There is a constant uproar from the Protestant sector regarding the Catholic and the ancient practice of asking the saints for their prayers and their intercession. They insist that there is no Biblical evidence for what they consider to be “Praying TO the saints”. The power of life and of death is in the hands of God, yet, He relegates his authority to others that are living. Doctors are able to save lives. If I see someone drowning, I can jump in and save them. It doesn’t make God any less responsible, but the fact remains that the person was saved by a man (or woman). The view that Protestants present regarding what they perceive as problematic theology is a very narrow view, and places God into a box, and everyone else living or dead on the outside with no ability to touch the divine or to be instruments of the divine. It is not the practice of the Catholics to pray to Mary in the sense that Protestants perceive. If I ask you to pray for me to the Lord our God, I am not praying to you at all. I am asking you to intercede on my behalf, to beseech God for me. That doesn’t mean that I am worshiping you. And as Christ Himself said, He is the God of the living. The saints are alive and in His presence. Yet, they remain a very real part of the Church, of the Body of Christ. Thus, my asking Mary to pray for me the Lord our God is no different than my asking you to pray for me.
There is particularly a large outcry against the Catholic veneration of Mary. Catholic Christians do not “pray to” the Mother of God instead of God; we seek her intercession before her Son, asking her to pray on our behalf; another Byzantine Rite hymn states that “the prayers of a mother availeth much before her Son.” Catholics do NOT worship the Theotokos; they do venerate her exactly as the angel did.
A sample prayer:
“It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos (God-Bearer), ever-blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim, without corruption you gave birth to God the Word, True, Theotokos, we magnify you.”
Her name is mentioned in every service, and her intercession before the throne of God is asked. She is given the title of “Theotokos” (Greek for “Birth-giver-of-God), as well as “Mother of God”. She has a definite role in Catholicism, and can in no way be considered an instrument which, once used, was laid aside and forgotten.
The angel Gabriel was sent by God to announce to the Virgin the birth of the Saviour: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women.” (Luke 1:28) This angelic salutation forms a part of the hymn of the Church most frequently sung in her honor. Could we be wrong in repeating the words of the very messenger of God? Elizabeth, the Virgin’s cousin, considered it an honor for the Mother of her Lord to visit her. “And whence is this to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43) Is there any real difference between saying “Mother of God” and “Mother of the Lord”? Surely, God is the Lord! (Psalm 118:27) In the course of her visit to Elizabeth, the Blessed Virgin spoke the words that form the principal hymn sung in her honor at the Matins service.
The consequences of denying the Theotokos a part in the life of Christians are more serious than one may think in view of all its implications. Catholic theology insists upon the two perfect natures of our Lord Jesus Christ; He was perfect God and perfect Man. The Virgin Mary communicated the humanity of the Incarnate God. The redemption of the human race was possible through the union of God and man in Christ. De-emphasis of the sinlessness of Christ’s Mother, insistence upon her having other children by Joseph (which cannot be demonstrated by the New Testament), and failure to remember her part in the history of the salvation of mankind have contributed to a general misunderstanding in some churches of the Incarnation in all its fullness and power. Very closely related to the above-mentioned things is the denial of the virgin birth of Christ, a rather popular feature of present-day liberal theology. After the virgin birth, the next basic teaching under attack is the divinity of Christ and His resurrection, and with that, the Holy Trinity Itself.
The Virgin Mary in the Catholic view is not regarded as a mediatrix or co-redemptress. She is an intercessor for us, and the content of supplications addressed to her are merely requests for her intercession.
As to the general intercession of saints, there are multiple examples in the Holy Writ. Rachel was long dead (see Gen. 48:7) and departed from the earth during the Babylonian exile when Jeremiah wrote: “Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, [and] bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they [were] not. Thus saith the LORD; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the LORD; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy.” (Jeremiah 31:15-16). The Lord answered her prayer. Again when Herod slaughtered the innocents, Matthew tells us: “In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping [for] her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not” (Matthew 2:18).
In the story about Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16, Christ illustrates that even the rich man in hell showed concern for the people still living. How much more would those in heaven show concern. The saints are not dead; they are more alive than we are. The Sadducees did not believe in the Resurrection. Jesus told them, “Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection. Now that the dead are raised, even Moses shewed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.” (Luke 20:36-38).
