October 18, 2011

On "praying" to the saints

Thanks to Mike Bird for pointing me to an interaction between Rachel Held Evans (and her readers) and Frederica Mathewes-Green about the latter's writings and her move to the Orthodox Church. I admit that I have always bristled at any mention or allusion to any type of veneration or prayer to saints. And I'm still very cautious about the whole idea, but I was greatly enlightened by her response, which I have excerpted below.

From Karl: I realized after reading Facing East that I'd misunderstood many Orthodox and Catholic practices, such as the use of icons and "praying to" saints and Mary. Can you discuss a couple of common protestant misconceptions on these issues and explain how Orthodox view them? How and why do you think those misconceptions arose? [FMG:] I think much of the misconception about the saints goes back to the word “pray,” which originally meant simply making a request. You could say at dinner, “I pray you, pass the steak sauce.” When we pray to God, we ask him directly what is on our minds; when we pray to saints, we ask them to pray for us. It’s just like when I ask my prayer partners to pray for me. But, with them, I use email or a phone; with the saints, I use prayer. It’s a means of communication. Sometimes people say to me, “I can go directly to Jesus, I don’t need to ask intermediaries,” and I reply, “OK, I won’t pray for you any more, then.” Really, the prayers of the saints are no different from the prayers of our friends on earth. It is “the great cloud of witnesses,” both visible and invisible, all one in Jesus Christ.
I have been slowly growing in my realization of what the communion of saints means, mostly in terms of how I listen to voices from the past and seek to dialogue with and learn from them. But this points in a more active and present dimension that I think has a valid place, if we truly believe in the resurrection. I don't affirm her view without reservation, to be sure, but I found it worth considering.

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