Do the Saints hear our prayers?
by Fr Angelos Drapaniotis
Published by the Greek Orthodox Church and Community of St Anthony, Adelaide, South Australia.
Apart from the Saints who are already mentioned in the Holy Scriptures, the Orthodox Church is aware also of the words, the deeds, the superhuman accomplishments, the struggles, the confession of faith, the suffering, and the miracles during the life and after death of certain Christians. The Church has honoured the remembrance of these holy people as exceptional examples of saintliness, so that we can become acquainted with their lives and be encouraged to imitate them. The life of the Saints is the Gospel (Good News) in practice, and it is possible to live a holy and virtuous life. Thousands of people like us lived on this earth in accordance with the Gospel.
The Orthodox Church honours the Saints just as Christ himself honoured John the Baptist by praising him greatly and raising him higher than the Old Testament prophets and men of his time (c/f. Matt 11:7 14; Luke 7: 24 28). The Church honours the Saints, just as the Apostle Paul mentions men and women of the Old Testament and refers to their achievements and praises them greatly (Heb 11:4 38). This is exactly what our Church accomplishes when it composes "The Lives of the Saints", and hymns of praise (encomiastic hymns) and beseeches them to mediate on our behalf to our heavenly Father.
Protestant Christians (including Evangelists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Adventists) are shocked when they hear about Saints and mediations of the Saints. They want to teach us "the truth", they, who so opposed the indulgences of the Pope that they fled from the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" to break up into thousands of pieces or to be more precise around 2500 heresies.
Many times during the religious radio program "Voice of Orthodoxy" in Adelaide, we receive telephone queries from "born again" Evangelists who say, "Speak only of the word of God and not of the Virgin Mary and the men and women Saints, because the word of God says: Jesus Christ is the mediator". Others have asserted that "is it possible for a dead person hear our prayers? Is it possible for the Virgin Mary to be in Greece and in Australia at the same time, considering that only God is omnipresent".
The Orthodox Church teaches that only the Holy Trinity is "present everywhere and is aware of everything". The Orthodox Church contradict the Word of God when She teaches that the Virgin Mary and all the Saints belonging to the Triumphant Church hear our prayers and mediate for us who are their brothers in the Militant Church on the earth and are striving to "fight the good fight" (2 Tim 4:6). In order to answer these questions, a few basic issues, which are vital for our faith and the salvation of our souls, must be explained in accordance with the Holy Scriptures. In doing so, any misinterpretations and misunderstandings can be avoided, "for the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword" (Heb 4:12).
Points to consider
Every Christian must know that the Holy Scripture does not address itself to dispersed or disassociated individuals, but to Christians who are united in the Body of Christ. Consequently, the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures is the work of people who have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit of God; to guide the Church (Acts 20:28). Therefore, it is not possible for just anyone to interpret the Holy Scriptures according to his or her opinion or understanding. The unique interpreter is the Holy Spirit, Who guides the Church (John 16:13 and 14:26) and establishes Her as "the pillar and the ground of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15). This means that the Church is the pillar and the support of the truth. In keeping distant from the Church, that is distant from the Body of Christ, the truth of the Holy Scripture remains incomprehensible, poorly understood, and open to misinterpretation. Because each person interprets each paragraph or even each word differently, the derived conclusion of one person does not conform to that of another person.
For this reason, Protestants are divided into more than 2500 groups or organisations, and have different ideas and opinions about different parts of the Holy Scriptures. Various conclusions of each one of these organisations differ from the other resulting in different dogmatic teaching, different ways of life, and different forms of leadership and worship.
Naturally each one of these organisations maintains that it exclusively possesses the whole truth. Their "belief", however, are so opposite, that they do not agree even in the slightest, with the true meaning of the Scriptures, which exists only inside the Church. It is not possible then for any person with basic reading skills to interpret them, because grave errors will be committed by such a person that will lead to heresy and ultimately to the loss of their immortal soul.
To protect us from the arbitrary interpretation of the Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit tells us through the Apostle Peter that "... our beloved Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:15-18).
