Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Saints Hear Our Prayers

Half-remembered thoughts can be dangerous. In reading Cheryl's post on the saints a few days ago, I made a mental note that somewhere I read her ask whether anyone knew of a specific verse proving the saints in Heaven can hear our petitions. Perhaps she had encountered this common objection from her discussion with Lutheran friends, as I had. An LCMS pastor once told me, "We have no way of knowing whether they [the saints] are even aware of what's happening on earth." I wanted to share with her the verse that first caught my attention that the saints in Heaven are not only aware of the cries of the Church Militant but intercede to God based on them:

And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. And when he had opened the fifth seal, 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, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled. (Rev. 6:7-11.)

In re-reading her original post while getting ready to write this, I see she already covered this base, and she wanted to know of a verse where someone specifically called upon the prayers of the saints. The practice, of course, is most ancient, dating from literally the earliest days of the Church. However, we should not be surprised to see this was a later development. During the Old Testament, the saints were held in Sheol; the famous icon of the Resurrection depicts Christ liberating souls from Sheol. The Apostles Creed confesses, "He descended into Hell." (Read an Orthodox commentary on the descent.)

Since the Old Testament saints were not in Heaven, they were asked for no intercession. However, in the New Covenant, the saints are in Heaven, where they may be called upon for intercession, as the Fathers did. The closest reference is Revelation 5:8, which indicates the saints offer our prayers before God's Throne. Since the New Testament was written during the early days of the Church, the Book of Revelation latest of all, the implications of this heavenly reality were not worked out as part of the canon. However, her posts on the subject (referenced here) provide a solid theological basis for the practice, a basis the early Church may or may not have been aware of when they began invoking their righteous departed in the Ante-Nicene era.

Thanks to Cheryl for the thought-provoking posts. I posted the verse that inspired this blog anyway, just in case that LCMS pastor happens to be lurking around here. Now, I'm going to start sleeping a full five hours a night.... :)

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