In the book of Revelation we find the human saints (Rev.5:8) in heaven and the heavenly saints (Rev. 8:3-4) in heaven offering to God the prayers of those still on earth: “And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four [and] twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.” (Rev. 5:8) and “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer [it] with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, [which came] with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.” (Rev. 8:3-4).If we aren’t permitted to direct our prayers to them, where do they get our prayers? We know “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16). Those saints in heaven have already been made perfect (Heb.11:40, 12:23).
On earth the saints continue to sin: “For a just [man] falleth seven times” (Proverbs 24:16). Sin affects the effectiveness of our prayers:“If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear [me]” (Psalm 66:18)and “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3:22). We seek prayer partners in the presence of God who have ceased from all sin, along with prayer partners on earth. Paul tells us: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset [us], and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2). When we are looking to Jesus and have our eyes on Jesus we are surrounded by these saints in heaven.
Furthermore, the Bible clearly commands us to follow the teachings passed down to us in word, in letter and by mouth ( 2 Thessalonians 2:15).It also says that all of the things that Jesus said and did could not be written down or they would fill the earth ( John 21:25 ). The Church fathers of the first and second centuries, those that physically walked with Christ taught us of the intercession of the saints. Thus, Biblically speaking, to not accept the teachings of the Church fathers is transgressing the command of Christ and the apostles. Because they did teach the intercession of the saints, I choose to believe them rather than a RECENT (1500’s) Protestant innovation or not.
BIBLICAL AND PATRISTIC EVIDENCE
Book of Tobit (~ 200 – 100 BC)
When thou didst pray with tears… I [Archangel Raphael] offered thy prayer to the Lord.
“[The Shepherd said:] ‘But those who are weak and slothful in prayer, hesitate to ask anything from the Lord; but the Lord is full of compassion, and gives without fail to all who ask him. But you, [Hermas,] having been strengthened by the holy angel [you saw], and having obtained from Him such intercession, and not being slothful, why do not you ask of the Lord understanding, and receive it from him?’” (The Shepherd 3:5:4).
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.
Egyptian Liturgy for the Nativity of Christ (200s)
Beneath thy tenderness of heart we take refuge, O Theotokos, disdain not our supplications in our necessity, but deliver us from perils, O only pure and blessed one.
Clement of Alexandria (+208)
“In this way is he [the true Christian] always pure for prayer. He also prays in the society of angels, as being already of angelic rank, and he is never out of their holy keeping; and though he pray alone, he has the choir of the saints standing with him [in prayer]” (Miscellanies 7:12).
“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” (Prayer 11)
Cyprian of Carthage (+253)
“Let us remember one another in concord and unanimity. Let us on both sides [of death] always pray for one another. Let us relieve burdens and afflictions by mutual love, that if one of us, by the swiftness of divine condescension, shall go hence first, our love may continue in the presence of the Lord, and our prayers for our brethren and sisters not cease in the presence of the Father’s mercy” (Letters 56:5).
“Hail to you forever, Virgin Mother of God, our unceasing joy, for to you do I turn again. You are the beginning of our feast; you are its middle and end; the pearl of great price that belongs to the kingdom; the fat of every victim, the living altar of the Bread of Life [Jesus]. Hail, you treasure of the love of God. Hail, you fount of the Son’s love for man.
. . . You gleamed, sweet gift-bestowing Mother, with the light of the sun; you gleamed with the insupportable fires of a most fervent charity, bringing forth in the end that which was conceived of you . . . making manifest the mystery hidden and unspeakable, the invisible Son of the Father—the Prince of Peace, who in a marvelous manner showed himself as less than all littleness” (Oration on Simeon and Anna 14).
“Therefore, we pray [ask] you, the most excellent among women, who glories in the confidence of your maternal honors, that you would unceasingly keep us in remembrance. O holy Mother of God, remember us, I say, who make our boast in you, and who in august hymns celebrate the memory, which will ever live, and never fade away” (ibid.).