When the Holy Scriptures are separated from the Church, the written word of God remains without a solid foundation. How can we be assured as to the validity of the God-inspired contents of the books of the New Testament, if they were not written by the Disciples Christ? The writers of the Gospels of Luke and Mark, by the way, were not Disciples of Christ. The Church however, which is guided by the Holy Spirit, has included these books into the God inspired texts of the New Testament, and it did so with the presence of the Holy Spirit , Who leads the Church' to the Truth (John 16:13).
Today, without the Church there would be no New Testament and no word of God. This is why whoever denies the Church cannot say, "I have the Word of God". In addition, they can not truthfully say, "I read the Gospel and I have been saved", because the Word of God cannot be restricted to written texts and because the Church is Christ Himself. Furthermore, the life of the Church is the life of Christ Himself, the complete life of Christ and not just a portion (c/f. John 21: 25). Thus, the life of Christ and the whole of His work are taught as a written tradition that is commonly known as the Holy Scriptures, and unwritten tradition that is known as Holy Tradition in the Church.
Whoever denies the "One, Holy, Catholic (Universal) and Apostolic Church", as spoken of in the Nicene Creed, cannot say, "I have the Word of God, which alone will lead me to salvation".
The Gospel is not known as "the Gospel of the Virgin Mary", but as "the Gospel of Jesus Christ" (Mark 1:1), because the writers of the Gospels narrate events of Christ. The Gospels do not document the life and work of people who were actively involved in the 33 year period of the earthly life of Christ, but of "Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor 2: 2), "for He is risen" (Matt 28: 6), and "He was received up into Heaven" (Mark 16: 19).
The Gospels end with the Resurrection and the Ascension of Christ and it is natural and logical, therefore, that no mention about any subsequent activity of the Virgin Mary and the Apostles is made.
Even though the Gospels declare the "Good News" of the coming of Christ the Saviour they do not include the whole life, activity and teachings of Jesus Christ, because "There are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (John 21: 25, 20: 30).
Jesus did not write anything other than the names of the accusers of the adulterous woman in the dust (c/f. John 8:8), however, He entrusted His teaching to His Disciples. In the beginning, at least in the first twenty years, they did not actually write anything. During all this time, they taught verbally to the faithful followers, the Holy Revelation. This verbal teaching of the Apostles was written in the books of the New Testament after approximately twenty years, although not completely, but one part at a time depending on the opportunities or needs as they appeared.
Matthew and John were the only two Disciples of Christ who wrote Gospels. Only eight Apostles wrote in the 27 books of the New Testament, one part of the verbal teaching, while the other they delivered verbally.
The visionary Apostle Paul emphasizes the verbal teaching of the Holy Revelation, by saying, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle" (2 Thess 2: 15).
All of the above have been mentioned here, because many times the truth of the Christian Faith is described very vaguely or obscurely (2 Peter 3:16 17), in the written word of God, which is included in the Holy Scriptures.
The Holy Tradition of the Church, that is, the verbal teaching of the Apostles and written by the Apostolic Fathers (the successors of the Apostles) and the Fathers of the Church in the Ecumenical Councils, are not "commandments and doctrines of men" (Col 2: 22). This is because all of this was written with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, "for it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us" (Acts 15: 28). "However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority. But whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come" (John 16:13).
With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Holy Tradition clarifies, interprets, and supplements the Holy Scriptures. These two sources of our faith cannot be separated; on the contrary, one complements and supports the other.
Protestants do not acknowledge Holy Tradition and for this reason, each teaches and believes differently from the other. Some do not even believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and even so, they still call themselves Christians! Protestants in general do not believe in the basic dogmas of the Christian faith mainly because the Holy Tradition does not exist for them, so that they cannot be restrained from the steep descent they are on.
Let us examine the Holy Scriptures to determine the possibility of the Virgin Mary and the Saints praying and mediating for us, their brothers who are still striving here on the earth.
The love, closeness, "sensitivity" of God for the prayers of the Saints
When we study the Scriptures, we form the specific impression of the love and closeness that exists between God and the Saints, and the sensitivity, one would say, of God towards the opinion and the prayers of His devoted children. We see Abraham for example, negotiating with God the salvation of Sodom and Gomorrah to such an extent, where he was making incessant propositions to God and God was accepting them (Gen 18: 23-33). The same happens with God heeded Moses' request, "Lord, why does Your wrath wax hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?" (Ex 32: 9-14), and God did not punish His people.
