The first Sunday after the Feast of Holy Pentecost is observed by the Orthodox Church as the Sunday of All Saints. This day has been designated as a commemoration of all of the Saints, all the Righteous, the Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Shepherds, Teachers, and Holy Monastics, both men and women alike, known and unknown, who have been added to the choirs of the Saints and shall be added, from the time of Adam until the end of the world, who have been perfected in piety and have glorified God by their holy lives.
Honoring the friends of God with much reverence, the Prophet-King David says, "But to me, exceedingly honorable are Thy friends, O Lord" (Ps. 138:16). And the Apostle Paul, recounting the achievements of the Saints, and setting forth their memorial as an example that we might turn away from earthly things and from sin, and emulate their patience and courage in the struggles for virtue, says, "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every burden, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1).
This commemoration began as the Sunday (Synaxis) of All Martyrs; to them were added all the ranks of Saints who bore witness (the meaning of "Martyr" in Greek) to Christ in manifold ways, even if occasion did not require the shedding of their blood.
Therefore, guided by the teaching of the Divine Scriptures and Apostolic Tradition, we honor all the Saints, the friends of God, for they are keepers of God's commandments, shining examples of virtue, and benefactors of mankind. Of course, we honor the known Saints especially on their own day of the year, as is evident in the Menologion. But since many Saints are unknown, and their number has increased with time, and will continue to increase until the end of time, the Church has appointed that once a year a common commemoration be made of all the Saints. This is the feast that we celebrate today. It is the harvest of the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world; it is the "much fruit" brought forth by that "Grain of wheat that fell into the earth and died" (John 12:24); it is the glorification of the Saints as "the foundation of the Church, the perfection of the Gospel, they who fulfilled in deed the sayings of the Savior" (Sunday of All Saints, Doxastikon of Vespers).
In this celebration, then, we reverently honor and call blessed all the Righteous, the Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Shepherds, Teachers, and Holy Monastics, both men and women alike, known and unknown, who have been added to the choirs of the Saints and shall be added, from the time of Adam until the end of the world, who have been perfected in piety and have glorified God by their holy lives. All these, as well as the orders of the Angels, and especially our most holy Lady and Queen, the Ever-virgin Theotokos Mary, do we honor on this day, setting their life before us as an example of virtue, and entreating them to intercede in our behalf with God, Whose grace and boundless mercy be with us all. Amen.
Icon of the Sunday of All Saints
The icon of the Sunday of All Saints depicts our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ seated above the throne of heaven surrounded by the Saints. The rows of Saints included the Archangel Michael and other Angels, the Theotokos and John the Baptist, the Apostles, Bishops, Great Martyrs, Ascetics and Monastics. To the side of the throne are Adam and Eve, bowing in reverence to Christ. They are joined by the Saints, who are lifting their hands in worship to the King of Glory. At the lower left of the icon is the Patriarch Abraham who has a righteous soul in his bosom, as told in the story of Lazarus and the rich man in the Gospel. At the lower center is the Good Thief who was crucified with Christ. On the lower right is the Patriarch Jacob.
Orthodox Christian Celebration of the of the Sunday of All Saints
The Sunday of the Fathers of All Saints is celebrated with the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. The services of Vespers, Orthros, and the Divine Liturgy include Resurrectional hymns of the tone of the week together with the hymns designated for the Sunday of All Saints.
Scripture readings for the feast are the following: At the Divine Liturgy: Hebrews 11:33-40, 12:1-2 and Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38, 19:27-30.
"That is the purpose of the Church, to make people holy"
ON ALL SAINTS SUNDAY
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today, on this the last day of June, we come to the last service in a cycle of services. That cycle began over 120 days ago at the end of February with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. That Sunday preceded the weeks of fasting of Great Lent which led up to the central event of the whole Church Year - the Resurrection of Christ. And since then we have followed the services of Bright Week and the Sundays after it to the Ascension, Pentecost and now today, the Feast of All Saints. This whole cycle of 120 days, one third of the year is like a Church Year inside the Church Year.Today's Feast is the result of all that has gone before it. The purpose of all the events in Christ's life, from His Conception to the Resurrection and the Ascension and Pentecost is to make Saints. That is the purpose of the Church, to make people holy. Today's Feast is the Feast of the identity of the Church, of Her sacred personality. For a Church that does not make Saints is not a Church, it is merely an institution which abuses the word 'Church'.
