All Saints and Their Intercession

I reprint this article in honor of All Saints’ Day (which is the Sunday after Pentecost on the Orthodox Calendar).

Doubtless one of the less understood aspects of the Orthodox faith, particularly by Protestants, is the importance of the intercession of the saints. Orthodox doctrine and teaching is quite clear that we do not treat saints as objects of worship, nor as worthy of worship. This would be blasphemous to us. Nevertheless, it is a huge part of the “ethos” of Orthodoxy, probably only understood from the inside and then only after a time.

The first thing I think of in this regard is simply that Scripture never seems to speak of God as “alone.” He is the Lord God of Sabbaoth (Hosts) – He is the “God of a huge crowd” to render it into the vernacular. This is first disclosed to Isaiah in his prophetic vision in chapter 6 of his work – but it is, to some degree, reflected in the fact that the Hebrew word for God is frequently rendered in the plural (Elohim). The Fathers rightly saw in this a veiled reference to the Trinity – but it is also proper to see in this a plural that surrounds God. We do not worship a plural God – but a Triune God – who is nevertheless surrounded by a great Host.

Much of our modern world, governed as it is by images of the dominance of the individual, tends to focus on God as individual. Islam (in certain forms) is radical in this respect – and some forms of modern Christianity have, for all intents and purposes, followed suit. The doctrine of the Trinity is reverenced but not truly understood, much less made the basis for worship. With this has come a radical shift in the understanding of heaven, our life in the Church, the meaning of prayer, the hope of salvation, even the understanding of what salvation itself means.

Orthodox worship and prayer, on the other hand, is simply crowded. Though we worship only the Triune God, we nevertheless do so in company with a “great cloud of witnesses,” whom we frequently acknowledge in our prayers, asking for them to join us in our prayer, seeking their prayers for us, just as assuredly they are urging us on from the life in heaven and interceding constantly before God for us.

This is probably the greatest change in my consciousness since becoming Orthodox. We are never alone, nor are we even simply alone with God. I am always with many even when I draw into my closet to pray.

Encouraged by the many stories of the lives of the saints, I am also encouraged by the holy icons, whose images of the saints remind me of these great heroes and heroines. More than that I am truly aware of their presence with me (us). My prayers seem to echo and to crescendo, joined as they are with those who now pray ceaselessly.

Many times there are saints whom one seems to know personally – either because you have frequently asked for their prayers – or for some aspect of their story that seems important – and even occasionally because something has happened that can only be described as having been “sought out” by a saint. An example of this last case is (for me) the not too infrequent phenomenon of simply being “found” by an icon. By this I do not mean buying an icon – but that an icon has come to me by some other means, accompanied by the sense that “this is no accident.” Such stories are not uncommon in Orthodoxy. Some of the greatest icons known to the Church were simply “discovered,” their origins remaining completely unknown to the Church. An excellent example of this is the famous wonder-working “Kursk Root-Icon of the Mother of God.”

I was once asked by an Anglican friend if I ever thought about returning to my former life. There are a thousand reasons I could have given him for “no,” not the least of which being, “I have found the true faith, etc.” But as I recall I simply said to him, “I couldn’t bear the loneliness.” How could I pray without the Mother of God? without the saints? And not in some secretly held “pious opinion” that might be allowed by the Church – but as the Church’s true worship, because it is the revelation of the Lord God of Hosts?

No. “God is with us, understand all ye nations and repent yourselves, for God is with us.”

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





11 responses to “All Saints and Their Intercession”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    The Photo is of the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God.

  2. Isaac the Syrian Avatar
    Isaac the Syrian

    Coming from a fundagelical (no offense meant by this convenient word) background this was of course one of the hardest parts of Orthodoxy to deal with. My wife was once talking to an evangelical pastor whose old school friend had become an Orthodox priest. He couldn’t understand why a person would “need more than Jesus” to sustain his faith. I think this is how a good number of Protestants view it and even CS Lewis was against prayers to the saints. I had to come to the conclusion that love is a far more expansive thing than that. A married couple does not lose something by having children. Or, put another way, imagine the man who wants to marry a woman who protests that he sees no reason to meet her family since his relationship is with her alone.

    The objections all seem a bit silly now, but they were real enough at the time. It is actually a huge relief to have some more mature “brothers and sisters in Christ” to ask for prayers and to see as exemplars of the faith to be emulated.

  3. Justin Farr Avatar
    Justin Farr


    Is that the Father depicted at the top of the icon?? Also, what is the significance of the diamonds/squares in His halo?


  4. fatherstephen Avatar

    It is the “Ancient of Days” as seen in the Book of Daniel and would be a prefiguring of Christ, not the Father. There are icons in which the Father is depicted, but it is a violation of the Canons. But I can’t say you won’t ever see it. It came into Orthodox iconography from the West where it was rather common and popular. But it is, indeed, improper.

    This particular icon, however, has the ancient of days. The Theotokos is surrounded by the prophets, thus the use of an Old Testament prophetic image for Christ, as well as Christ incarnate as a child, fairly similar to the “Virgin of the Sign” icon.

    The halo of the ancient of days seems to have a star of David in it.

  5. Wonders for Oyarsa Avatar

    Hi Father Stephen,

    Are you sure you are correct about the “Ancient of Days”? Here is the passage:

    I saw in the night visions,
    and behold, with the clouds of heaven
    there came one like a son of man,
    and he came to the Ancient of Days
    and was presented before him.
    And to him was given dominion
    and glory and a kingdom,
    that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him;
    his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    which shall not pass away,
    and his kingdom one
    that shall not be destroyed.

    I read the “Ancient of Days” as the Father, and the “one like a son of man” as Christ.

  6. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes, I understand the text – but there can be no portrayal of the Father – it is the Son in two aspects. He is the Logos, the image of the invisible God. At least that’s the common patristic treatment.

  7. Alexander/Sasha Avatar

    Father, bless!

    > There are icons in which the Father is depicted, but it is a violation of the Canons.

    I did not know that…
    So, is this icon/fresco a violation of the Canons?
    That’s from Vatopedion Monastery.

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    According to the most strict pattern of the canons the Father is not to be depicted. But you see many examples to the contrary – though they are fairly late. I had not seen this one on the Holy Mountain. If there is a local council that has given approval to this practice, I’m not aware of it, though I certainly don’t know everything. Though I’ve done much study and a master’s degree on the theology of icons. I’ve been wrong before.

  9. […] though I should forget in church!). As Fr. Stephen has said on several occasions and in particular here: “The first thing I think of in this regard is simply that Scripture never seems to speak of […]

  10. David Jerry Avatar
    David Jerry

    Yes, Father, we are never alone. All saints are praying for us, are praising God with us, halelujah.

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