It is recorded in the Book of Jeremiah that God would have forgiven the entire city of Jerusalem, if at least one righteous person existed in the city. "If you can find a man, if there be any that executes judgement, that seeks the truth, and I will pardon it" (Jeremiah 5:1).
Genesis (20: 7-17) illustrates God urging Abimelech, who became ill because he kidnapped Sarah, to return her to Abraham, because in the words of God, "For he is a prophet and he shall pray for you, and you will live". Abraham actually prayed to God, "and God healed Abimelech and his wife".
In 1 Samuel (7:8-9), the Children of Israel said to Samuel, "Cease not to cry to the Lord our God for us that He will save us out of the hand of the Philistines". Samuel did in fact pray, and the Lord heard him.
In the Book of Job (42:8-10), God ordered Eliphaz the Temanite and his two friends to bring to Job seven calves and seven rams so that Job could offer a sacrifice on their behalf. "And my servant Job shall pray for you, for him I will accept, lest I deal with you after your folly". Indeed, Job prayed for them and God forgave them. This is a classic example of the intervention of the Saints.
The Saints also pray in Heaven
Does God only heed the prayers of the Holy person who lives on earth?
The Scriptures inform us that the Saints in Heaven also pray for us, their brothers who are fighting "the good fight of faith" (2 Tim 4: 7), and by their intervention, miracles happen. We see that Elisha, even though he received twice as much prophetic power (2 Kings 2:9), was not able to divide the waters of the River Jordan. "And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and hit the waters, and said, where is the Lord of Elijah?" Afterwards, however, he struck the waters again and they parted (2 Kings 2:14). It is curious that the Scriptures of the Protestant Bible Society does not record the Prophet Elisha striking the waters twice in 2 Kings.
Judas Maccabeus had a vision where the high priest Onias, with outstretched arms toward Heaven, was praying for the entire Jewish nation. Afterwards in the same way, there appeared a respectable old man for whom Onias confirms, "This is God's Prophet Jeremiah, who loves his fellow Jews and offers many prayers for us and for Jerusalem, the holy city" (2 Maccabees 15:12-14). Again, this passage does not appear in Protestant Bibles that only include 39 out of the 49 books of the Old Testament. They do not recognize the other ten "Deuterocanonicals" as God inspired. Examples like these are encountered in both the Old and New Testaments.
Examples from the New Testament
St John the Evangelist says, " when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having everyone of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of the Saints" (Rev 5:8). Why should the prayers be contained in vials though? "Just as the contents of the sealed bottles are bound and secure, so too, it is evident that not one prayer is made in vain. "All of them secure, exactly as they were spoken go directly to the throne of God".
St John also sees God "keeping His promise" for revenge of their brothers, where previously, by the sealing of the righteous, the protection of their brothers who are still striving on the earth, is secure (Rev 8:3-5). "With the prayers of the Saints", comes the answer directly from the Altar and the throne of God, so that evil and the instruments of evil can be punished. "And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayer of the Saints, ascended up before God out of the Angel's hand" (Rev 8:3-5).
By using these examples from the Holy Scriptures as a base, without mentioning Holy Tradition, the following obvious conclusions are derived. The Word of God advises us to entreat the Saints to mediate for us as long as they are on the earth, and informs us that these supplications of the Saints are not in conflict, even in the slightest, with the benevolence of God the Father, or with the just reward of Jesus Christ the Saviour, who is the unique mediator between God and men.
Since the souls of the Saints, after death abandoned the earth and are in Heaven, even more so then, must we seek refuge in their prayers, now that they are in the constant and ceaseless presence with the Lord. Furthermore, their protection for us their striving brothers, should be stronger, now that they are glorified and are so close to God. The Word of God, which is a "two-sided sword", teaches that the Saints, our brothers, the members of the Triumphant Church, pray for us who still live on the earth and belong to the Militant Church.
Supernatural introspections of the Saints
The Holy Scriptures repeatedly speak of faithful servants of God, who while still living on earth and by means of supernatural introspection and revelation, knew all that was contained and hidden deep in the minds of other people or with a supernatural revelation, were informed of events that happed in places very distant from where they were. This is how the Apostle Peter knew of the secret agreement between Ananias and Sapphira, which was to lie to the Holy Spirit about the land they sold and the profit they had made (Acts 5:3-11).
