Why Ask the Saints?

Jesus is the sole mediator between God and man

Most Protestant churches strongly reject all saintly intercession, citing passages such as 1 Timothy 2:1-5, which says that Jesus is the sole mediator between God and man, as well as Deuteronomy 18:10-11 which seems to forbid invoking departed souls. They also point to the fact that there are no examples in the Bible of living humans praying to dead humans — Jesus Christ being the lone exception, because He is alive and resurrected, and because He is both human and Divine.

Yet the Bible indeed directs us to invoke those in heaven and ask them to pray with us. In Psalms 103, we pray, “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers that do his will!” (Psalms 103:20-21). And in Psalms 148 we pray, “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host!” (Psalms 148:1-2).

Not only do those in heaven pray with us, they also pray for us. In the book of Revelation, we read: “[An] angel came and stood at the altar [in heaven] with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God” (Rev. 8:3-4). And those in heaven who offer to God our prayers aren’t just angels, but humans as well. John sees that “the twenty-four elders [the leaders of the people of God in heaven] fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8). The simple fact is, as this passage shows: The saints in heaven offer to God the prayers of the saints on earth.

Yes, we have Christ as the only intercessor before the Throne, but that never stopped any of our Protestant brethren from asked fellow believers from praying for them. We ask the friends of God to pray for us all the time, when we ask for the prayers of our friends and fellow believers. Asking those who’ve gone on before us is possible because they are alive in Christ, and offer their prayers to Christ just as do we. We all, both those in heaven and those still upon this earth, pray before the same “sole mediator between God and man”, Jesus Christ. It is Christ through whom we approach the Throne of the Father.

Finally, why would we not want to ask for the prayers of those who have already won their place in Paradise, and are already standing before the Throne of God, worshiping the Holy Trinity?

Part of the problem for Protestants to accept the veneration of the saints stems from their reliance on an approach to doctrine and practice as being Bible only based. Proof texts is thus the norm for most protestant debate on the interpretation of any given passage. By the same token, the unity of worship and doctrine found within the Orthodox Church is the fact we’ve based both our way of worship AND our doctrinal teachings on Holy Tradition and Scripture. Since the Bible comes out of the living oral Tradition of the Church, the scriptures can only be properly interpreted from within the life of the Church. Our unity is based on what has always been taught.

The Orthodox Church proclaims as dogma that which has been taught everywhere and at all times. The Church is catholic because that which she teaches and the way she worships is not only from Apostolic times, but was everywhere taught and practiced in Apostolic times. She is catholic (universal) because she is the same now as she was from the earliest times in her history. Her Holy Tradition is relied upon when interpreting the Bible, because it is from her Tradition from which the Bible emerged.

Another point to think about is how we (from our Protestant upbringing) interpret the concept of Christ as the ‘sole mediator between God and man.’ The Protestant idea assumes that ‘mediator’ means ‘intercessor’. But, there is a more profound meaning, not merely an intercessor but the reconciliation of God and man in the reality of the hypostatic union of God and man in the person of Jesus Christ. That is, I think, the real meaning of ‘mediator’. Confer the meaning of the Latin source of the word, mediare: ‘place in the middle’, according to the Pocket OED. Doesn’t that make clear that the Protestant interpretation is missing the real point? Once we understand that, then the whole argument against the intercession of the saints has no reality.

Love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

Photos: Father Shenouda, a monk from Saint John the Baptist Skete (OCA) in Phoenix, AZ, is staying with us for eight days.

Friday August 10, 2018 / July 28, 2018
11th Week after Pentecost. Tone one.
Fast. Food with Oil
Appearance of the “Smolensk” “Directress” Icon of the Mother of God brought from Constantinople in 1046.
Holy Apostles of the Seventy and Deacons: Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, and Parmenas (1st c.).
St. Pitirim, bishop of Tambov (1698).
Synaxis of All Saints of Tambov.
New Hieromartyr Nicholas deacon (1918).
New Hieromartyr Basil, Virgin-martyrs Anastasia and Hellen, Martyrs Aretha, John, John, John amd Virgin-martyr Mavra (1937).
New Hieromartyr Ignatius of Jablechna (Chelm and Podlasie, Poland) (1942).
Venerable Moses, wonderworker of the Kiev Caves (14th c.).
Martyr Julian of Dalmatia (2nd c.), Martyr Eustathius (Eustace) the Soldier of Ancyra (316) and Martyr Acacius of Apamea (321).
Venerable Paul of Xeropotamou, Mt. Athos (820).
“Grebensk” (1380), “Kostroma” (1672) and “Umileniye” (“of Tender Feeling”) (1885) of Diveyevo, before which St. Seraphim reposed.
Reverence list of an “Smolensk” Icon of the Mother of God: “Ustiuzh” (1290), “Vydropussk” (15th c.), “Voronin” (1524), “Xristopor” (16th c.), “Supralsk” (16th c.), “Yug” (1615), “Igritsky”(1624), “Shuysk” (1654-16-55), “Sedmiezersk” (17th c.), “Sergievsk” (Troitsk-Sergievsky Lavra) (1730).
“Tambov” (1692) Icon of the Mother of God.
Venerable Irene Chrysoyolantou of Cappadocia (912).
Venerables Ursus and Leobatius (Leubais), brother-abbots (500) (Gaul).
St. Samson, bishop of Dol in Brittany (565) (Celtic & British).
New Martyr Christodoulos of Kassandra (1777) (Greek).
New Martyr Anastasius of Ancyra (1777) (Greek).
Venerable George of Mt. Athos, the Builder (1033) (Georgia).

