The Consummate Prayer: Reflections on the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great
Friday, April 28
Intercession of Saints
For Saint John the Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist; for the holy, glorious, and most honorable Apostles; for Saint(s) (Name), whose memory we commemorate today; and for all Your saints, through whose supplications, O God, visit us.
(Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 31-32)
Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And He who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Romans 8:26-27
Christ is Risen!
Many people, both inside and outside of the Orthodox Church, question the notion of using the saints as intercessors. The easiest comment to make when confronted with this is to say that most of us have either asked someone to pray for us or had someone ask us to pray for them. The most common occurrence of this is when someone is sick. We ask someone to keep us in their prayers or they ask the same from us. If this has ever happened to you, you’ve experienced intercessory prayer. If we, the people who are currently on this planet, intertwined in our many sins and stresses, can ask one another to pray for us, it stands to reason that we could ask the saints, those who have already gone on to their reward to pray for us.
In John 19:26-27, while Jesus is hanging on the cross, there is a dialogue between Him, His mother and the Apostle John (son of Zebedee, the beloved disciple, the one who would write the Gospel of John). We read, “When Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”
This is one of the foundational moments for the establishment of the church. Because in this moment, Jesus tells His mother to behold the disciple John as her own son, and by extension, we, the disciples of today, are looked at by the Virgin Mary as her own children. Then Jesus says to His disciple John to look at His mother as John’s own mother. And by extension, we, the disciples of today are to see the Virgin Mary as our own mother. When a child is in trouble, or gets hurt, the first place he or she goes is to his or her mother, for help and for comfort. Thus, we continue after the consecration with an exclamation and a hymn to the Virgin Mary. And we begin the prayer first and foremost with intercessions to the saints.
The first saint we refer to is John the Baptist. In Matthew 11:11, Jesus says “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has risen to one great than John the Baptist.” There is an icon called the “Deisis” which depicts Jesus, the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. They are also three icons that are on every icon screen in every Orthodox Church.
We invoke the intercessions of the Apostles, those who began the tradition of passing down the faith, from their time, continuing to our time. We ask for the intercession of the specific saint or saints being remembered on the day that the Divine Liturgy is offered. And then we ask for the intercession of all the saints.
Most of us do not like running. I know I don’t. If you told me to run down the main street of my town, it’s not something I would look forward to doing. However, if you told me that EVERY resident of my town would be lining the street cheering for me as I ran, and in my down we have over a million people, their encouragement would make the running seem almost effortless, I would be so enthralled with their cheering. This is the intention of mentioning the saints. We all struggle with life and with faith. For many of us, it is a struggle to take even the next step. We have to know that there are thousands upon thousands of saints who are cheering for us. Even when we feel alone, we are not alone, we have the saints interceding for us. And hopefully this makes our run through life a little easier.
We are about to embark on this lengthy prayer, which by the time we are done, will cover just about everything we can possibly think of. It is definitely appropriate to begin it with the saints, to remind us that we don’t journey through anything alone, not life, not even a simple prayer. When we are praying or worshipping, we are joined by the angels and the saints. And if we are struggling in any way, we can ask for the intercession of the saints at any time. We can ask for their prayers. We can ask them to pray to God on our behalf.
It is important to note that all prayer is directed TO God. We do not pray to the saints. We ask the saints to pray for us, to pray to God for us, and to take our prayers to God. And it is also healthy and necessary for us to pray for others, and to ask others to pray for us. Prayer is a work in progress for everyone, for as we read in Romans 8:26, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”