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|Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky|
Orthodox dogmatic theology
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Communion with the Saints.
The church prays for all who have died in the faith, and asks forgiveness for their sins, for
there is no man without sin, “if he have lived even a single day upon earth” (Job 14:5, Septuagint).
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John
1:8). Therefore, no matter how righteous a man might be, when he departs from this world, the
Church accompanies his departure with prayer for him to the Lord. “Brethren, pray for us,” the
holy Apostle Paul asks his spiritual children (1 Thes. 5:25).
At the same time, when the common voice of the Church testifies to the righteousness of the
reposed person, Christians, apart from prayer for him, are taught by the good example of his life
and place him as an example to be imitated.
And when, further, the common conviction of the sanctity of the reposed person is confirmed
by special testimonies such as martyrdom, fearless confession, self-sacrificing service to
the Church, and the gift of healing, and especially when the Lord confirms the sanctity of the reposed
person by miracles after his death when he is remembered in prayer, then the Church glorifies
him in a special way. How can the Church not glorify those whom the Lord Himself calls His
“friends”? “Ye are my friends ... I have called you friends” (John 15:14-15), whom He has received
in His heavenly mansions in fulfillment of the words, “Where I am, there ye may be also”
(John 14:3). When this happens, prayers for the forgiveness of the sins of the departed one and
for his repose cease; they give way to other forms of Church communion with him, namely: a)
the praising of his struggles in Christ, “since neither do men light a candle and put it under a
bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house” (Matt. 5:15); b)
petitions to him that he might pray for us, for the remission of our sins, and for our moral advancement,
and that he might help us in our spiritual needs and in our sorrows.
It is said: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth” (Rev. 14:13) and
we indeed bless them.
It is said: “The glory which Thou gavest Me, I have given them” (John 17:22), and we indeed
give to them this glory according to the Savior's commandment.
Likewise the Savior said: “He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive
a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man
shall receive a righteous man's reward” (Matt. 10:41). “Whosoever shall do the will of My Fa-ther which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother” (Matt. 12:50). Therefore,
we also should receive a righteous man as a righteous man. If he is a brother for the Lord,
then he should be such for us also. The saints are our spiritual brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers,
and our love for them is expressed by communion in prayer with them.
The Apostle John wrote to his fellow Christians: “That which we have seen and heard declare
we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the
Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). And in the Church this fellowship with the
Apostles is not interrupted; it goes over with them into the other realm of their existence, the
The nearness of the saints to the Throne of the Lamb and the raising up by them of prayers
for the Church on earth are depicted in the book of Revelation of St. John the Theologian: “And I
beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the Throne, and the beasts, and the
elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand,” who praised the Lord
Communion in prayer with the saints is the realization in actual fact of the bond between
Christians on earth and the Heavenly Church of which the Apostle speaks: “Ye are come unto
Mount Zion, and unto the city of the Living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable
company of angels, to the general assembly and the Church of the firstborn, which are written in
heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:22-23).
Sacred Scripture presents numerous examples of the fact that, while still living on earth, the
righteous can see and hear and know much that is inaccessible to ordinary understanding. All the
more these gifts are present with them when they have put off the flesh and are in heaven. The
holy Apostle Peter saw into the heart of Ananias, according to the book of Acts (5:3). To Elisha
was revealed the lawless act of the servant Gehazi (4 Kings, ch. 4; 2 Kings in KJV), and what is
even more remarkable, to him was revealed all the secret intentions of the Syrian court, which he
then communicated to the King of Israel (4 Kings 6:12). When still on earth, the saints penetrated
in spirit into the world above; some of them saw choirs of angels, others were vouchsafed to behold
the image of God (Isaiah and Ezekiel), and still others were exalted to the third heaven and
heard there mystical, unutterable words. All the more when they are in heaven are they capable of
knowing what is happening on earth and of hearing those who appeal to them because the saints
in heaven are equal unto the angels (Luke 20:36).
From the parable of the Lord about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) we know that
Abraham, being in heaven, could hear the cry of the rich man who was suffering in hell, despite
the “great gulf” that separates them. The words of Abraham about the rich man's brethren, “They
have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29), clearly indicate that Abraham
knows the life of the Hebrew people which has occurred after his death; he knows of Moses and
the Law, of the prophets and their writings. The spiritual vision of the souls of the righteous in
heaven, without any doubt, is greater than it was on earth. The Apostle writes: “Now we see
through a glass, darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as
also I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12).
The holy Church has always held the teaching of the invocation of the saints, being fully
convinced that they intercede for us before God in heaven. This we see from the ancient Liturgies.
In the Liturgy of the holy Apostle James it is said: “Especially we perform the memorial of
the Holy and Glorious Ever-Virgin, the Blessed Theotokos. Remember Her, O Lord God, and by
Her pure and holy prayers spare and have mercy on us.” St. Cyril of Jerusalem, explaining theLiturgy of the Church of Jerusalem, remarks, “Then we also commemorate (in offering the
Bloodless Sacrifice) those who have previously departed: first of all, patriarchs, prophets, apostles,
martyrs, so that by their prayers and intercession God might receive our petition.”
Numerous are the testimonies of the Fathers and teachers of the Church, especially from the
fourth century onwards, concerning the Church's veneration of the saints. But already from the
beginning of the second century there are direct indications in ancient Christian literature concerning
faith in prayer by the saints in heaven for their earthly brethren. The witnesses of the
martyric death of St. Ignatius the God-Bearer (in the beginning of the second century) said:
“Having returned home with tears, we had the all-night vigil ... Then, after sleeping a little, some
of us suddenly saw blessed Ignatius standing and embracing us, and others likewise saw him
praying for us.” Similar records, mentioning the prayers and intercession for us of the martyrs,
are to be found in other accounts from the epoch of persecutions against Christians.