In Praise of Saint Incognita

The nave of the Church of the Nativity (Orthodox side)

In the Greek Orthodox sanctuary of the Church of the Nativity, there are two rows of ten columns. Each column bears the image of a different saint in the Orthodox Church. Not being Greek Orthodox, I had no idea who any of them were.

Detail from one of the columns

So I was super grateful for this handy guide on the wall as we were exiting.

Some of them I recognized. Stephen. Elijah. John the Evangelist. Others I had no idea who they were. There was a Saint Olaf? The patron saint of Disney voice actors, perhaps. Saint Theodosia? Saint Humphrey? Who knew?

The key also tells you which saint is where. Ingressus is Latin for “entrance” Navis major is the nave, and basilica is where the altar is. So columns 1 and 11 are closest to the door. Columns 10 and 20 are closest to the Cross.

I was about to turn away from the key when one more image caught my eye.

Saint Incognita. The Unknown Saint. Now, full disclosure: I don’t know if he is simply unknown to the guy who made the answer key, or if his name has been lost to history.

I tried Googling Saint Incognita. There is nothing about him that I could find on the Internet.

And if Google doesn’t even know who you are, well, it doesn’t get much more incognito than that!

But how cool would it be if there was a representative in hagiography for all the numberless infinities of unknown saints?

  • St Incognita: the maker of coffee for the Thursday night AA group.
  • St. Incognita: Stocker of Shelves and folder of clothes for the benevolence ministry.
  • St Incognita: Sweeper of Floors.
  • St Incognita, Keeper of the Nursery.
  • St Incognita: Preparer of Casseroles.
  • St Incognita: single mother working two jobs, who still manages to get her kids to church every Sunday.

Our churches are full of unknown saints. They have never preached a sermon. Not at the pulpit anyway. They have never seen their name on an order of service. But they are there every time the doors are open. They are up before the dawn, praying, interceding, lifting up their pastors in prayer.

They are quietly teaching their kids to love Jesus. They are going to their jobs, living lives of integrity in front of their coworkers and neighbors.

When they pass from this world, streets are not likely to be shut down. Business will not close. Flags will not be flown half mast.

But know this, beloved unknown Saint: you are canonized by the miracles you perform every day. You, O Humble Saint, have bent the ear of the King of the Universe by your tireless prayers. You, Saint Incognita, have accomplished the work of Christ through your calloused hands and weary feet.

And in the oldest church in the world, there is a column with your name on it. If you ever come to Bethlehem, it will be easy to find:

It is the one closest to the cross.

Author: James

I pastor Glynwood Baptist Church in Prattville, Alabama. I read a lot, write a little, and drink lots of coffee. I have three callings in life: surrender to Christ, be a husband to Trish, and be the best father/grandfather I can be. Everything else is an assignment, because everything else can be done by someone else.

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