Veneration (Latin veneratio or dulia, Greek δουλεία, douleia), or veneration of saints, is the act of honoring a saint, a person who has been identified as having a high degree of sanctity or holiness. Angels are shown similar veneration in many religions. Philologically, "to venerate" derives from the Latin verb, venerare, meaning to regard with reverence and respect. Veneration of saints is practiced, formally or informally, by adherents of some branches of all major religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism.
Within Christianity, veneration is practiced by groups such as the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic, and Eastern Catholic Churches, all of which have varying types of canonization or glorification procedures. In some Christian denominations, veneration is shown outwardly by respectfully bowing or making the sign of the cross before a saint's icon, relics, or statue, or by going on pilgrimage to sites associated with saints. The practice of veneration is deemed heretical by iconoclastic denominations.
In Judaism, there is no classical or formal recognition of saints, but there is a long history of reverence shown toward biblical heroes and martyrs. In some regions, for example within Judaism in Morocco, there is a long and widespread tradition of saint veneration.
Hinduism has a long tradition of veneration of saints, expressed toward various gurus and teachers of sanctity, both living and dead. Branches of Buddhism include formal liturgical worship of saints, with Mahayana Buddhism classifying degrees of sainthood.
In Islam, veneration of saints is practiced by sects such as the Shi'a and Sufi, and in many parts of Southeast Asia, along with "folk Islam", which often incorporates local beliefs and practices. Other sects, such as Sunnis and Wahhabists, abhor the practice.
Veneration towards those who were considered holy began in early Christianity, with the martyrs first being given special honor. Official church commemoration of saints in Rome beginning as early as the third century. Over time, the honor also began to be given to those Christians who lived lives of holiness and sanctity. Various denominations venerate and determine saints in different ways, with some having a formal canonization or glorification process.
In Roman Catholic and Orthodox theology, veneration is a type of honor distinct from the adoration due to God alone. According to Deacon Dr. Mark Miravelle, of Franciscan University of Steubenville, the English word "worship" has been associated with both veneration and adoration:
As St. Thomas Aquinas explains, adoration, which is known as latria in classical theology, is the worship and homage that is rightly offered to God alone. It is the manifestation of submission, and acknowledgement of dependence, appropriately shown towards the excellence of an uncreated divine person and to his absolute Lordship. It is the worship of the Creator that God alone deserves. Although we see in English a broader usage of the word “adoration” which may not refer to a form of worship exclusive to God—for example, when a husband says that he “adores his wife”—in general it can be maintained that adoration is the best English denotation for the worship of latria.
Veneration, known as dulia in classical theology, is the honor and reverence appropriately due to the excellence of a created person. Excellence exhibited by created beings likewise deserves recognition and honor. We see a general example of veneration in events like the awarding of academic awards for excellence in school, or the awarding of olympic medals for excellence in sports. There is nothing contrary to the proper adoration of God when we offer the appropriate honor and recognition that created persons deserve based on achievement in excellence.
We must make a further clarification regarding the use of the term “worship” in relation to the categories of adoration and veneration. Historically, schools of theology have used the term “worship” as a general term which included both adoration and veneration. They would distinguish between “worship of adoration” and “worship of veneration.” The word “worship” (in a similar way to how the liturgical term “cult” is traditionally used) was not synonymous with adoration, but could be used to introduce either adoration or veneration. Hence Catholic sources will sometimes use the term “worship” not to indicate adoration, but only the worship of veneration given to Mary and the saints.
Church theologians have long adopted the terms latria for the type of worship due to God alone, and dulia and proskynesis for the veneration given to angels, saints, relics and icons. Catholic and Orthodox theologies also include the term hyperdulia for the type of veneration specifically paid to Mary, mother of Jesus, in Catholic and Orthodox traditions. This distinction is spelled out in the dogmatic conclusions of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787), which also decreed that iconoclasm, i.e. forbidding icons and their veneration, a dogma central to the Iconoclastic controversy, is a heresy that amounts to a denial of the incarnation of Jesus.
Now, the Roman Catholic tradition has a well established philosophy for the veneration of the Virgin Mary via the field of Mariology with Pontifical schools such as the Marianum specifically devoted to this task.
In Protestant churches, veneration is sometimes considered to amount to the heresy of idolatry, and the related practice of canonization amounts to the heresy of apotheosis. Protestant theology usually denies that any real distinction between veneration and worship can be made, and claims that the practice of veneration distracts the Christian soul from its true object, the worship of God. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin writes that "(t)he distinction of what is called dulia and latria was invented for the very purpose of permitting divine honours to be paid to angels and dead men with apparent impunity".
