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On the Intercession and Invocation of the Saints

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  • Christopher Orr
    http://orrologion.blogspot.com/2006/01/on-intercession-and-invocation-of.html by Reader Christopher Orr Protestants often have a difficult time coming to terms
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 25, 2007
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      by Reader Christopher Orr

      Protestants often have a difficult time coming to terms with prayer to
      the saints. It is condemned as a christianized paganism, an example of
      the corruption of Christianity after the conversion of the Roman
      Empire under Constantine in 313 AD.

      This issue falls under two broad headings: intercession and
      invocation. Most Protestants would accept the fact that we are prayed
      for by the departed saints and angels in heaven (intercession by the
      saints), just as our family, friends, and clergy here on earth pray us
      for. The difficulty lies with our asking (praying) the departed saints
      and angels for their prayers (invocation of the saints). How do we
      know they can hear us? Some, High Church Anglicans, would accept
      intercession and invocation, but not the Roman “excesses” of this
      practice. The 1917 [Roman] Catholic Encyclopedia expresses succinctly
      the position of the various traditional Protestant bodies:

      …the High Church Anglicans contend that it is not the invocation of
      saints that is here rejected, but only the "Romish doctrine ", i. e.
      the excesses prevailing at the time and afterwards condemned by the
      Council of Trent. "In principle there is no question herein between us
      and any other portion of the Catholic Church. . . . Let not that most
      ancient custom, common to the Universal Church, as well Greek as
      Latin, of addressing Angels and Saints in the way we have said, be
      condemned as impious, or as vain and foolish" [Forbes, Bishop of
      Brechin (Anglican), "Of the Thirty-nine Articles", p. 422].

      The reformed Churches, as a body, reject the invocation of the saints.
      Article xxi of the Augsburg Confession says: "Scripture does not teach
      us to invoke the Saints, or to ask for help from the Saints; for it
      puts before us Christ as the one mediator, propitiatory, high-priest
      and intercessor." In the "Apology of the Augsburg Confession" (ad art.
      xxi, sects. 3, 4), it is admitted that the angels pray for us, and the
      saints, too, "for the Church in general"; but this does not imply that
      they are to be invoked.

      The Calvinists, however, reject both intercession and invocation as an
      imposture and delusion of Satan, since thereby the right manner of
      praying is prevented, and the saints know nothing of us, and have no
      concern as to what passes on earth ("Gall. Confess.", art. xxiv;
      "Remonst. Conf." c. xvi, sect. 3).[i]

      It was my contention as an inquirer into Orthodox Christianityâ€"which
      accepts the intercession and invocation of the saintsâ€"that if I was
      willing to accept the testimony of the Fathers of the Church when it
      came to such abstruse dogmas as that of the Trinity (three hypostases,
      one ousia) and Chalcedonian Christology (two ousia, one hypostasis),
      as well as the final canon of the New Testament Scriptures which was
      finally settled by St. Athanasius, then I must also accept their
      testimony concerning the intercession and invocation of the saints.
      That is, if they had ever said anything about it. If St. Athanasius
      can fight for homoousios over homoiousios; and, in similarly abstract
      language Sts. Gregory the Theologian and Basil the Great could fight
      for the full divinity of the Holy Spirit, then certainly they would
      have commented on the error of the intercession and invocation of the
      saints. That is, if it existed in their day. I vaguely assumed that
      this “pagan practice” must have developed later, or outside of the
      truly Christian spheres in which these basic dogmas of our faith were

      This led me to a study of the Patristic sources to find if there was,
      in fact, early testimony one way or the other concerning the
      intercession and invocation of the saints. Did major patristic figures
      such as Sts. Athanasius, Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian
      support or teach this practice? Was there only isolated testimony to
      this practice in Rome, Palestine, Syria, Africa, or Asia Minor
      separately, or was it widespread across the ancient world implying a
      common apostolic foundation?

