Saturday, September 20, 2008

Questions About Praying to Saints

Are the saints even conscious, or are they asleep? What's to make us think they know anything about what is happening on Earth?

From our point of view, they appear to be asleep; hence St. Paul speaks of those who are “asleep in Christ.” But only their bodies are “asleep,” awaiting the day of glorification and reunion with their souls. But even without their bodies, the reposed Christians are very much alive, and certainly aware of what is happening with us here below. Scripture in at least two places bears witness to this Christian teaching. In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the Rich Man, having died, calls out to Father Abraham, out of concern for his living brothers. In Revelation we are told the saints cry out from under the altar of God, asking how long before justice is done on Earth.

Knowing your hopes and your thoughts and your heart, and being able to “hear” countless people all at once, aren’t those all divine, not human, attributes?

They are indeed divine. But God glorifies and deifies His saints. That is, He makes them like Himself. “I have said, ye are gods.” (Psalm 82:6) Even during their lives on Earth, many saints have exercised divine gifts such as clairvoyance, physical healing, bilocation, and others. How much more do they exercise those now, freed from the limitations of time, of space, and of mortality? The reason the saints can do these god-like things is that they are completely filled with the Holy Spirit. He is the one Spirit animating the one Body of Christ, of which Christians are all cells. Christ, Body and Soul, is common to us all. He makes us to live the very Life, the divine Life, of the Holy Trinity.

Shouldn't we go directly to God instead of to the saints?

We should most definitely go straight to God, and do that first of all, and do that most of all. However, the outpouring of Love that circulates within the Body of Christ and within the Holy Trinity is such that God wills to save us through one another. This is why St. Paul can speak of himself saving people, or of wives saving their husbands. So we commune in many ways with the saints, including verbally.

What we say to them seems to fall into three categories. One is, we extol their heroic and wondrous deeds. We praise Christ's Life as He lived it in their bodies. It's another way of praising Christ Himself, and we sell Him short if we fail to recognize His glory in His saints. Each saint is like a prism refracting the Divine Light, each in its own, unrepeatable and uniquely praiseworthy way.

Secondly, we ask the saints for their intercessions, the same as we ask any other Christian to pray for and with us.

Thirdly, we sometimes ask them to exercise, on our behalf, specific ministries God has given them. Perhaps they were known to exercise a certain ministry during their earthly sojourns. Or perhaps experience down through the centuries has given us to understand that they have a particular ministry now. My Patroness, for example, Great-Martyr Anastasia, was known during her lifetime (and still is) as the "Releaser from Poisons." She knew recipes for antidotes. She knew how to compound various medicines. If you accidentally swallow the wrong sort of mushroom, she's the one whose special care you seek, after that of God Himself. Or, more properly put, if we pray to God after having ingested poison, it's likely His response (whether we know it or not) may be to send St. Anastasia to care for you.

Doesn't prayer to saints take away from the glory that is due to God alone?

No, it does not. At least it does not in Orthodox spirituality. The saints are God's glory, or at least little manifestations of it. What has He done more glorious than making rational creatures with free will, delivering them from sin and death, bestowing immortality upon them, and turning them into christified - which means deified - beings like Himself? To fail to recognize God's glory in His saints is indeed a monumental failure! (And to pray to saints without this recognition, that is, to suppose the glory is only their own, as if they were separate from Christ, would indeed be very wrong! It is to this sort of thing, I rather think, the Reformers were objecting, and rightly so.)

We are not infrequently told by the heterodox that God is jealous of His glory. It isn't so. Yes, I know, in the Old Testament He speaks as if it were so; He says He is a jealous God and will not have His glory given to another. (Isaiah 42:8, which refers to "graven images.") We have to realize that God was here speaking the same way you speak to a three-year-old when you tell her Mommy has a baby in her tummy. You don't literally mean in her stomach, but you wait to explain more accurately, until the child's understanding has grown to be able to grasp what a uterus is. In the same way, God was speaking then to spiritual toddlers to keep them from worshipping statues (or rocks, or trees, or calves). But in the fulness of time, when mankind is a bit more mature spiritually, when the Christ comes, what does He say? Praying to His Father, Jesus says, "the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:" (John 17:22) To go to the saints is another way to go to Christ, for they are the actual, true parts of His glorified Body, in what St. Paul calls a "great mystery". (Ephesians 5:32) Indeed, the Church is the fulness of Christ, "the fulness of Him that fills all in all." (Ephesians 1:23) Christ is not "full" without all His members, His saints. To praise the saints, to ask for their prayers, and to ask for their specific ministries, all these are ways of recognizing and practicing the fulness of Christ and of His glory.

Is there any biblical precedent for conversing with reposed saints? Sure. It's what Jesus Christ Himself did upon Mt. Tabor. He was found speaking with Moses and Elijah. If He can, then so can His members, in Him, with Him, through Him.


Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

I wish I could write with your clarity and charity. Thank you for this post!

Tony said...

Excellent post. Well said.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Kind of you both.

Fr. Gregory, I've much appreciated your (clear and charitable!) expounding of specific prayers to the Theotokos, some of which once gave me much trouble.

Anonymous said...

great apologetic post!!! O Kyrios mazi sou!