The Orthodox Church's teachings about the prayers of Saints are part of the original Christian Faith. Many of these teachings can be found in the Holy Scriptures themselves.
As faithful Christians, believing the Scriptures to be reliable and true, we ask both saints and angels to pray for us.
There are a number of biblical passages which suggest the following:
- Some of God’s people, both on earth and in heaven, have the ability to see and hear things which happen far away.
- Based on this knowledge acquired from far-seeing and far-hearing, the inhabitants of heaven pray about such things.
- These statements apply to those who have previously died (saints), and also to those who have never died (Enoch, Elijah, and the angels).
Each of the following passages demonstrate one or more of these points.
Far-Seeing and Far-Hearing
While still living on earth, God’s prophets sometimes receive the ability to see and hear things that occur a long distance away. For example (4 Kingdoms / 2 Kings 5:20–27):
Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, said, “Look, my master spared Naaman, this Aramean, by not taking from his hand what he brought. As the Lord lives, surely I will run after him and take something from him.” Gehazi pursued after Naaman, and Naaman saw him running after him. He turned from the chariot to meet him. He said, “Peace. My master sent me, saying, ‘Look, two youths from the mountains of Ephraim, from the sons of the prophets, have come to me. Give to them a talent of silver and two changes of clothes.’” Naaman said, “Take two talents of silver. Take them in two bags and two changes of clothes.” He gave them to two of his servants and took them up before him. They came to the dark, and he took them from their hands and set the items in the house. He discharged the men. He went in and stood by his master. Elisha said to him, “Where were you, Gehazi?” Gehazi said, “Your servant did not go anywhere.” Elisha said to him, “Did not my heart go with you when the man turned from the chariot to meet you? Now will you take the silver, will you take the garments, and olive yards, vineyards, sheep, oxen, male servants, and female servants? The leprosy of Naaman will cling to you and to your seed forever.” He went out from his face, having become leprous like snow.
If God grants such abilities to men who are still living on earth, then it is not surprising that he grants similar abilities to Christians in heaven, so they are able to see events and hear prayers taking place on earth.
Jesus said that every time a person on earth repents, all of heaven both knows about it and rejoices (Luke 15:4–10):
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Think about the practical implications. A fifteen-year-old boy drives his pickup truck to a farmer’s field on the outskirts of town. He walks into the middle of that field, and he is all alone. There is not another human soul around for a mile in any direction. In tears of conviction, he falls to his knees before God, and he pours out his heart in a prayer of repentance. According to Jesus, that boy’s prayer is “broadcast” in heaven, and all the inhabitants of heaven rejoice.
We might wonder how the angels and saints hear the prayers of men on earth? I have no idea how they do it. I also have no idea how the prophet Elisha was able to see and hear what Gehazi was doing, from many miles away. All I know is that scripture says it can be done.
Scripture Teaches Us to Pray to Angels
The New Testament tells us to sing/speak/pray the Psalms (Eph. 5:18; Col. 3:16; James 5:13). If we do this, then one of our prayers will assuredly be Psalm 103. When we pray this Psalm, there is a section where we directly address angels, asking them to act (Psa. 102 / 103:20–21):
Bless the Lord, all his angels,
O strong ones in strength making his word,
to hear the voice of his words.
Bless the Lord, all his powers,
O servants of him who do his will.
If it is acceptable for us to directly address angels, asking them to bless the Lord, then it is also acceptable for us to directly address angels, asking them to pray for us. Just as I might ask my mother or wife to pray for me, I also ask Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, or my own guardian angel.
What do the angels do with our prayers, after they receive them? The same thing my mother and wife do; they turn to God and present prayers directly to him. Revelation observes that various beings in heaven “fell down before the Lamb,” each of them having “golden vials full of incense, which are the prayers of saints” (Rev. 5:8). But they don’t keep our prayers locked up forever; they ultimately offer our prayers directly to the Lord (Rev. 8:4):
[A]nd the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.
Angels sometimes hear our prayers without invoking the power of far-seeing or far-hearing. Sometimes they hear us simply because we are speaking out loud, as they are invisibly “standing” right next to us. For example (4 Kingdoms / 2 Kings 6:15–17):
The servant of Elisha awoke, arose, and went out. Look, an army was surrounding the city, along with horse and chariotry. The servant said to him, “O master, what will we do?” Elisha said, “Do not fear because those who are with us are more numerous than those who are with them.” Elisha prayed and said, “Lord, open the eyes of the servant and let him see.” The Lord opened his eyes, and he looked, and look, the mountain was full of horses and chariotry of fire all around Elisha.
Passages like this seem to suggest that the veil between heaven and earth is very thin indeed. Even today, there is no telling how often you are given the opportunity to “entertain angels” without knowing (Heb. 13:2). And if angels can be close enough for us to “entertain” them, then they can be close enough to hear our prayers.
Per Jesus, the inhabitants of “Abraham’s bosom” (Paradise) are able to speak with the inhabitants of Hades, despite being separated by a great chasm. For example, in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 16:19–31), Abraham converses with the rich man in Hades. Given this, it seems reasonable that the inhabitants of heaven can also see and hear what is happening here on earth.
The Intercession of the Saints in Scripture
Centuries after the prophet Jeremiah’s repose, he continues to pray on behalf of God’s people (2 Macc. 15:12–14):
And the spectacle of this was as follows: Onias, the one who was the high priest, an excellent and good man, modest in his demeanor and meek in his manner, and whose was speech full of grace and who had studied from childhood everything concerning the matters peculiar to virtue, this man stretched forth his hands in order to pray earnestly for the entire community of the Judeans. Then a man appeared in this manner: He excelled in old age and honor, and the dignity about him was a certain wonder and glory. And responding, Onias said, “This is one who loves his kin, Jeremiah, the prophet of God, who prays much for the people and the holy city.”
And after Christians martyrs enter into the joy of the Lord, they continue to know what happens here on earth—and they continually pray to God about the circumstances here (Rev. 6:9–10):
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?”
They knew what was happening; they could see that certain things had not yet taken place. And so they prayed for God to act on behalf of his people.
Saints and Angels are Alive
It’s important to remember that the saints in heaven are not actually “dead.” Rather, they are truly alive in Christ.
In reference to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Jesus says that the Father “is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living” (Matt. 22:32; Mark 12:27). Luke provides additional detail, informing us that “He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him” (Luke 20:38). As we read above, Abraham is alive in paradise, able to have conversations with the rich man (Luke 16:19–31).
Prayer to saints is not “prayer to the dead,” or some form of wicked necromancy. No, it is communication with the living.
The saints and angels are able to see what happens here on earth; they are able to hear what we say and pray; they are alive in the presence of God, and they continually intercede on our behalf.
— Fr. Joseph Gleason
Rostov the Great, Russia
Find out why my family and I moved to Russia . . .
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