Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Why not pray to saints?

In the interest of stirring up a good conversation across Christian dividing lines, Mark asked in last month's Christian Reconciliation Carnival: "Why not pray to saints?" I'm working on the assumption that the type of prayer to the saint is simply asking for that saint to pray for us rather than anything more objectionable.

There are two kinds of "Why not's" that I see from time to time. "Why not love your neighbor?" has a certain kind of "why not", as does "Why not love your enemy?" The same kind of strong "Why not" is found in "Why not pray for those who persecute you?" and "Why not bless those who curse you?" In all these questions, "Why not" carries the idea that if someone is neglecting these things, that person would be in the wrong for such an oversight. These are things we have been taught to do, things which are part of the original tradition of the church: the teachings handed down from Christ and his apostles. These are teachings we have by both command and by example. "Why not?" carries a lot of weight in circumstances like that.

There is another kind of why not. "Why not put up a Christmas tree?" "Why not light candles on an advent wreath?" "Why not use a guitar in church?" This kind of "why not" says, "This is harmless; what reason could there possibly be for not doing it? Isn't wanting to do the thing enough reason for doing it since it's harmless?"

I think that, at best, "Why not pray to saints" could fall into the second category of "Why not?" When it comes to praying to the saints, we were not taught by Christ or is apostles to pray to saints who have left this world; it is not part of the original tradition which we have by the authority of Christ. It is a later human addition, perhaps more like Christmas trees or advent wreaths.

The usual reason given for praying to the saints is something like this: "Don't you ask other Christians to pray for you?", on the assumption that asking for (say) Mary's prayers is roughly the same as asking for the prayers of the person next to me in the pew. On those occasions when I ask someone to pray for me, I usually want the certainty of knowing that the other person did in fact hear . I also usually seek out someone that I know personally. I don't have some reason why it is a horrible thing to ask for the prayers of one of the faithful departed and hope that they may in fact hear you and pray for you; I would only say that the practice leans on speculation and supposition rather than the solid basis of those things we have been taught by Christ and his apostles. It is difficult to see how something that is not grounded in Christ and his apostles could ever be more than optional. Without raising any fuss against those who ask for prayers from saints who have left this world, I don't have any desire to do so. Speaking for myself, I'll pass.


P.S. an after-thought said...

Praying to the saints assumes that the saints can communicate with God. I can accept that. It also assumes that the saints can listen to us. I don't know about that. Aren't they supposed to be in a blessed after life without strife?

I realize that my assumptions about the after life might not be based on Biblical statements, but rather on the lore people have passed on about heaven. I'm not able to figure out what I have learned from good sources and what I have learn from the culture about heaven.

Weekend Fisher said...

I know, my objection also comes on the level of " ... and the saints are listening to us? how would we know that?" Too speculative for me. I like my practice on more solid ground.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Oh, it's very biblical that persons filled with the Holy Spirit, as saints in heaven are, can do wondrous things. (Think of St. Paul's handkerchieves and aprons, or St. Peter's very shadow!) They can hear us because they are in Christ and glorified members of Him.

Hearing us doesn't mean they are still in strife, either. When we say they are in rest, we mean not struggling with sin anymore. What they do still have is compassion, and compassion is always sweet, not bitter. To suffer on our own account is bitter, but to suffer on someone else's is a high privilege and a special form of intimacy with the God of love.

Talking to saints is also biblical. Think of the Transfiguration. Here we have Jesus Himself, upon Mt. Tabor, holding converse with two dead saints.


Weekend Fisher said...

As far as the spirit-filled can do wondrous things, we're in agreement: of course they can. The question is whether they actually do the things we hope they would do, which isn't always the case.

I'm not sure you can build a general case on the Transfiguration. Moses and Elijah seemed to have made themselves physically present there.

Just as an aside, ever notice how Moses and Elijah are among the very rare people ever permitted a glimpse of God while in this world. Both on a mountain. And both ... I wonder sometimes if Moses' hiding in a cleft of the rock and Elijah's hearing the still small voice were looking through time and seeing the Transfiguration.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

OOH, I love your aside. I wonder if some of the Fathers might have thought of that? It would be good to find out!

Well, as far as what the saints can do for us -- all we really ask them to do is pray for us.

Yes, sometimes there are other petititions (for example, we believe that Christ's Mother has been entrusted with the ministry of protecting Christians) but among the Orthodox, it is just assumed, understood, we mean they should do all these things by their intercession.

Sometimes we don't even ask that. Here is the troparion to St. Herman of Alaska:

O Blessed Father Herman of Alaska,
North-Star of Christ's Holy Church;
The light of your holy life and great deeds,
Guides those who follow the Orthodox Way.
Together we lift high the Holy Cross
You planted firmly in America.
Let all behold and glorify Jesus Christ,
Singing His Holy Resurrection.

