What does "communion of saints" mean?

 All Saints image courtesy of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, via Wikimedia Commons.
All Saints image courtesy of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, via Wikimedia Commons.

Every time Christians say the Apostles’ Creed, we profess belief in the communion of saints. One common explanation of the the term “communion of saints” is that it refers to the whole community of faithful followers of Christ, living and dead, past, present and future. 

Rev. Katie Shockley explains, "When we gather in worship, we praise God with believers we cannot see. When we celebrate Holy Communion, we feast with past, present and future disciples of Christ. We experience the communion of saints, the community of believers –– living and dead. This faith community stretches beyond space and time. We commune with Christians around the world, believers who came before us, and believers who will come after us. We believe that the church is the communion of saints, and as a believer, you belong to the communion of saints.”

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Orthodox Christians regularly use icons depicting the saints as physical reminders that all saints are truly present.

Another explanation, grounded in the logic of the Apostles Creed and the language of early Christianity, is this term, at least within that creed, refers to the local church, while the preceding reference to "the holy catholic church" refers to Christians in all times and places. See this video from Liturgy Man for more.

All Saints Day is a time when we remember Christians of every time and place, honoring those who lived faithfully, shared their faith and point us to the way of Christ through the witness of their lives. Shockley goes on, “The saints in our lives inspire us to live in holiness and righteousness.” On All Saints Day, many churches read the names of church members and loved ones who died in the past year.

Learn more: Ways to remember the lives and work of church saints 

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