Posted by: Shawn Ragan | June 25, 2008

Evening Prayers, part 2, The Saints

“Saint Elisabeth, please pray for my daddy.”

St Elisabeth, Mother of the Forerunner, John the Baptist

Part of our evening prayers includes something that can be a challenge for someone from an Evangelical Protestant background, and that is the inclusion of the Saints in the life of prayer.

As I have mentioned before, this has come very naturally to my children…they have understood these things much easier than I have.  Last night was an example of that.

Towards the end of our prayers, we each take a moment to ask for prayer from one or two Saints.  Since we have not yet entered into the Orthodox Church, who our particular Saint is remains undecided.  That answer will be a result of prayer, both on our parts, and on the part of our spiritual father.  Some of the things we have already done is to look at the Saints we have had a particular attraction to, for some reason or another, as well as what Saints are commemorated on our birthday, and if we already share a name with a Saint.

For example, my middle son was immediately attracted to St. George, as I have previously mentioned.  He also has been praying about and looking to the Righteous Caleb, one of the Twelve Spies in the land of Canaan.  On a side note, Caleb wants to be an icon writer, and has probably gone through 100 pieces of paper, drawing St. Caleb, St. George, and a myriad of other Biblical scenes, most notably the crucifixion of our Lord.  Caleb has had an affinity towards both St. George and St. Caleb (George from the icon he saw on his first visit to the Church and all of his subsequent reading, Caleb is his birth name, so he has also looked at him).

Brendan has looked at St. Maximos (celebrated January 13th), and St. Brendan the Navigator.  Elisabeth was named with the mother of the Forerunner, St. John the Baptist, in mind (even the spelling came from the KJV spelling of Elisabeth in St. Luke’s Gospel).

My wife has always liked the sayings of St. Anthony the Great.  Interestingly, her name is Victoria (Tori for short), and on her birthday, St. Victor of Marseilles is commemorated.

Most of us have been looking at more than one saint, though I think we will tend to be drawn to one or the other for some reason.  I have been drawn to St. John of Kronstadt, a Russian pastor and priest in the 19th century.

“Oh Holy Father John, please pray unto God for the salvation of my soul.”

So, why are we praying to and with the Saints?

For a really good perspective on this, better than anything I could explain, read this post by Fr. Stephen Freeman, “Why the Intercession of the Saints is a Dogma”

Fr. Stephen Freeman outlines a number of good things, and some of what I will comment about he will explain much better.  What I am saying is, read his blog entry.

The Saints first came on my radar the first time I stepped into an Orthodox Church – there are numerous icons on the walls showing these holy men.  I think I have mentioned this before, but it suddenly occurred to me I was standing in the middle of – living – Hebrews 11.  We were surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses.  These are great men and women of faith – who have fought the good fight – all of whom have died for their faith (St. Isaac of Syria reminds us that to die for your faith you do not have to be physically killed, but those who like St. Paul that can truly confess “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” are martyrs – witnesses – of the faith).

We do not walk the Christian path alone.  I think it is a sad element of our culture that tells us we do.  We strive to be totally independent, separated from one another.  I think this is clearly a deception of Satan.  We do not walk alone, nor is it “just Jesus and me.”  We live in communion with one another.  As human beings, we are a part of one another – both those who have come before us and those who will come after.

This way of thinking is clear throughout the Bible, and was an absolute part of Jewish culture and society.  In Orthodoxy, we do not just see the breadth of that communion, looking to those who now live, but the depth of that communion, seeing all who are part of this Christian Faith.  This simple fact struck me one time when I was praying the “Our Father” (aka “Lord’s Prayer”).  Notice, this prayer begins, in English, “Our…”  Nowhere in the prayer is it “my.”  When I say this prayer, given by our Lord, even when I am alone in my room, I do not pray it alone.  I pray it with millions of other Christian who are praying it with me on that day.  Bit it does not end their.  I am praying it with millions of Christians who have prayed this prayer over 2000 years.  I am praying it with Fr. Patrick in California, and I am praying it with St. John in Russia, and I am even praying it with St. Peter and St. Paul (who are commemorated this Sunday).