      I have compiled a less then exhaustive digest of patristic and
      scriptural citations concerning both the intercession and invocation
      of the departed saints of God. I have stressed texts referring to our
      invocation of the saints- of our asking them for their prayers. I hate
      to admit it, but I actually didn’t do this research before I became
      Orthodox. I assumed there was no written testimony to be had until
      many centuries after the Church came out of the catacombs in 313-14. I
      simply prayed my way into understanding that the saints can hear us. I
      was shocked to find that there was, in fact, testimony in support of
      “prayer to the saints”. And this testimony came not from some random,
      half-pagan “saint” from the backwaters of Mesopotamia, Cilicia, or the
      Pentapolis but from the defenders and promoters of the Nicene Creed:
      the Fathers who had suffered, struggled, and died for the doctrine of
      the Trinity, the full divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and who
      described this relationship in language too rarified for me to fully
      comprehend to this day. These doctrines most Protestants, Catholics,
      and Orthodox Christians still hold in commonâ€"in the face of all that
      we disagree on. The witness, therefore, of these Christian giants must
      be taken as more than simply “the doctrine of men”. They prayed to the
      saints without considering them to be demi-gods; they asked the
      prayers of those who to whom the Psalmist and Christ said, “Ye are
      gods.”[ii] Could the Church Which Christ promised would withstand the
      “Gates of Hades” really have apostatized within a generation of its
      freedom across the breadth of the entire ancient world?

      All ye saints, pray to God for us!

      Patristic and Scriptural Testimony

      Book of Tobit (~ 200 â€" 100 BC)

      When thou didst pray with tears… I [Archangel Raphael] offered thy
      prayer to the Lord. (Tobit xii, 12)

      St. John the Evangelist (+101)

      And another angel came, and stood before the altar, having a golden
      censer; and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer
      of the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, which is before
      the throne of God. And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the
      saints ascended up before God from the hand of the angel. (Apoc.,
      viii, 3, 4)

      Origen of Alexandria (+ 253 or 254)

      But not the High-Priest [Christ] alone prays for those who pray
      sincerely, but also the angels . . . as also the souls of the saints
      who have already fallen asleep (ai te ton prokekoimemenon hagion

      St. Cyprian of Carthage (+258), writing to Pope Cornelius of Rome

      Let us be mutually mindful of each other, let us ever pray for each
      other, and if one of us shall, by the speediness of the Divine
      vouchsafement, depart hence first, let our love continue in the
      presence of the Lord, let not prayer for our brethren and sisters
      cease in the presence of the mercy of the Father.[iv]

      St. Hilary of Poitiers (+368)

      To those who would fain stand, neither the guardianship of saints nor
      the defences of angels are wanting.[v]

      St. Ephraim the Syrian (+373)

      Remember me, ye heirs of God, ye brethren of Christ, supplicate the
      Saviour earnestly for me, that I may be freed though Christ from him
      that fights against me day by day.[vi]
      Ye victorious martyrs who endured torments gladly for the sake of the
      God and Saviour; ye who have boldness of speech towards the Lord
      Himself; ye saints, intercede for us who are timid and sinful men,
      full of sloth, that the grace of Christ may come upon us, and
      enlighten the hearts of all of us that so we may love him.[vii]

      St. Athanasius the Great, Patriarch of Alexandria (+373)

      Christ became man that men might become gods[viii]

      Second Ecumenical Council (Constantinople, 381 AD)

      May God by the prayers of the Saints, show favour to the world, that
      you may be strong and eminent in all good things as an Emperor most
      truly pious and beloved of God. (Letter of the Same Holy Synod to the
      Most Pious Emperor [St.] Theodosius the Great)

      The Cappadocian Fathers

      “In one of his letters, St. Basil [the Great] explicitly writes that
      he accepts the intercession of the apostles, prophets and martyrs, and
      he seeks their prayers to God. (Letter 360) Then, speaking about the
      Forty Martyrs, who suffered martyrdom for Christ, he emphasizes that
      they are common friends of the human race, strong ambassadors and
      collaborators in fervent prayers. (Chapter 8)

      “St. Gregory of Nyssa asks St. Theodore the Martyr …to fervently pray
      to our Common King, our God, for the country and the people (Encomium
      to Martyr Theodore).

