Thursdays in the Orthodox Church are devoted to the Holy Apostles and the Great Hierarchs, especially St. Nicholas of Myra, the Wonderworker. As someone noted earlier, Thursday is the “twelfth” day of the week (if Sunday is eight) thus the association of the 12 Apostles – though which came first – the designation or the reckoning is known only to the angels – but that was Monday…
St. Paul states: the Church is built upon the foundation of the Apostles and the Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). The “prophets” here refer to the Old Tesament writers. But for the present the Church stands as well on the living work of the Apostles, and I might add that great number of saints who bear the title “equal-to-the-apostles” not because they held such a rank in the Church, but their actions of proclaiming Christ was either equal to the Apostles in its importance (as Mary Magdalene, Equal to the Apostles, is as the first witness of the resurrection), or because their work brought about the conversion of whole nations (St. Vladimir, St. Patrick, St. Nina of Georgia, etc.).
Nothing replaces the cornerstone, for it is always Christ that is preached. But it is significant that what St. Paul cites as the foundation of our life and existence in Christ are people. It is the living stones of the Apostles that make our faith possible. And those foundations continue with the living apostolic witness of the Church. For we have not accepted mere theory about the risen Lord, or a mere set of abstract doctrinal statements, but the Living Lord Himself, who is presented to us in the Apostolic witness. I know Christ – the same Christ as was known and preached. Thus the Church remains a living Church, not because of historical witness, but because that “historical” witness abides in the Church in a living form, whether in the living successors of the Apostolic work, the Bishops, or in those who, gifted by God, continue that same living witness, all, of course, through the abiding, living presence of the Spirit.
As for St. Nicholas, great wonderworker and Ecumenical Teacher! Why are some saints so popular in the Orthodox Church? I assure you it is not their historic importance. St. Nicholas was but a minor voice and bishop at the council of Nicaea. It is the fact that as an intercessor before God on behalf of the people of God, he remains powerful and dependable. People love St. Nicholas because they know him! and they know the power of his prayers! All the historical arguments by all the theologians cannot change this simple existential vote of the people of God. Thus St. Seraphim, St. Nektarios of Aegina, St. Panteleimon, and a host of others who are not large forces in the pages of anyone’s history book, remain among the most active members of every congregation. I cannot explain one saint over another – but I know the power of their popularity and have watched it grow even within the ranks of converts. Go figure.
Photo: painting of St. Nicholas interceding to stop the execution of three prisoners.
Very dramatic painting!
Your point is well taken. Intercessory prayer springs from a compassionate Christ-like heart.
For a Protestant one of the problems with praying to the Saints is the notion that God would listen to our pleas if “this” Saint took our cause and not if “that” Saint did.
But maybe that is not because God prefers one over the others, but rather that one Saint may have more of a mind of God than another, just as some of us not yet glorified are more or less so mindful.
Those in the Church who’ve been important historically were great Saints, for sure, but we cannot know the Saints who by the very nature of their station and humility were largely unknown in life but show to be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
What makes a Saint great is not his or her deeds, but their union with God. An unknown nun from a land forsaken by men who dies with never a convert to her name nor a page of written word from her hand, perhaps even her sisters because of their own sin never know the Grace of God in her, may be found to be in Heaven walking hand in hand with the Theotokos for eternity.
We don’t know a lot of things. We know the saints pray for us. By experience, the intercessions of some seem more effective than others. We have no reason why, nor would we dare give a reason. It’s just that when this is the case, people seek the prayers of those saints more than others.
The saints pray for us whether we ask them to or not. That’s in the Bible. That we may ask some of them to, is simply our agreeing with what the universe already looks like. God set it up that way – who am I to complain?
Have you written here on the general topic of intecessory prayer by the saints? For converts, the concept of intercession is not as difficult to grasp as this idea that one intercessor might be “better at it” than another. I know I struggle with this idea, as well as some of the “explanations” of the Theotokos as intecessor along the same line. I’d like to hear more of your thoughts on this matter, as you explain things so clearly.
See if this article is of any help. https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2007/07/19/the-intercession-of-the-saints/
The saint I feel a special affection for is the little hermitess Photini. Her Arabic name was Jandy. She is little known, but I have no doubt that she hears my prayers and intercedes for me. I feel that she is my spiritual sister and the blessed Theotokos is our spiritual mother. We should regard the saints as family members because they are!
In response to Alice C. Linsley:
How do we start a petition for the glorification of Hermitess Photini, for her to be named a saint in the Orthodox Church?
I agree that the Hermitess is very, very special. In fact, read on….
Many years ago I gave a young mother a gift of the book about the Hermitess, just to give a gift. I didn’t realize that her pregnancy at the time was going very poorly, actually in danger. Later the young woman told me that the very evening she received the book she fell asleep with the book upside down on her tummy. She didn’t really mean to. While asleep she had a dream that Hermitess Photini and several other Orthodox Christian saints stood in a circle around her as she lay down with the open book still on her tummy. When she awoke she knew that something was different. Her doctor confirmed that the problems surrounding the pregnancy were completely gone. In due time she gave birth due a beautiful, perfectly healthy boy.
For those who must have a scientific explanation of the causes and effects of intercessory (hypostatic) prayer; one must once again point to the exchange of eucharistic gifts that take place behind the iconostasis, and beyond history.
Dear Fr. Stephen,
Thank you very much for this beautiful article!
I was looking for a prayer dedicated to the Holy Apostles that I could add in my prayers each Wednesday.
Any existing prayer that you would suggest ?
In my previous message, I typed too quickly. My apologies. I meant a prayer to the Holy Apostles for each Thursday.