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Question 307

Please may I ask why we pray to a saint to help us and not to Christ? Can someone point me in the biblical direction please? Thank you, I am genuinely interested.   


Answer to Question 307


The Church beseeches the saints in prayer and encourages her members to seek their assistance. This has been misunderstood by non-Orthodox people especially Protestants who would even go as far as to call it blasphemous. So why do we pray to the saints? 


When we are in need it is natural to ask our friends and family to pray for us. We do not see this as something offensive or blasphemous. We hope that through the prayer of many God will speedily hear our request and come to our aid. Praying for one another is an act of love and it is our duty as Christians to pray for each other. The Church is a family of brothers and sister all with the same Father in heaven. When someone passes over to the other side he does not stop being a member of this great family. All our faith and hope is that there is life beyond the grave. As Orthodox Christians we believe that with his death on the Cross Christ overcame death. There is only the temporary death of the body but the person still lives on in the world of spirits. “God is the God of the living, and not the dead”. How then more natural can it be for us to seek the prayers of our fellow brothers and sisters who not only have passed over to the spirit world but have through their way of life found favour with God and find themselves bathed in his glory. Is it not more natural and logical to put our trust in their prayers than our fellow Christians who are still living in this world?


Asking for their intercessions does not mean that we worship them. Yes, we give them honour and respect because of their oneness with God and because they have made themselves God’s friends. When we pray to a saint, we do not ask him to save us directly as though he was God, but we beseech him as our fellow man and as our brother and fellow member of Christ’s Church to intercede to God on our behalf. Of course our prayer to the saints is always accompanied by a great reverence because they have been shown by God as great men who have overcome the passions of this world and for this he has rewarded them with glorification. We are struck with awe and admiration of their exploits and clearly recognize the grace of God in their struggles and martyrdom. But this is nothing unusual for we do something similar to honour great men in other fields. Men have always honoured others who have performed great deeds, such as a brave General, a soldier who is singled out for his heroic deeds, or a wise statesman. If we honour such people who are still in this life with medals and ceremonies, how much more should we honour the saints who have battled with demons and whose deeds far surpass the deeds of ordinary men. By honouring the saints we are recognizing that we see in them the light of Christ and rejoice because we are reassured of the resurrection. We know that prayer to the Saints is pleasing to God, because of the witness of the Scriptures and the abundant experience of the Church. God has revealed to the world that he himself has honoured them through the many miracles they perform when they are beseeched to act as mediators. Through these miracles we are assured that such prayers to the saints are pleasing to God, and because we recognize the great grace that God has bestowed upon His Saints, we have great confidence when we ask their intercessions.


The word Prayer means to ask, but it is also a form of communication. When we pray to God we are at the same time communicating with him. As a form of communication we are obliged to have a active spiritual union with the heavenly inhabitants, with all the saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs, prelates, venerable and righteous men, as they are all members of one single body, the Church of Christ, to which we sinners also belong, and the living Head of which is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This is why we call upon them in prayer, converse with them, thank and praise them. It is urgently necessary for all Christians to be in union with them, if they desire to make Christian progress; for the saints are our friends, our guides to salvation, who pray and intercede for us. (St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ)


There is a general perception that praying to the saints is like “second best” so why don’t I go for the best and pray directly to God. Of course God hears our prayers but it is also a little arrogant and self righteous on our part to assume that he will respond to our request. Why should he, want have we done to merit such attention, do we live such holy lives that we are so full of confidence that as soon as we ask for God’s help he will send his angels to our aid? Scripture clearly says that “God heareth not sinners” (John 9:31) and that “God is far from the ungodly: but He hearkens unto the prayers of the righteous. (Prov. 15:29) 


Is it not then better to use every means at our disposal in the hope that God will not only hear our prayer but also respond? If he hears the prayers of the righteous then that is a safe and sure route for our petitions. Let us not forget that God has glorified his saints and he wants us to recognize them as people full of his own glory. He has given them to us as protectors and helpers in times of trouble. By honouring the saints we do not forget or abandon God, but rather we honour, thank and glorify God for his great grace that he bestows upon man. We glorify him who glorified the saints.