      “The same language is used by St. Gregory the Theologian in his
      encomium to St. Cyprian. St. John Chrysostom says that we should seek
      the intercession and the fervent prayers of the saints, because they
      have special "boldness" (parresia), before God. (Gen. 44: 2 and
      Encomium to Julian, Iuventinus and Maximinus, 3).”[ix]

      St. Basil the Great, of Caesarea in Asia Minor (+379)

      According to the blameless faith of the Christians which we have
      obtained from God, I confess and agree that I believe in one God the
      Father Almighty; God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost; I
      adore and worship one God, the Three. I confess to the oeconomy of the
      Son in the flesh, and that the holy Mary, who gave birth to Him
      according to the flesh, was Mother of God. I acknowledge also the holy
      apostles, prophets, and martyrs; and I invoke them to supplication to
      God, that through them, that is, through their mediation, the merciful
      God may be propitious to me, and that a ransom may be made and given
      me for my sins. Wherefore also I honour and kiss the features of their
      images, inasmuch as they have been handed down from the holy apostles,
      and are not forbidden, but are in all our churches.[x]

      We beseech you, O most holy martyrs, who cheerfully suffered torments
      and death for his love, and are now more familiarly united to him,
      that you intercede with God for us slothful and wretched sinners, that
      he bestow on us the grace of Christ, by which we may be enlightened
      and enabled to love him.[xi]

      O holy choir! O sacred band! O unbroken host of warriors! O common
      guardians of the human race! Ye gracious sharers of our cares! Ye
      co-operators in our prayer! Most powerful intercessors![xii]

      Liturgy of St. Basil the Great

      By the command of Thine only-begotten Son we communicate with the
      memory of Thy saints . . . by whose prayers and supplications have
      mercy upon us all, and deliver us for the sake of Thy holy name which
      is invoked upon us.[xiii]

      St. Gregory the Theologian (+390) [xvi]

      “...we should here bear in mind Bellarmine's remarks: "When we say
      that nothing should be asked of the saints but their prayer for us,
      the question is not about the words, but the sense of the words. For
      as far as the words go, it is lawful to say: 'St. Peter, pity me, save
      me, open for me the gate of heaven'; also, 'Give me health of body,
      patience, fortitude', etc., provided that we mean 'save and pity me by
      praying for me'; 'grant me this or that by thy prayers and merits.'
      For so speaks Gregory of Nazianzus (Orat. xviii â€" according to others,
      xxiv â€" "De S. Cypriano" in P. G., XXXV, 1193; "Orat. de S. Athan.: In
      Laud. S. Athanas.", Orat. xxi, in P. G., XXXV, 1128); in "De Sanct.
      Beatif.", I, 17. … In like manner does Gregory pray to St. Athanasius
      (Orat. xxi, "In laud. S. Athan.", P. G., XXXV, 1128).”

      St. Gregory of Nyssa in Lower Armenia (+395-400)

      ...I wish to commemorate one person who spoke of their noble testimony
      because I am close to Ibora, the village and resting place of these
      forty martyrs' remains. Here the Romans keep a register of soldiers,
      one of whom was a guard ordered by his commander to protect against
      invasions, a practice common to soldiers in such remote areas. This
      man suffered from an injured foot which was later amputated. Being in
      the martyrs' resting place, he earnestly beseeched God and the
      intercession of the saints. One night there appeared a man of
      venerable appearance in the company of others who said, "Oh soldier,
      do you want to be healed [J.167] of your infirmity? Give me your foot
      that I may touch it." When he awoke from the dream, his foot was
      completely healed. Once he awoke from this vision, his foot was
      restored to health. He roused the other sleeping men because he was
      immediately cured and made whole. This men then began to proclaim the
      miracle performed by the martyrs and acknowledged the kindness
      bestowed by these fellow soldiers…. We who freely and boldly enter
      paradise are strengthened by the [martyrs'] intercession through a
      noble confession in our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever
      and ever. Amen.[xvii]

      Do thou, [St. Ephraim the Syrian] that art standing at the Divine
      altar, and art ministering with angels to the life-giving and most
      Holy Trinity, bear us all in remembrance, petitioning for us the
      remission of sins, and the fruition of an everlasting kingdom.[xviii]

      St. Cyril of Jerusalem (+386)