The Scripture Readings

Luke 1:39-49

Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

The Song of Mary

46 And Mary said:

“My soul [b]magnifies the Lord,
47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.

2 Corinthians 4:13-18

13 And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak, 14 knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. 15 For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.

Seeing the Invisible

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Matthew 24:27-33

27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.

The Coming of the Son of Man

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

The Parable of the Fig Tree

32 “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!

Abbot Tryphon

About Abbot Tryphon

The Very. Rev. Abbot Tryphon All-Merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island, Washington. The Monastery is under the omophore of The Most Rev. Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco and Western America, of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Situated in the heart of a beautiful forest, surrounded by the Salish Sea, the monastery is reached by ferry from either Seattle, or Tacoma, Washington.

6 comments:

  1. Well said and clearly explained. Helpful for me with my Protestant roots. I find those ways of looking at things are deeply ingrained in me, as if Orthodoxy for me is almost just a veneer.

  2. When i first became Orthodox, my mother (a “rabid” evangelical) talked with me about this very subject (i.e. praying with the saints)She used the “I only need Christ as my mediator” response. i told her then, in all love, that she had better quit asking others to pray with/for her. “But they’re alive, and praying to Christ!” (understand that protestants are hung up on the word ‘pray’ believing that it means talking only to God. The King James English uses ‘pray’ interchangeably with ‘speak with’) and i asked her to think a moment about what she was saying, if she really believed what she was always saying, “absent in the body, present with the Lord”. She slowly agreed. i then told her that i prayed with the Saints the same way that she does with others. It may be a simplistic way of illustrating it but sometimes it’s what works.

    1. If I died and was in the presence of God, how could I not speak with God on behalf of the wife I left on earth? It would certainly be natural to expect that people we love continue to consider us beyond the grave. How terrible would it be if I asked God to do something on her behalf only to be told, “It won’t do any good. Nothing you can do here.” Regardless of the ecclesiological arguments for saintly intercession, it just seems self-evident from our own nature as Christians.

  3. Living in this realm here on earth is work, a journey. When I ask my friends on this earthly journey to pray, I know it is work for them, to consider my request to ask God for answers. It refines their faith in thinking of others. When someone has died, they are in another realm, with different perspectives and work. Praising God and praying for us too I imagine. I cannot assume to know who is in heaven and who is not, only God decides the true heart of the one who died. At times Orthodoxy feels like a social club of whose saint answers prayers better, go to this one or that one for healing or lost things etc. and God doesn’t get the glory. It is daunting, and humbling to come into the presence of the HOLY GOD. Much easier to simply go to the friendly saint others rave about than to the One who knows our every thought. It is good to reverence the ones who have gone before us, who fought the good fight walking in the way of Christ but in Christ Alone our hope is found. God is big enough to handle all of our prayers all at once. In the limited time I have, I prefer to go to the Owner of it all with my problems and praises. He is never too busy and never would say, go ask saint so and so in heaven. With all respect to those “saints”, I go to and bow to the One who created me and knew me before the foundation of the world. God Bless you.

    1. Dear Deborah:

      I agree: if anyone is treating praying to saints like a popularity contest or social club, he is wrong. Such an attitude is neither healthy nor Orthodox.

      I think the “how does one know who is in heaven?” question is understandable and a good one. For me, one cannot “know” virtually anything about Christ, our journey, or much of anything else without the virtue of Faith and without confidence in Christ’s Body, the Church. How does one *know* the contents of the New Testament are those 27 books? How does one *know* the teaching he has received about Christ is not in some subtle but significant way erroneous? How does one know he is righteous enough to be heard by God? One cannot really assume to know any such things. (There are some who believe God cannot hear the prayer of the unrighteous). For me, all such answers will eventually lead to faith in the church. Even if a person claims faith “alone” or Christ “alone”, he has to have faith in the church — the Body of Christ — to a great extent, in my opinion.

      As an extension of that, the Orthodox Church’s recognition of saints grew organically, not as a post hoc decree that all of a sudden people needed the prayers of those who had died. From very early in the church, people have kept relics and from the holy ones they had known, and those relics were the source of miracles, a sign of that person’s physical connection with Christ. (I also have heard of Orthodox claiming to even see or speak with dead holy ones.) The request for prayers from those saints seemed natural and completely in line with the Christian view of the dead, not a dangerous add-on as assumed by modern Christians who simply have a different way of seeing the Bible and salvation.

      Again, I agree that saints need to be kept in their proper place. It’s unOrthodox not to. But Scripture shows us that it’s never been scandalous to bow to a person other than God or to ask another for help, which is no doubt why most people ask for prayer. We simply want help, and prayer for each other is as old as the Church and Israel themselves. And while the dead are certainly in another realm, I wonder if they are essentially on the same journey. Just as the Kingdom has come and the 8th day started, so the rest of our journey after death has already begun in this life.

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