Protestants often have a difficult time coming to
terms with prayer to the saints. It is condemned as
a christianized paganism, an example of the
corruption of Christianity after the conversion of
the Roman Empire under Constantine in 313 AD.
This issue falls under two broad headings: the
saints’ intercession for the Church Militant and the
Church Militant’s invocation of the saints.
Most Protestants would accept the fact that we are
prayed for by the departed saints and the angels in
heaven (intercession by the saints), just as our
family, friends, and clergy here on earth pray us
The difficulty lies with our asking (praying,
literally “to make earnest petition to or entreaty
for”) the departed saints and the angels for their
prayers (invocation of the saints). How do we know
they can hear us? Some, High Church Anglicans, would
accept intercession and invocation, but not the
Roman “excesses” of this practice. The 1917 [Roman]
Catholic Encyclopedia expresses succinctly the
position of the various traditional Protestant
…the High Church Anglicans contend that it is not
the invocation of saints that is here rejected, but
only the "Romish doctrine ", i. e. the excesses
prevailing at the time and afterwards condemned by
the Council of Trent. "In principle there is no
question herein between us and any other portion of
the Catholic Church. . . . Let not that most ancient
custom, common to the Universal Church, as well
Greek as Latin, of addressing Angels and Saints in
the way we have said, be condemned as impious, or as
vain and foolish" [Forbes, Bishop of Brechin
(Anglican), "Of the Thirty-nine Articles", p. 422].
The reformed Churches, as a body, reject the
invocation of the saints. Article xxi of the
Augsburg Confession says: "Scripture does not teach
us to invoke the Saints, or to ask for help from the
Saints; for it puts before us Christ as the one
mediator, propitiatory, high-priest and
intercessor." In the "Apology of the Augsburg
Confession" (ad art. xxi, sects. 3, 4), it is
admitted that the angels pray for us, and the
saints, too, "for the Church in general"; but this
does not imply that they are to be invoked.
The Calvinists, however, reject both intercession
and invocation as an imposture and delusion of
Satan, since thereby the right manner of praying is
prevented, and the saints know nothing of us, and
have no concern as to what passes on earth ("Gall.
Confess.", art. xxiv; "Remonst. Conf." c. xvi, sect.
It was my contention as an inquirer into Orthodox
Christianity—which accepts both the intercession and
invocation of the saints—that if I was willing to
accept the testimony of the Fathers of the Church
when it came to such abstruse dogmas as that of the
Trinity (three hypostases, one ousia) and
Christology (two ousia, one hypostasis; Mary as
Theotokos and not Christokos; dyoenergism and
dyotheletism over monoenergism and monotheletism) as
well as the final canon of the New Testament
Scriptures, then I must also accept their testimony
concerning the intercession and invocation of the
saints (and on other matters of daily piety and
practice, in the main if not each detail.)
That is, if they had ever said anything about it, if
it even existed in their day.
I vaguely assumed that this ‘pagan practice’ must
have developed later, or outside of the truly
Christian spheres in which these basic dogmas of our
faith were formulated.
However, as I read further into Church History and
the history of Christian doctrine
and the surviving works of these Fathers, these
great defenders of the grand doctrines of
traditional Christianity held to and practiced many
decidedly contrary to “the Bible”.
How could I gauge the worth and reliability of these
Fathers? How could their greatness, their
contributions to the true Faith, be retained while
covering their nakedness?
How could we learn from them without making their
mistakes? Could the Fathers even be counted as
…At what point do these fallen men cease being
quotable and citable and become unreliable and
heretical? Can we hold the Fathers in high esteem as
reliable ‘recognizers’ of the true Faith? Or, are we
just using them as window-dressing for perfunctory,
imposing and academic sounding dogmatics? Do we flee
‘cafeteria Christianity’ by way of ‘cafeteria
patristics’ and ‘cafeteria history’?
Important, paradigmatic comments (for me, as a
traditional, confessional Lutheran) were made by
Martin Chemnitz in his Examination of the Council of
1. There is a very great difference between the
primitive church, which was at the time of the
2. and of apostolic men testifying with regard to
the books of the Holy Scripture,
3. and the papal church, which is foisting its
fictions as apostolic traditions on us without
This comment by Chemnitz places the Fathers in time
and defines when the Fathers were still trustworthy,
“apostolic” men: that is, when the church testified
“with regard to the books of the Holy Scripture.”