While orthodox and organized Judaism does not countenance the veneration of saints, veneration and pilgrimage to burial sites of holy Jewish leaders is an ancient part of the tradition. The first documented pilgrimage was made by Caleb, when he went to Hebron to visit the cave of the patriarchs to pray at the grave of Abraham. Today it is very common for Jews to visit the graves of many righteous Jewish leaders. The tradition is particularly strong among Morocco Jews, and Jews of Sephardi decants, although also by Ashkenazi Jews as well. This is particularly true in Israel were many holy Jewish leaders are buried. The cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and that of Maimonides in Tiberius are examples of burial sites that attract large pilgrimages in Israel. In America, the only such example is the grave site of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, at the Ohel in the cemetery in Queens where he is buried alongside his father-in-law. During his lifetime, Schneerson himself would frequently visit the gravesite (Ohel) of his father-in-law, were he would read letters and written prayers, and then place them on the grave. Today visitors to the grave of Schneerson include Jews of Orthodox, Reform and Conservative background, as well as non-Jews. Visitors typically recite prayers of psalms and bring with them petitions of prayers written on pieces of paper which are then torn and left on the grave.
Hinduism has a longstanding and living tradition of reverence toward saints, with the line often blurring between humanity and divinity with some Hindu deities. The bhakti movements helped to popularize the veneration of saints and gurus as models showing the way to liberation.
Both main branches of Buddhism, Theravada and Mahayana, recognize those who have achieved a high degree of enlightenment as an Arhat. Mahayana Buddhism particularly gives emphasis to the power of saints to aid ordinary people on the path to enlightenment. Those who have reached enlightenment, and have delayed their own complete enlightenment in order to help others, are called Bodhisattvas. Mahayana Buddhism has formal liturgical practices for venerating saints, along with very specific levels of sainthood. Tibetan Buddhist venerate especially holy lamas, such as the Dalai Lama, as saints.
Veneration of saints in Islam is especially common in the Sufi branch, though there are many local customs in different parts of the world, especially in southeast Asia, where saints are honored and venerated. Islam has no formal process of canonization—it is typically done through popular acclaim and local custom. Muslim saints who are venerated include the women Sufi mystic Rabia Basri, and Sufi saints Habib al-Ajami, and Saint Nuri.
Many Islamic sects condemn veneration of icons associated with saints. Destruction of historical Islamic sites, which are holy to Shi'ite Muslims, in Saudi Arabia were instigated by Wahhabis and the Saudi royal family, most notably the shrines and tombs in the Al-Baqi' cemetery in 1925. In 2001, the 6th century monumental statues called the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan were destroyed by the Taliban. In 2006, a bombing by al-Qaeda resulted in the destruction of the Al-Askari Mosque in Iraq. In July 2012 Ansar Dine, a strict Islamic sect, demolished mausoleums of the saints in Timbuktu, the "City of 333 (Sufi) Saints" and desecrated the Sidi Yahya Mosque. In August 2012, Salafi zealots bulldozed several Sufi sites in and near Tripoli.
Although frequently characterized as the mystical component of Islam, there are also "Folklorist" Sufis, and the "Traditional" Sufis...Sufism is characterized by the veneration of local saints and by brotherhoods that practice their own rituals.
In its popular form, Sufism is expressed mainly through the veneration of saints...South Asia is littered with the tombs of those saints. They include great medieval monuments, like the 13th-century shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti, founder of South Asia’s pre-eminent Sufi order, in Ajmer. But for every famous grave, there are thousands of roadside shrines, jutting into Delhi’s streets, or sprinkled across the craggy deserts of southern Pakistan.
while most Sunnis view them as fellow, though possibly misguided, Muslims, Shiites are regarded as infidels by the Saudi religious establishment, which adheres to the ultraconservative and austere variation of Sunni faith known as Wahhabism. Saudi religious leaders see the Shiite veneration of saints and shrines, celebration of the prophet Muhammad's birthday and other rituals as sinful.
Over the last three days, Islamists of the Ansar Dine rebel group which in April seized Mali's north along with Tuareg separatists destroyed at least eight Timbuktu mausoleums and several tombs, centuries-old shrines reflecting the local Sufi version of Islam in what is known as the "City of 333 Saints".
Ansar Dine, which has seized Timbuktu, destroyed (Sidi Yahya's) tomb. They declared that the burial site made Yahya a false idol, threatening to continue their destruction of Timbuktu's historic sites
Attackers bulldozed a mosque containing Sufi Muslim graves in the center of Tripoli in broad daylight on Saturday, in what appeared to be Libya's most blatant sectarian attack since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. Government officials condemned the demolition of the large Sha'ab mosque and blamed an armed group who, they said, considered its graves and shrines to Sufi figures un-Islamic. It was the second razing of a Sufi site in two days. Ultra-conservative Islamists wrecked Sufi shrines with bombs and another bulldozer and set fire to a mosque library in the city of Zlitan in the early hours of Friday, an official said....A Reuters reporter saw the bulldozer level the Sha'ab mosque as police surrounded the site and prevented people from approaching and did not stop the demolition... Salafis have formed a number of armed brigades in Libya. They reject as idolatrous many Sufi devotions - which include dancing and the building of shrines to venerated figures. Conservative Muslims across the region - emboldened by the Arab Spring revolts - have targeted Sufi sites in Egypt, Mali and other parts of Libya over the past year... A Facebook page titled "Together for the Removal of the Abdel Salam al-Asmar Shrine" congratulated supporters on the "successful removal of the Asmar shrine, the largest sign of idolatry in Libya."
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