I ask people here to pray for me.  When people ask me, I earnestly try to remember to pray for them.  This is that communal nature and life of the Church.  We are encouraged in Scripture to pray for one another.  This is an act of love and communion.  Death does not separate us from this love…and Christianity is a faith where Life has triumphed over death.  So the Church has always known that it is meet and right to turn to our holy fathers of our Faith…to those who have successfully trodden this path before us…and to ask for help in this path – to ask for their prayers and support.  This is one of the things they do.  This “great cloud of witnesses” encourages us in our faith and in our struggles.

None of this takes us away from God.  The whole of the lives of these people pointed to Christ.  Even to look at their life is to see Christ and Him crucified.  And we all know, that if I ask you for your prayers, that does not take me away from God, but I would say, even brings us closer together.

Prayer is communion and love.  To be a Christian, is to live in this life of communion and love.

As I said, my children see this easier than I do.  Both Monday night, and tonight, as my daughter asked St. Elisabeth to intercede for her, she also threw in an addendum.

“St. Elisabeth, would you please pray for my daddy too”

That was love.

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Responses

  1. Interesting information from a woman from an evangelical protestant background. I am looking into converting to Orthodoxy and I have a few questions that go against my background. I have a hard time as well with honoring the power Orthodox Christians give to Mary. Any words of wisdom?

    Beth

  2. Christ is Risen!

    Beth,

    I know what you mean. I kept asking our priest literally for 6 months about Mary. None of his answers sufficiently answered my question. As Protestants, we are often raised with a kind of Romaphobia, and anything that sounds Roman Catholic can be very hard to overcome – especially the veneration given to Mary.

    Intellectually I could understand much, the writings of some of the Saints and Fathers of the Church helped (where Mary is compared to Eve). I heard one thing that was helpful, that the Roman Catholics tend to see it from the perspective that we need to go through Mary to get to God, but the Orthodox would say that God chose to go through Mary to get to us. That changes things. There are a lot of little questions dealing with Mary I kept asking, and I could intellectually understand most of the answers, but it did not change the fact that I was still having problems.

    Finally, Fr. Mark told me that families have traditions, and that from the outside it can be difficult to understand the meaning or significance of the tradition, but inside the family it was not only known, but valued. This was where we left it. What he said was true, but I was still on the outside, so I still was not getting it.

    Two things changed this, and they both happened within a week or two of each other. During Great Lent of last year, I was trying to pray some of the Spiritual Psalms of St. Ephraim (the same St. Ephraim whose prayer we say all during Great Lent). One of those psalms was about Mary (several are, but the one I was doing that day in particular was). While I was there praying this psalm, I don’t know how to say it – I just got it. Not totally, not completely, but a pinprick through the veil where just a little light crept in. A week or two later we were in Twin Falls for a Men’s Lenten Retreat. While there, I went up to venerate the icons, and I was stopped at the icon of the Theotokos that was there. Again, I cannot explain it. Something just hit me, and again, I began to understand. I spent as much time as I could around that icon that weekend, and it was something that struck me very deep in my soul.

    Those experiences, not the intellectual reasons, are what opened the door for me in understanding Mary. Occasionally I am still struck by the wording in a prayer or something, but I no longer have any problems with Mary. The Theotokos has been a blessing in our journey to Orthodoxy, and now I cannot understand how people cannot embrace the Mother of our Lord and call her blessed.

    So I do not have any magic answer for you. I heard a story where an inquirer or catechumen told a priest they were struggling with Mary, and he replied by giving them an icon of Mary and telling them to take it home and pray in front of the icon over the weekend, and then come back and talk. This lady did, and on Monday she came back and said: “Father, I don’t have a problem with Mary anymore.” That is the best advice I know. Step in to the life of the Church in this regard, and I have faith you will come to understand it.

    Have a blessed Paschal season!

    In ICXC,

    Shawn Ragan


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