Elisha was also supernaturally informed of all that Gehazi took from Naaman (i.e. two talents of silver and two changes of garments; 2 Kings 5: 21). Similarly, he was also informed of the secret war plans of the King of Syria, which he reported to the King of Israel (2 Kings 6:11-12). Another example is that of Jacob who saw an army of God's Angels that met with him (Gen 32:1).
Clear sighted gifts of the Saints
The Holy Scriptures assure us that apart of the supernatural introspections and revelations, the Saints of God were given the gift of clear sightedness. Even though they were still of human flesh, they were not prevented from seeing the invisible and spiritual world. In other words, they came to a direct communication with the heavenly world, "whether in the body or out of the body" (2 Cor 12: 2-4).
Isaiah saw "the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up", and around him stood the six-winged Seraphims, who cried out the triumphant hymn (Isaiah 6:1-3). Ezekiel also speaks of: "seeing visions of the Lord", which forces him to "fall upon his face" (Ezekiel 2:1-8, 10:1).
Another example is when the Apostle Paul was lifted up to Paradise where he heard "unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter" (2 Cor 12:2-4). Another is St John the Evangelist, who "in spirit" and in a way that is for us incomprehensible, was liberated from the obstacles of his earthly body and was able to see before the throne of God the 24 elders and the four beasts. This was when the Lamb had taken the book, "fell down before the Lamb, having everyone of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of the Saints" (Rev 5:8), and continues to have wonderful revelations for things that will happen until the end of the World.
How are the Saints able to hear our prayers?
The Omniscient and Almighty God, Who is present everywhere and knows of everything, is richly equipped of means with which He uncovers in the souls of his Saints, all that is happening in our tangible world, whether it be close or whether it be distant. With the use of our human and limited brain, we have found the means (telephone, wireless, satellites etc) to communicate with the other side of the world and to learn what is happening there, all in a matter of seconds. How then can the Saints, who are spirits, and have no material barriers to prevent them, and who are in direct communication with the Almighty God and the Divine Spirits, the Angels, have incomparable difficulties to learn of things'?
If we were to suppose the opposite that the souls of the Saints who are close to God, do not have the ability to learn of what is happening on earth since they are not present everywhere. This would be like accepting that even though they are close to God, they are in a much worse position than when they were on the earth where with their deteriorating human flesh they perceived supernatural revelations and had the gift of clear sightedness. Is this then not blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?
We do not know by which means the Virgin Mary and the Saints are informed of our prayers. What we do know with absolute certainty from the Word of God is that they pray for us and that their prayers reach God. Furthermore, the Orthodox Church teaches that all who are Christians (in the Militant Church), together with all the Saints (in the Triumphant Church), are joined to the Body of Christ (Eph 5:30). Each one of us, not just because we regard ourselves as Orthodox Christians, constitutes a living cell of the Body of Christ and consequently, one belongs to the other, and can and must express by every means this brotherly bond.
It is because of this tender brotherly bond of the Holy people that the population of an entire city is saved, (Joshua 11: 8-9). However, "charity never fails" (1 Cor 13:8), and it will not cease to exist. This tender bond of brotherly love binds us all, with all the Saints, with the entire Church.
One beautiful scene of the Revelation depicts the close connection of the Saints with the members of the Militant Church. In this scene, St John records, "I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, how long O Lord, holy and true, do You not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given to every one of them; and it was said to them that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled" (Rev 6:9-11). This moving scene shows just how united the Saints are with us, and how much they participate "in our happiness and sorrow" as they mediate for us before the throne of God (also refer to Luke 15: 7).
This close bond of love is evident in the most sacred part of the Divine Liturgy, which says, "Especially for our most Holy Virgin Mary", and "Having commemorated all the Saints, again and again... Let us commend ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our Lord".
"Thus, since all the Saints have been commemorated at the end of the bloodless Sacrifice... in particular the most Holy Virgin Mary... let us entrust ourselves with whole-hearted confidence, let us entrust each other and the whole of our lives to Christ, our true God.