      We then commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us,
      first, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, that God, by their
      prayers and intercessions, may receive our petitions.[xiv] St. Gregory
      the Theologian, Patriarch of Constantinople; of Nazianzus in Asia
      Minor (+389) Mayest thou [Cyprian] look down from above propitiously
      upon us, and guide our word and life; and shepherd [or shepherd with
      me] this sacred flock . . . gladdening us with a more perfect and
      clear illumination of the Holy Trinity, before Which thou standest.[xv]

      St. Ambrose of Milan (+397)

      May Peter, who wept so efficaciously for himself, weep for us and turn
      towards us Christ's benignant countenance.[xix]

      St. Jerome, b. Dalmatia, d. Palestine (+419)

      If the Apostles and Martyrs, while still in the body, can pray for
      others, at a time when they must still be anxious for themselves, how
      much more after their crowns, victories, and triumphs are won! One
      man, Moses, obtains from God pardon for six hundred thousand men in
      arms; and Stephen, the imitator of the Lord, and the first martyr in
      Christ, begs forgiveness for his persecutors; and shall their power be
      less after having begun to be with Christ? The Apostle Paul declares
      that two hundred three score and sixteen souls, sailing with him, were
      freely given him; and, after he is dissolved and has begun to be with
      Christ, shall he close his lips, and not be able to utter a word in
      behalf of those who throughout the whole world believed at his
      preaching of the Gospel? And shall the living dog Vigilantius be
      better than that dead lion?[xx]

      St. John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople; b. Antioch, Syria (+407)

      When thou perceivest that God is chastening thee, fly not to His
      enemies . . . but to His friends, the martyrs, the saints, and those
      who were pleasing to Him, and who have great power [parresian,
      "boldness of speech"].[xxi] He that wears the purple, laying aside his
      pomp, stands begging of the saints to be his patrons with God; and he
      that wears the diadem begs the Tent-maker and the Fisherman as
      patrons, even though they be dead.[xxii]

      St. Augustine of Hippo, in North Africa (+430)

      At the Lord's table we do not commemorate martyrs in the same way that
      we do others who rest in peace so as to pray for them, but rather that
      they may pray for us that we may follow in their footsteps.[xxiii]


      [i] Catholic Encyclopedia, 1917.
      [ii] St. John 10:34.
      [iii] "De Oratione", n. xi, in P. G., XI, 448.
      [iv] Ep. lvii, in P. L., IV, 358.
      [v] "In Ps. cxxiv", n. 5, 6, in P. L., X, 682.
      [vi] "De Timore Anim.", in fin..
      [vii] "Encom. in Mart.".
      [viii] "De Incarn.", n. 54; cf. St. Augustine, "Serm. De Nativitate Dom.".
      [ix] Bebis, George. “The Saints of the Orthodox Church” (Greek
      Orthodox Archdiocese of America,
      [x] Letter 360, “Of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the invocation
      of Saints, and their Images”.
      [xi] “Homily on the Forty Soldier Martyrs of Sebaste”, quoting St.
      Ephrem the Syrian, “Homil. in SS. Martyres”, Op. Gr. and Lat. ed. Vat.
      an. 1743, t. 2, p. 341.
      [xii] "Hom. in XL Mart.", P. G., XXXI, 524.
      [xiii] Cf. the Liturgy of Jerusalem, the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom,
      the Liturgy of Nestorius, the Coptic Liturgy of St. Cyril, etc..
      [xiv] "Cat. Myst.", v, n. 9 in P. G., XXXIII, 1166.
      [xv] Orat. xvii â€" according to others, xxiv â€" "De S. Cypr.", P. G.,
      XXXV, 1193.
      [xvi] Catholic Catechism, 1917.
      [xvii] “Second Letter Concerning the Forty Martyrs”.
      [xviii] "De vita Ephraemi", in fin., P. G., XLVI, 850.
      [xix] "Hexaem.", V, xxv, n. 90, in P. L., XIV, 242.
      [xx] "Contra Vigilant.", n. 6, in P. L., XXIII, 344.
      [xxi] Orat. VIII, "Adv. Jud.", n. 6, in P. G., XLVIII, 937.
      [xxii] "Hom. xxvi, in II Ep. ad Cor.", n. 5, in P. G., LXI, 581.
      [xxiii] "In Joann.", tr. lxxxiv, in P. L., XXXIV, 1847.
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