Prayers of the Saints

Today I would like to touch upon prayer and the role of the saints and angels in prayer.

Often, coming from a Protestant background I was confronted by verses such as the following that seemed to “prove” that we should only pray to God.

Now, however, I can see clearly that this is not what is being said here. When approaching a passage of scripture it is important to not get caught up with particulars and see it as a puzzle to be put together. Instead the context of the passage along with the views of the Fathers of the Church need to be taken into effect.

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.

It seems pretty clear to me now that when the verse references that Christ is the one mediator between God and man that St. Paul is not referring to the method to which prayers should be ascribed, but to the way that  the second person of the Holy Trinity comes to bring us to union, or theosis, with God.

The passage is speaking specifically of the blessed incarnation where Jesus who was truly and fully God, became truly and fully Man, taking on flesh to bring us back into communion with God. When viewed this way, it is much more powerful, taking on life that sustains us in faith, instead of being ammunition to be used to chastise those in “heresy”. (This is referred to as patristic theology I believe).

The rest of the Protestant argument against against praying for the intercession of the saints really falls under two categories. First there is the theological misunderstanding that praying to the saints invokes a heretical pantheistic structure where the saints are taken to be gods. This is not the case. The Orthodox Church has always condemned this view as heretical. The prayers to the saints are merely the same as if I were to ask my friend here on earth to pray to God for me. In Orthodoxy there is no chasm or canyon separating here and eternity, and anyone who claims to have evidenced some kind of act of grace in their life, as nearly all protestants do, can attest to the fact that God is indeed involved in our realm. This leads me to the other part of the argument that I feel needs to be dispelled which is simply a modern metaphysical one.

It is simply hard for us, modern and enlightened as we are, to understand that those who are dead are not dead but are indeed living (in Christ through his resurrection) and are able to not only hear us, but pray for us to God and even perhaps intervene by God’s direction in our lives. It is important to remember that we are not called biblically to a “relationship with God” simply by ourselves, but to a “relationship with God” within the context of the Church which is his body. So really, the issue of praying to the saints for intercession is not only one of metaphysics, but one of communion. If we are one body, why should the hand say to the feet I don’t need you. Why should the brain tell the foot to move left and instead it decides to more right.

To all of the saints in heaven, dearly departed yet alive with us in Christ. We ask that you would pray to God for us, asking for us to be united in faith, hope, and love for one another; that we would learn to be charitable with our neighbor and to pray for our enemies, just as you did and still do.  Pray that we may be one just as God is one, Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, acting as one body as Christ directed us, and the Spirit compells us to do. Amen

God, grant that we may have peace, loving one another, just as you have loved us. Teach us to be humble, learning your ways not ours. Allow us the strength and patience to love our enemies, and indeed to even see none as enemies but as children of God. Teach us to be charitable and kind to all, for they truly may indeed be angels among us unaware. Now Lord, we pray that your will be done, and that all men may be saved. Amen

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tony-Allen
    Aug 29, 2008 @ 00:07:09

    Excellent post. Always good to read someone able to defend the saints so willingly, honestly, and calmly.

    My argument has always started by asking someone, “Have you ever asked a friend or family member, ‘Please pray for me,’ or told someone, ‘I will pray for you’?” If they yes (as most people have) then I say, “This is precisely the relationship between us and the saints.” If I pray to Saint Anthony for help, I am asking him for help in prayer and guidance, not because I believe it was Saint Anthony who died on the cross.

    Reply

  2. David T
    Aug 29, 2008 @ 05:11:00

    Ben,

    As David Letterman used to say to Paul Schaffer, “Once again, you’ve crystallized my thoughts to perfection.” Your articulation of the theological and especially metaphysical questions that Protestants raise echo my own thoughts (I’m an Orthodox inquirer of both Evangelical and Anglican background).

    Prayer to the Saints has not been a formidable theological hurdle for me; that said, even though I have begun to include prayers to them for intercession as part of my prayer life, I have many moments in which I simply wonder, “But how can I know that they can HEAR me?” Fortunately, at this point, it is really comforting to think even that they MIGHT hear my prayers, to remember even in fleeting moments that prayer is not, strictly speaking, God entering my own private world, but my entering His presence–along with the whole host of others also in His presence.

    Anyway, I appreciate reading these thoughts of yours. I’ve enjoyed your comments on other blogs recently and am happy to see that you have a blog of your own as well.

    Reply

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