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published: 2/12/05
updated: 6/25/13

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Intercession of Saints



What is Intercession of the Saints?

Intercession, from the Latin word intercedare, means to make a plea on behalf of another. In a religious context, intercession is petitionary prayer (i.e. prayer that asks for something) on behalf of a fellow believer. Nearly all Christians practice intercession: Christians are interceding whenever they pray for a friend who is worried about an upcoming exam, pray for their pastor to serve the congregation well, their president to lead the country well, their mother to be kept safe on her journey, or their ill aunt to recover quickly from surgery.

Christians of all denominations not only pray for one another, but often ask one another for this kind of prayer when facing a difficult situation.

Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe that just as one can ask friends and family for prayer, one can call upon believers in heaven - the saints - for intercession as well. And the intercession of saints is believed to be especially effective, given their holy lives while on earth and their communion with God in heaven. Protestants, however, generally reject the intercession of the saints, worrying that it contradicts the biblical teaching that Christ is the only mediator between God and mankind.

This article explores the practice of intercession of the saints, including Protestant criticisms and Catholic and Orthodox defenses of the practice.





History of Intercession of Saints

Catholic and Orthodox Christians trace the origins of intercession of saints to the New Testament, when St. Paul asks the Christians in Ephesus, Thessalonica, Colossus and Rome to pray for him (Eph. 6:19, 1 Thes. 5:25; Col. 4:3, and Rom. 15:30-31).

The practice of intercession is also mentioned in several surviving writings from the early church. A letter attributed to St. Basil (329-79 AD), for example, states:

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.

In addition, St. John Chrysostom wrote that Christians 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).

Isn't Christ the Only Mediator?

Some Protestants condemn the Catholic and Orthodox practice of intercession, believing that it contradicts the doctrine that Christ is the only mediator between mankind and God. In response, Catholics affirm that Christ is the sole mediator, but explain that "He is our mediator in His quality of our common Redeemer; He is not our sole intercessor nor advocate, nor our sole mediator by way of supplication." (CE) They also point to the long tradition of intercession of saints.




References

  1. "Chapter 15: Calling on the Canonized," in John Trigilio, Jr., and Kenneth Brighenti, Catholicism for Dummies (Wiley, 2003), pp. 273-292.
  2. George Bebis, PhD, "The Saints of the Orthodox Church" - Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
  3. St. Basil, Letter 360.