What is a Saint? Firstly, we should understand that Saints are not born, they are made. We are all born potentially to become Saints. The only difference between ourselves who are not Saints and the Saints, is that they are people who are continually picking themselves up after sinning, continually repenting until they attain holiness, whereas we give up.
We should also say that there are two sorts of Saints - Confessors and Martyrs. Some Martyrs led very bad lives but then, when it came to the ultimate sacrifice, they found Faith in themselves, sufficient for them to prefer to confess Christ rather than live, and so sacrificed everything for Christ. We recognise their sacrifice and honour it. However, in our time, in our land, it would seem that we are not called to be Martyrs, but Confessors. What is a Confessor, how do we recognise a Confessor?
Archpriest Peter Kiniya Vashira & Orthodox Kikuyu (Kenya), from here
First of all, we could ask people who live near the person whom we believe to be a Confessor. They would know that person's way of life. But this would not be enough in itself. This would tell us only if the person were righteous or not. And holiness is more than righteousness. Holiness is that utter devotion to God, the confession of Christ before men, the taking up of one's cross and following, to which Christ will bear witness before His Father in Heaven. It is never denying Christ. It is this devotion of which He speaks in today's Gospel, which is above devotion to husband or wife, father or mother, brother or sister, son or daughter. And we can be even more precise than this.
We have already said that the purpose of the Church is to make Saints. And the characteristics of the Saints are also those of the Church. At every Liturgy and at morning prayers we sing and read the Creed, in which we confess that we believe in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. These words which define the Church, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, are also words that define the Saints.
The Saints are One because they are all together. We speak of the communion of the saints. And in today's Gospel, our Lord speaks of those who have followed Him who will judge the Twelve Tribes of Israel seated on the Twelve Thrones around Him. The Saints are One, they are united.
The Saints are also obviously holy. The word Saint means holy.
Sunday of All Saints 2016 in Bunia (from here)
The Saints are also Catholic. This word does not mean Roman Catholic. We mean 'Catholic' in the original sense of the word. 'Catholic' means the same in all places and at all times. Thus today, on this Feast of All Saints, we commemorate all the Saints of all countries and of all centuries and of all backgrounds. We recall Saints of all ages, of all nationalities, men, women and children, the poor and the rich, the old and the young, the healthy and the sick. They all confessed the same Orthodox Faith. The Saints are universal in time and space; they are 'Catholic'.
Finally, the Saints are Apostolic, for they share in the same Faith and Tradition as the Apostles. (...)
Hymns of the Feast
Apolytikion (Fourth Tone)
Adorned in the blood of Your Martyrs throughout all the world as in purple and fine linen, Your Church, through them, does cry unto You, O Christ God, "Send down Your compassion upon Your people; grant peace to Your commonwealth, and great mercy to our souls."
Kontakion (Plagal of the Fourth Tone)
As first-fruits of our nature to the Planter of created things, the world presents the God-bearing martyred Saints in offering unto You, O Lord. Through their earnest entreaties, keep Your Church in deep peace and divine tranquility, through the pure Theotokos, O You Who are most merciful.
Please, see also
Orthodox Spiritual Legacy: Pentecost (the Descent of the Holy Spirit)
"THE WAY" - An Introduction to the Orthodox Faith
Theosis (deification): The True Purpose of Human Life
De Pâques à la Pentecôte
The Lenten Triodion, starting point for Easter - warnings against pride and hypocrisy
African Saints in the Orthodox Church
Sunday of All Saints 2016 in Bunia