Here is what we sing on the feast of the Archangels:

Let us praise Cherubim, Seraphim, Thrones, Powers, Authorities and Principalities, Dominions, Archangels and Angels for they are the Bodiless ministers of the Unoriginate Trinity and revealers of incomprehensible mysteries. Glory to Him Who has given you being; glory to Him Who has given you light; glory to Him Who is praised by you in thrice-holy hymns.

Here's a hymn of St. Maximos the Confessor:

Through thee the Spirit poured forth streams of teaching for the Church; thou didst expound God the Word's self-emptying, and shine forth in thy struggles as a true Confessor of the Faith; Holy Father Maximos, pray to Christ our God to grant us His great mercy.

And lastly, here is one to a modern saint, St. Raphael of Brooklyn:

Rejoice, O Father Raphael, Adornment of the Holy Church! Thou art Champion of the true Faith, Seeker of the lost, Consolation of the oppressed, Father to orphans, and Friend of the poor, Peacemaker and Good Shepherd, Joy of all the Orthodox, Son of Antioch, Boast of America: Intercede with Christ God for us and for all who honor thee.

All these are typical of how we "pray to saints" in the Orthodox Church.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

P.S.) Shouldn't we rather say CHRIST made Moses and Elijah physically present on Mt. Tabor?


Weekend Fisher said...

I'm friendly with the local Orthodox parish.

Do you have a favorite saint yourself?

Mine are Francis and Clare of Assisi, and Anthony of Egypt.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Yup, Anthony of Egypt. I don't know why. His wisdom, obviously, but something else undefinable. His personality. St. Makarios of Egypt because of his great love and tact. St. Seraphim of Sarov. St. Mary of Egypt. St. Photini. (The Samaritan Woman at the Well) Great Martyr St. Anastasia, the one who knew how to administer antidotes to various posions. She had a big mouth -- for Christ. When the Emperor told her to honor the pagan gods of her late husband, she said she was indeed honoring them: she had melted them all down to rescue them from being pooped on by pigeons, and had caused the metal to be made into coins, which she was using for the relief of Christians in prison. I happen to have a big mouth that gets me into trouble all the time, too. Not martyrdom or anything glorious, though, just crummy, sinful sorts of trouble ... so I need to learn from her example.


SaintSimon said...

1) What about King Saul, who tried to communicate with Samuel? He was condemned for having broken the law.

2) the examples of prayes from Anastacia show how the Glory that is rightfully God are diverted onto mere creations

3) the Bible says "There is one mediator between God and Man - the Man Christ Jesus." 1 Tim 2 4-6. Therefore these other saints are not mediators. they are at best a distraction, at worst idols.

4) You say "why not?" I say "Why?" Its not as if we can't pray direct to God! There is no point in calling the sectretary when you are already in the boss's office!

Weekend Fisher said...

I thought the best was the comment about the secretary. That's often what it comes down to in my mind. If I'm going to be praying, why in the world would I go to a human when God hears us? (Even assuming the human hears us.)

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Jesus Christ is the one Mediator in several ways. He is the Mediator between God and Man because He united both in His own Person at His conception. He is the Mediator because He brought to us God's gift (His own blood, bearing within it His own, immortal Life) and He brought to God man's gift: perfect obedience, which He offered on behalf of ALL. He is the Mediator also of the New Covenant. Having fulfilled the Old (by His perfect obedience) He ushered in the new, sealed in His own blood.

THAT is why we call Him Mediator. That is very different from an intercessor. There are as many intercessors as there are Christians.

Notice in the hymns I cited that one of them ends up pointing us to the Cross; the next concludes in glorifying the Holy Trinity; the next two end up asking the saint to pray for us. To Christ. IOW, each one IS Christ-centered in its own way.

Jesus is like a bright chandelier. Each Christian is like one of the crystals around the light. Saints are those cyrstals that most brightly shine with His light. Each one, like a prism, refracts the light,but each in a unique way.

You cannot properly admire the chandelier if you look only at the light bulbs. You cannot properly honor or glorify Christ if you ignore Him in His saints, in whom He shines so brilliantly.

Sure, talk to the Head of the Church most especially! But do not ignore the Body. We are all to pray for one another, and ask one another for prayers, and that includes all of us on both sides of the grave.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

P.S.) What is strictly forbidden is to conjure the spirits of the dead, usually for fortune telling. That is necromancy and it has nothing to do with asking the saints of Christ to pray for us.


Principium unitatis said...

If you want the certainty of knowing that the saints hear your prayers, and you don't want to base your belief on speculation and supposition, then you should base it on the de fide (infallible) teaching of the Church. We can know that the saints can hear our prayers, because the Church tells us that they can. The Council of Trent says "It is good and profitable to appeal to them [the saints in heaven] for help." That declaration has no less authority than those of the Ecumenical councils that determined the Nicene Creed, the two natures of Christ, and the Church's decision regarding the canon of Scripture. If the Ecumenical Councils cannot be trusted, then what remains that can be known with certainty about Christianity? Nothing.

The peace of Christ be with you.

- Bryan