovery of the saints as moral and faith examples is timing. Christianity is a religion of imitation. From the beginning, it was about picking up the passion and the joyful life-style from concrete people. Simply seeing them pray, being compassionate - passionately. Theology, leadership courses, theory (and particularly not complying with the demands of worldly politics and culture) are not sufficient by themselves. We need to find the missing link between Jesus’ passion for the Father, His compassionate imitation by the early church and saints, and our uninspired hearts.
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..