Chemnitz here and elsewhere
in his Examination refers to the greater
trustworthiness of these men whose more ancient and
clear-sighted understanding of the truly Apostolic
Faith allowed them to testify to (witness to) truly
Apostolic traditions such as the inspired canon of
Holy Scripture. These “apostolic men” had greater
authority than the institutional Roman Catholic
Church of Luther and Chemnitz’s day with its
innovative (pejorative) ‘traditions of men’
– quite similar, actually, to the Orthodox allergy
I had unreflectively assumed that this church of
“apostolic men” was limited to either the Apostolic
Church of the 1st Century, the generation
immediately following the Apostles or perhaps to the
Ante-Nicene Church prior to Constantine (à la Dan
Brown's The DaVinci Code).
Chemnitz notes that after the self-authentication of
Scripture’s inspiration by the Holy Spirit and the
‘sure and special testimonies’ of the Scriptural
…has its authority from the primitive church as from
a witness at whose time these writings were
published and approved. This witness of the
primitive Church concerning the divinely inspired
writings was later transmitted to posterity by a
perpetual succession from hand to hand and
diligently preserved in reliable histories of
antiquity in order that the subsequent church might
be the custodian of the witness of the primitive
church concerning the Scripture.
The Lutheran definition of the reliability of the
“primitive church” put forward by Chemnitz was that
its witness was trustworthy at the time of the
recognition of the inspired canon of Holy Scripture.
The Christian canon of Holy Scripture, i.e., the 27
Books of the New Testament, “were decreed by the
Synod of Laodicea in 381, and later officially
[i.e., universally] ratified by the Sixth Ecumenical
Synod of the Church in 680” 
– the Council that anathematized Monotheletism.
By 680 AD  we
already see all sort of other quite un-Lutheran and
‘un-biblical’ teachings and practices such as the
invocation of the saints, the veneration of relics,
‘Early’ and ‘late’ are in the eye of the beholder;
how we define ‘early’ and ‘late’ has (or should
have, if we are to be consistent) a significant
effect on whether and how we hold to the orthodox,
catholic doctrines of the Trinity and the Person of
Christ. That is, again, if we are willing to accept
the testimony of the Fathers of the Church when it
came to such abstruse dogmas as that of the Trinity
(three hypostases, one ousia) and Christology (two
ousia, one hypostasis; Mary as Theotokos and not
Christokos; Dyoenergism and Dyotheletism over
Monoenergism and Monotheletism) as well as the final
canon of the New Testament Scriptures, then we must
also accept their testimony concerning matters of
daily piety and practice (e.g., invocation of the
saints) up to at least 680 AD!
In this post I have compiled a less then exhaustive
digest of patristic and scriptural citations
concerning our invocation of the departed saints of
God through only the fifth century.
I hate to admit it, but I actually didn’t do this
research before I became Orthodox. I assumed there
was no written testimony to be had until many
centuries after the Church came out of the catacombs
in 313-14. My own understanding of the invocation of
the saints came from praying to them, from praying
my way into an understanding that the saints can and
do hear us.
I was shocked to find that there was, in fact,
comparatively early patristic testimony in support
of “prayer to the saints”. And this testimony came
not from some random, half-pagan “saint” from the
backwaters of Mesopotamia or the Pentapolis (or
Ireland, Frigia, Scythia, etc) but from the
defenders and promoters of the Nicene Creed: the
Fathers that had suffered, struggled, and died for
the doctrine of the Trinity, and the full divinity
of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, those who described
this relationship in language too rarified for me to
fully comprehend to this day. Most Protestants,
Catholics, and Orthodox Christians still hold these
doctrines in common—in the face of all that we
disagree on. The witness, therefore, of these
Christian giants must be taken as more than simply
“the doctrine of men”. They prayed to the saints
without considering them to be demi-gods; they asked
the prayers of those who to whom the Psalmist and
Christ said, “Ye are gods.”