“And you also, O honored and venerable Simeon, you earliest host of our holy religion, and teacher of the resurrection of the faithful do be our patron and advocate with that Savior God, whom you were deemed worthy to receive into your arms. We, together with you, sing our praises to Christ, who has the power of life and death, saying, ‘You are the true Light, proceeding from the true Light; the true God, begotten of the true God’” (ibid.).
Cyril of Jerusalem (+350)
“Then [during the Eucharistic prayer] we make mention also of those who have already fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition . . . ” (Catechetical Lectures 23:9).
Hilary of Poitiers (+365)
“To those who wish to stand [in God’s grace], neither the guardianship of saints nor the defenses of angels are wanting” (Commentary on the Psalms 124:5:6).
Ephraim the Syrian (+370)
“You victorious martyrs who endured torments gladly for the sake of the God and Savior, you who have boldness of speech toward the Lord himself, you 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 so that we may love him” (Commentary on Mark).
“Remember me, you heirs of God, you brethren of Christ; supplicate the Savior earnestly for me, that I may be freed through Christ from him that fights against me day by day” (The Fear at the End of Life)
The Liturgy of St. Basil (A.D. 373)
“By the command of your only-begotten Son, we communicate with the memory of your saints . . . by whose prayers and supplications have mercy upon us all, and deliver us for the sake of your holy name”
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 through Christ from him that fights against me day by day. 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.
Gregory of Nyssa (+380)
“[Ephraim], you who are standing at the divine altar [in heaven] . . . bear us all in remembrance, petitioning for us the remission of sins, and the fruition of an everlasting kingdom” (Sermon on Ephraim the Syrian)
Letter of the Second Ecumenical Council to Emperor St.Theodosius the Great (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.
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.
George Bebis on the Cappadocian Fathers
“In one of his letters, St. Basil (+379) 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 (+395-400)
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 (+390) in his encomium to St. Cyprian. (Gen. 44: 2 and Encomium to Julian, Iuventinus and Maximinus, 3).”
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. 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. 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!
St. Gregory the Theologian, Patriarch of Constantinople; of Nazianzus in Asia Minor (+389-390)
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.
John Chrysostom (+392)
“He that wears the purple [i.e., a royal man] . . . stands begging of the saints to be his patrons with God, and he that wears a diadem begs the tentmaker [Paul] and the fisherman [Peter] as patrons, even though they be dead” (Homilies on Second Corinthians 26).
“When you perceive that God is chastening you, 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 [in God]” (Orations 8:6)
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. These 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. 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.
St. Ambrose of Milan (+397)
May Peter, who wept so efficaciously for himself, weep for us and turn towards us Christ’s benignant countenance.
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”]. 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. “[St. John]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).”
St. Jerome (+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 threescore 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?
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.
This is only a small fraction of the pieces of evidence from the early Church. The list goes on and on… by refusing to accept their instruction and testimony, anyone that denies that the saints intercede, transgresses the commands of the apostles. The weak argument of insisting that the Bible doesn’t say so is easily disproven. Scripture never says that Scripture is the sole infallible authority for God’s Word. Matt. 28:20 – “observe ALL I have commanded,” but, as we see in John 20:30; 21:25, not ALL Jesus taught is in Scripture. So there must be things outside of Scripture that we must observe. Mark 16:15 – Jesus commands the apostles to “preach,” not write, and only three apostles wrote. The others who did not write were not less faithful to Jesus, because Jesus gave them no directive to write. Luke 1:1-4 – Luke acknowledges that the faithful have already received the teachings of Christ, and is writing his Gospel only so that they “realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.” John 20:30; 21:25 – Jesus did many other things not written in the Scriptures. These have been preserved through the oral apostolic tradition and they are equally a part of the Deposit of Faith. Acts 8:30-31; Heb. 5:12 – these verses show that we need help in interpreting the Scriptures. We cannot interpret them infallibly on our own. We need divinely appointed leadership within the Church to teach us. Protestants, however, continue to attempt to interpret the words of the Saviour for themselves, which explains exactly why there are thousands upon thousands of Protestant denominations. As soon as a group disagrees with a teaching of their denomination, they splinter off and form their own denomination over and over until all that is left is a husk of Christianity filled with the very man-made teachings that they insist that they stand against.