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Ask an Eastern Orthodox Christian: Why do you ask departed saints to pray for you?

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What would you like to know about the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith? Submit your question.

By Nicholas Damascus 

Q: What makes asking someone in heaven to pray for you more effective than asking someone on earth?

I don’t recall any place in the Scriptures that suggests praying to those who have departed makes the prayer more effective. St. Paul asks us to pray for one another; he did not say to pray to those departed in heaven for better results.

Does the location of an individual make their prayer any more effective or relevant? If you were in the same room with a brother or sister and you asked them to pray for you, would the effect of their prayer be any different than if they prayed for you from out of town or another country?  Does position or location make a difference in the effectiveness of a prayer request?

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Body of Christ (the Church) is comprised of both the church militant, those fighting the good fight in the here and now, and the church triumphant, that community of glory in the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) that invisibly surround us in worship and in prayer.

If we are all a part of the Body of Christ, then what difference does it make which part of the body prays for us or where that part of the body is located?

The Church is not geographical but is instead a living, breathing organism, baptized into Christ, united with Him, and by His mercy and grace is one with the faithful everywhere.

St. Paul, when writing to the churches he had visited, calls all the faithful “saints.” The fact that Christians today ask for intercessory prayer of saints is prefigured in the New Testament when Saint Paul addresses the Christian Corinthians, Ephesians, Thessalonians, Colossians and Romans to pray for him (1 Cor 1:2, Eph  6:19, 1 Thess 5:25; Col 4:3, and Rom 15:30-31).

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours. (1 Cor 1:2)

All Christians could be called saints through the work of the Holy Trinity. Asking for prayers of intersession from saints here or in heaven about certain ailments or illnesses has been a common practice in the Eastern Orthodox Church from the very beginning.

A particular saint, either before or after their departure from this world, may have been given special “grace” or “favor” to perform miracles concerning the curing of cancer, blindness, or many other concerns. So if I had cancer, I would not only ask for the intercessory prayers of those here on earth, but also ask of that saint who was associated with miracle cures of cancer.

St. Basil the Great instructs:

But we do not restrict this request simply to what is stated in words. We should not express our prayer merely in syllables, but the power of prayer should be expressed in the moral attitude of our soul and in the virtuous actions that extend throughout our life. This is how you pray continually — not by offering prayer in words, but by joining yourself to God through your whole way of life, so that your life becomes one continuous and uninterrupted prayer.

I leave you with the words of a saint whose prayers out of love for God and his neighbor resulted in physical healings and other miracles while he was here on this earth:

Lord, give me the strength to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely on Your holy will. Reveal Your will to me every hour of the day. Bless my dealings with all people.

Teach me to treat all people who come to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all.

In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unexpected events, let me not forget that all are sent by You. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others.

Give me the physical and mental strength to bear the labors of this day. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray in me… Amen.

— St. Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow.

Nicholas Damascus
Nicholas Damascus
As an infant, I was baptized as an Eastern Orthodox Christian. However, I would say that becoming a Christian is a work in progress, and I often wonder would there be enough evidence to convict me of becoming a Christian. The Orthodox Church is the ancient Church that Christ and the Apostles established. It is not a religion but rather a way of life. It is not about rules and regulations but rather guide posts to make choices to transition to what we were designed to become. Becoming Orthodox is not a conversion but more so a transformation of self. It’s not about being right: it is about “right being.” In John 14:6, Christ says I am the Way (to love and serve one another), the Truth (there is only one reality), and the Life (that life source is love). I invite you to submit any topics or questions to “Ask An Eastern Orthodox Christian” on the website. Join me in finding our way back home to the original teachings of the Church. When you change the way you look at things, things change the way they look.

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