Could the Church Which Christ promised would
withstand the “Gates of Hades” really have
apostatized within a generation of its freedom
across the breadth of the entire ancient world?
All ye saints, pray to God for us!
Patristic and Scriptural Testimony
Book of Tobit (~ 200 – 100 BC)
When thou didst pray with tears… I [Archangel
Raphael] offered thy prayer to the Lord.
St. John the Evangelist (+101)
And another angel came, and stood before the altar,
having a golden censer; and there was given to him
much incense, that he should offer of the prayers of
all saints upon the golden altar, which is before
the throne of God. And the smoke of the incense of
the prayers of the saints ascended up before God
from the hand of the angel.
Egyptian Liturgy for the Nativity of Christ
This sung prayer was included in the 3rd-century,
Orthodox, Coptic (Egyptian) Liturgy for the Nativity
Beneath thy tenderness of heart
we take refuge, O Theotokos,
disdain not our supplications in our necessity,
but deliver us from perils,
O only pure and blessed one.
St. Ephraim the Syrian (+373)
Remember me, ye heirs of God, ye brethren of Christ,
supplicate the Saviour earnestly for me, that I may
be freed though Christ from him that fights against
me day by day.
Ye victorious martyrs who endured torments gladly
for the sake of the God and Saviour; ye who have
boldness of speech towards the Lord Himself; ye
saints, intercede for us who are timid and sinful
men, full of sloth, that the grace of Christ may
come upon us, and enlighten the hearts of all of us
that so we may love him.
Letter of the Second Ecumenical Council to
Emperor St. Theodosius the Great (Constantinople,
May God by the prayers of the Saints, show favour to
the world, that you may be strong and eminent in all
good things as an Emperor most truly pious and
beloved of God.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (+386)
We then commemorate also those who have fallen
asleep before us, first, patriarchs, prophets,
apostles, martyrs, that God, by their prayers and
intercessions, may receive our petitions.
George Bebis on the Cappadocian Fathers
“In one of his letters, St. Basil (+379) explicitly
writes that he accepts the intercession of the
apostles, prophets and martyrs, and he seeks their
prayers to God. (Letter 360) Then, speaking about
the Forty Martyrs, who suffered martyrdom for
Christ, he emphasizes that they are common friends
of the human race, strong ambassadors and
collaborators in fervent prayers. (Chapter 8)
“St. Gregory of Nyssa (+395-400) asks St. Theodore
the Martyr …to fervently pray to our Common King,
our God, for the country and the people (Encomium to
“The same language is used by St. Gregory the
Theologian (+390) in his encomium to St. Cyprian.
(Gen. 44: 2 and Encomium to Julian, Iuventinus and
St. Basil the Great, of Caesarea in Asia Minor
According to the blameless faith of the Christians
which we have obtained from God, I confess and agree
that I believe in one God the Father Almighty; God
the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost; I adore
and worship one God, the Three. I confess to the
oeconomy of the Son in the flesh, and that the holy
Mary, who gave birth to Him according to the flesh,
was Mother of God. I acknowledge also the holy
apostles, prophets, and martyrs; and I invoke them
to supplication to God, that through them, that is,
through their mediation, the merciful God may be
propitious to me, and that a ransom may be made and
given me for my sins. Wherefore also I honour and
kiss the features of their images, inasmuch as they
have been handed down from the holy apostles, and
are not forbidden, but are in all our churches.
We beseech you, O most holy martyrs, who cheerfully
suffered torments and death for his love, and are
now more familiarly united to him, that you
intercede with God for us slothful and wretched
sinners, that he bestow on us the grace of Christ,
by which we may be enlightened and enabled to love
O holy choir! O sacred band! O unbroken host of
warriors! O common guardians of the human race! Ye
gracious sharers of our cares! Ye co-operators in
our prayer! Most powerful intercessors!
St. Gregory the Theologian, Patriarch of
Constantinople; of Nazianzus in Asia Minor
Mayest thou [Cyprian] look down from above
propitiously upon us, and guide our word and life;
and shepherd [or shepherd with me] this sacred flock
. . . gladdening us with a more perfect and clear
illumination of the Holy Trinity, before Which thou
like manner does Gregory pray to St. Athanasius (Orat.
xxi, "In laud. S. Athan.", P.G., XXXV, 1128).]
