Through the Prayers of Our Holy Fathers…


It is a phrase that is heard frequently in Orthodox services: “Through the prayers of our holy fathers, have mercy on us and save us!” The meaning of that phrase is enlarged and enlightened in the writings of the Elder Sophrony. The following excerpt is from his book, St. Silouan the Athonite.

Prayer for the whole world, for all Adam, in many instances distracts the monk from putting himself at the service of individuals. One may question whether this withdrawing from individual service means refusal of the concrete for the sake of the abstract? Not at all, for the whole Adam is not an abstraction but the most concrete fullness of the human being.

The ontological unity of humanity is such that every separate individual overcoming evil in himself inflicts such a defeat on cosmic evil that its consequences have a beneficial effect on the destinies of the whole world. On the other hand, the nature of cosmic evil is such that, vanquished in certain human hypostases [persons] it suffers a defeat the significance and extent of which are quite disproportionate to the number of individuals concerned.

A single saint is an extraordinarily precious phenomenon for all mankind. By the mere fact of their existence – unknown, maybe, to the world but known to God – the saints draw down on the world, on all humanity, a great benediction from God. The Staretz [St. Silouan] writes:

‘Because of these people, I believe the Lord preserves the world, for they are precious in His sight, and God always listens to His humble servants and we are all of us all right because of their prayers.’

‘Prayer keeps the world alive and when prayer fails, the world will perish…”Nowadays,” perhaps you will say, “there are no more monks like that to pray for the whole world.” But I tell you that when there are no more men of prayer on earth, the world will come to an end and great disasters will befall. They have already started.’

The saints live by the love of Christ. This love is Divine strength, which created, and now upholds, the world, and this is why their prayer is so pregnant with meaning. St. Barsanuphius, for instance, records that in his time the prayers of three men preserved mankind from catastrophe. Thanks to these saints – whom the world does not know of – the course of historical, even of cosmic events, is changed. So then, every saint is a phenomenon of cosmic character, whose significance passes beyond the bounds of earthly history into the sphere of eternity. The saints are the salt of the earth, its raison d’etre.  They are the fruit that preserve the earth. But when the earth ceases to produce saints, the strength that safeguards it from catastrophe will fail.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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13 responses to “Through the Prayers of Our Holy Fathers…”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    The photo is of St. Silouan of Athos.

  2. jacob Avatar

    Through Archimandrite Zacharias’s visit here 2/9&10, and through reading his books, I have become acquainted with Elder Sophrony and Saint Silouan the Athonite. I am beginning to understand how the traditions and teachings of the Orthodox Church are preserved and transmitted in and through and by the lives of its Saints. Elder Sophrony’s book on Saint Silouan will probably be a purchase for me this year.

    Saint Silouan, pray for me.

  3. johnnypeepers Avatar


    If Saint Silouan died in 1938, how can he pray for you? If you get Sainthood does it bring you back to life? I am not that familiar with Eastern Orthodoxy so please excuse my ignorance.

  4. Stephen Avatar

    Thank you Father, I have began to read Elder Sophony’s book on St Silouan just last week. It isn’t the easiest read or the fastest, but I think that it will be a nice addition to my daily devotions and study. To realize that the world is held together by prayer of the monks was an amazing concept to me, one that caused me to change my thoughts on prayer and it’s effects. God is so patient.

  5. fatherstephen Avatar

    Rev. 8:3-4 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne;and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.
    Clearly, the saints in heaven pray for us without ceasing. And since the Church is one (not two, but one) we ask the prayers of the saints in heaven as much as we ask the saints on earth. If the saints in heaven are not praying for us (as in this passage in Rev), who else would they be praying for? Indeed, the phrase, “Through the prayers of our holy fathers…” refers to both the living and the dead.

    Here’s an interesting thought. What if God had found 10 righteous men in Sodom? He would have spared it as He promised. But the people of Sodom would have to say, “Through the prayers of our holy father Abraham, God had mercy on us.” It is this same kind of meaning that we express when we say, “through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.” It’s an Orthodox way of saying that we are all in this together, and that we would not survive except by the prayers of our holy fathers and mothers in the faith, and the mercy of God.

  6. johnnypeepers Avatar

    Oh cool, ok. That clears it up. I must have overlooked that passage.

  7. jacob Avatar

    Also perhaps in a related way, Hebrews 11:39 – 12:1: “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

    I.e., we are connected in a living way with the Christians who have gone before us, and they with us. We are one body in Christ. We are one Church.

  8. Canadian Avatar

    Or how about this passage where we are said to have come to a heavenly assembly which includes the angels, God, all those enrolled in heaven, Jesus, and the spirits of the righteous:

    “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” Hebrews 12:22-24

  9. fatherstephen Avatar


    Indeed. I’ve always thought this was an excellent description of the Divine Liturgy.

  10. bob Avatar

    The phrase “Through the prayers…” is usually thought to be invoking the Saints, but from what I can tell is actually a monastic ending to a service that is invoking the prayers of the “holy fathers” right there in the congregation.
    It would be anomalous to say “holy mothers” in a women’s monastery, but those are the prayers being invoked.

  11. […] THROUGH THE PRAYERS of Our Holy Fathers …. […]

  12. LocquaciousLogician Avatar

    “The ontological unity of humanity is such that every separate individual overcoming evil in himself inflicts such a defeat on cosmic evil that its consequences have a beneficial effect on the destinies of the whole world.”

    I remember reading this quote during the school year & had been looking for it for hours. I stand in awe of its extreme depth. I also appreciate the linking of saintly intercession’s power & efficacy with the story of Sodom & Gomorrah.

  13. sandrar Avatar

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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