“...we should here bear in mind Bellarmine's
remarks: "When we say that nothing should be asked
of the saints but their prayer for us, the question
is not about the words, but the sense of the words.
For as far as the words go, it is lawful to say:
'St. Peter, pity me, save me, open for me the gate
of heaven'; also, 'Give me health of body, patience,
fortitude', etc., provided that we mean 'save and
pity me by praying for me'; 'grant me this or that
by thy prayers and merits.' For so speaks Gregory of
Nazianzus (Orat. xviii — according to others, xxiv —
"De S. Cypriano" in P. G., XXXV, 1193; "Orat. de S.
Athan.: In Laud. S. Athanas.", Orat. xxi, in P. G.,
XXXV, 1128); in "De Sanct. Beatif.", I, 17. … In
like manner does Gregory pray to St. Athanasius (Orat.
xxi, "In laud. S. Athan.", P. G., XXXV, 1128).”
St. Gregory of Nyssa in Lower Armenia (+395-400)
...I wish to commemorate one person who spoke of
their noble testimony because I am close to Ibora,
the village and resting place of these forty
martyrs' remains. Here the Romans keep a register of
soldiers, one of whom was a guard ordered by his
commander to protect against invasions, a practice
common to soldiers in such remote areas. This man
suffered from an injured foot which was later
amputated. Being in the martyrs' resting place, he
earnestly beseeched God and the intercession of the
saints. One night there appeared a man of venerable
appearance in the company of others who said, "Oh
soldier, do you want to be healed [J.167] of your
infirmity? Give me your foot that I may touch it."
When he awoke from the dream, his foot was
completely healed. Once he awoke from this vision,
his foot was restored to health. He roused the other
sleeping men because he was immediately cured and
made whole. This men then began to proclaim the
miracle performed by the martyrs and acknowledged
the kindness bestowed by these fellow soldiers…. We
who freely and boldly enter paradise are
strengthened by the [martyrs'] intercession through
a noble confession in our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom
be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Do thou, [St. Ephraim the Syrian] that art standing
at the Divine altar, and art ministering with angels
to the life-giving and most Holy Trinity, bear us
all in remembrance, petitioning for us the remission
of sins, and the fruition of an everlasting
St. Ambrose of Milan (+397)
May Peter, who wept so efficaciously for himself,
weep for us and turn towards us Christ's benignant
St. John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople;
b. Antioch, Syria (+407)
When thou perceivest that God is chastening thee,
fly not to His enemies . . . but to His friends, the
martyrs, the saints, and those who were pleasing to
Him, and who have great power [parresian, "boldness
He that wears the purple, laying aside his pomp,
stands begging of the saints to be his patrons with
God; and he that wears the diadem begs the
Tent-maker and the Fisherman as patrons, even though
they be dead.
“[St. John] says that we should seek the
intercession and the fervent prayers of the saints,
because they have special "boldness" (parresia),
before God. (Gen. 44: 2 and Encomium to Julian,
Iuventinus and Maximinus, 3).”
St. Jerome (+419)
If the Apostles and Martyrs, while still in the
body, can pray for others, at a time when they must
still be anxious for themselves, how much more after
their crowns, victories, and triumphs are won! One
man, Moses, obtains from God pardon for six hundred
thousand men in arms; and Stephen, the imitator of
the Lord, and the first martyr in Christ, begs
forgiveness for his persecutors; and shall their
power be less after having begun to be with Christ?
The Apostle Paul declares that two hundred three
score and sixteen souls, sailing with him, were
freely given him; and, after he is dissolved and has
begun to be with Christ, shall he close his lips,
and not be able to utter a word in behalf of those
who throughout the whole world believed at his
preaching of the Gospel? And shall the living dog
Vigilantius be better than that dead lion?
St. Augustine of Hippo, in North Africa (+430)
At the Lord's table we do not commemorate martyrs in
the same way that we do others who rest in peace so
as to pray for them, but rather that they may pray
for us that we may follow in their footsteps.
 The LCMS
Lutheran internet radio show Issues, Etc. aired a
segment on the Roman Catholic and Orthodox practice
of "Invocation of the Saints" recently (4/22/10); I
have been asked to re-post “On
the Intercession and Invocation of the Saints”
in response. It is presented here with additional
material from “Solum
Corpus Christi: The Authority of Scripture in the
Orthodox Church, for Lutherans”, parts 6 – 8 of
which were delivered on September 10, 2007 at
Faith of Our Fathers: A Colloquium on Orthodoxy for
Lutherans sponsored by St. Andrew House – Center
for Orthodox Christian Studies, Detroit, MI.
 Catholic Encyclopedia, 1917.
 E.g., Pelikan, Jaroslav. The
Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of
Doctrine, vols. 1-5: The Emergence of the Catholic
Tradition (100-600); The Spirit of Eastern
Christendom (600-1700); The Growth of Medieval
Theology (600-1300); Reformation of Church and Dogma
(1300-1700); and Christian Doctrine and Modern
Culture (since 1700). (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1975-91).
 Genesis 9.
 Chemnitz, Examination of the
Council of Trent, p. 228. (formatting mine)
 Cf. “…we confess that we are
greatly confirmed by the testimonies of the ancient
church the true and sound understanding of the
Scripture. Nor do we approve of it if someone
invents for himself a meaning which conflicts with
all antiquity, and for which there are clearly no
testimonies of the church” (Ibid., p. 208-9); and,
“There is therefore a great difference between (1)
the witness of the primitive church which was at the
time of the apostles and (2) the witness of the
church which followed immediately after the time of
the apostles and which had received the witness of
the first church and (3) the witness of the present
[Roman Catholic] church concerning Scripture. For if
the church both that which is now and that which was
before, can show the witness of those who received
and knew the witness of the first church concerning
the genuine writings, we believe her as we do one
who proves his statements. But she has no power to
establish or to decide anything concerning the
sacred writings for which she cannot produce
reliable documents from the testimony of the
primitive church (Ibid., p. 177).
 Mark 7:8.
 Chemnitz, Examination, p.
176-177. (italics mine)
 Mastrantonis, George. A New
Style Catechism on the Eastern Orthodox Faith for
Adults (St. Louis, MO: The OLOGOS Mission, 1969), p.
30. See Canon 2 of St. Athanasius and Canon 85 of
 Ibid., p. 30. St. Athanasius
of Alexandria in the 39th Festal Letter (367 AD) and
the Synod of Laodicea in Phrygia in 381 had only
locally decreed on the list of canonical books.
 St. John 10:34.
 Tobit xii, 12
 Apoc., viii, 3, 4
 "De Timore Anim.", in fin..
 "Encom. in Mart.".
 "Cat. Myst.", v, n. 9 in P.
G., XXXIII, 1166.
 Bebis, George. “The Saints
of the Orthodox Church” (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese
of America, http://www.goarch.org/en/resources/saints/).
 Letter 360, “Of the Holy
Trinity, the Incarnation, the invocation of Saints,
and their Images”.
 “Homily on the Forty Soldier
Martyrs of Sebaste”, quoting St. Ephrem the Syrian,
“Homil. in SS. Martyres”, Op. Gr. and Lat. ed. Vat.
an. 1743, t. 2, p. 341.
 "Hom. in XL Mart.", P. G.,
 Orat. xvii — according to
others, xxiv — "De S. Cypr.", P. G., XXXV, 1193.
 Catholic Encyclopedia, 1917.
 “Second Letter Concerning
the Forty Martyrs”.
 "De vita Ephraemi", in fin.,
P. G., XLVI, 850.
 "Hexaem.", V, xxv, n. 90, in
P. L., XIV, 242.
 Orat. VIII, "Adv. Jud.", n.
6, in P. G., XLVIII, 937.
 "Hom. xxvi, in II Ep. ad Cor.",
n. 5, in P. G., LXI, 581.
 Bebis, “The Saints of the
 "Contra Vigilant.", n. 6, in
P. L., XXIII, 344.
 "In Joann.", tr. lxxxiv, in
P. L., XXXIV, 1847.