Saints and Icons – Common Protestant Objections

How to Identify Saints

“What makes someone a saint? The Bible is very clear on this issue. When someone believes and follows God they are considered a saint.”

I agree.

“They do not need the approval of a Church to canonize them, when they already have the approval from God.”

I agree.

“If a Church wants to honor someone for the work and influence they did on earth that’s fine. But the Orthodox Church can’t make them a saint, that is something only God can do. It takes salvation to be a saint.”

I agree.

All Christians in heaven are saints, whether they are formally recognized as saints or not. The Orthodox Church does not “make” anyone a saint, nor do they claim to do so. Rather, the Orthodox Church simply recognizes those Christians who lived exemplary lives. Through the help of the Holy Spirit, we take note of those whom leave no shadow of doubt concerning their eternal salvation. And for the good of the faithful members of the Church, we formally honor such people as saints. But the truth remains–that person was already a Saint in heaven, long before the Church made any formal recognition.

Prayers to Mary and the Saints

“Can we pray to Mary or other saints as we do to God?”

Not in the same way, no. God is far greater, and far more powerful.

“Can some person who is at the other end of the universe hear our prayers?”

Apparently so. The Bible says that the inhabitants of heaven rejoice every time one sinner repents (Luke 15:7,10). A sinner can be all alone in a corn field, five miles from the nearest human being, and repent, and then everyone in heaven finds out about it and cheers. How do they know this? How do they get the information? I don’t know. But Scripture says that they do know. And if they can hear us repent, then they can also hear us pray.

“Isn’t this something that is exclusively reserved to God?”

Nope. Where does the Bible say that? It doesn’t.

“How can a saint hear hundreds of prayers at one time?”

I don’t know. How can an angel or a saint hear hundreds of people repent at one time? It’s hard to understand. Yet the Bible says it happens.

“No matter how great a saint they were, they are not omniscient nor can they answer our prayers.”

You don’t have to be omniscient to hear prayers. Lots of knowledge does not equal omniscience. God can enable angels and saints to hear thousands of prayers, while still not giving them all knowledge in the universe.

Can they answer our prayers? That depends on what we pray for. At the very least, they can certainly pray to God for us. Just like I ask my wife to pray for me or my cousin to pray for me, I can also ask St. Paul to pray for me, and the Blessed Virgin Mary to pray for me.

“Can this be found in the Bible?”

Which Bible? The Protestant one with 66 books? Or the Orthodox one with 75? And where does the Bible tell us which Bible we should use? For that matter, where does the Bible tell us it is OK to pray to Jesus? Scripture contains many prayers to the Father, but none to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit. Should we therefore never pray to Jesus? Should we therefore never pray to the Holy Spirit?

This is not like asking someone on earth to pray for you, since they are physically here to converse.

Since when does praying for someone include conversing with them? And since when is physical proximity significant? When I tell a person I will pray for him, I usually wait until later, when I am not physically near him, and when I am not conversing with him. Then I go in prayer before God, and I pray for my friend. So it is with the Saints. They too are able to pray for us, even though they are not physically close to us, and are not currently able to converse with us.

“What the Orthodox are doing is asking those who are not physically here and are unable to see or affect the affairs of mankind on earth to do what is attributed to God only.”

Who says the Saints are “unable to see or affect the affairs of mankind on earth”? Where does the Bible say that? Actually, the Bible says the opposite. Revelation 6:9-10 says that the Saints in heaven do see what is happening on earth. And 2 Maccabees 15 points out someone in heaven who prays for things on earth, in order to bring about results. And where does the Bible say that these things are “attributed to God only”? In fact, it doesn’t say that at all.

“When we look in the Bible we find that prayer is directed to God alone.”

Are you sure? Get a King James Bible. Look up the first few times the word “pray” is used. The first time the word is used in Genesis is when Abraham prays to Sarah. The next time is when Abraham prays to Lot. In English, the word “pray” simply means “to ask”. If you ask God something, then you have prayed. If you ask your husband something, then you have prayed. If you ask a saint or angel something, then you have prayed. And nowhere does the Bible say that prayer must be directed to God alone.

“To set up a person as a recipient for our prayers, no matter how great they are, is making them out to be deity.”

Says who?

“Asking a saint to help and guide or protect is something only God can do. As someone once put it, why go to the branch office when you can go to the president?”

In that case, we had better put an end to all our prayer chains! We had better stop asking people to pray for us altogether. Never ask your spouse, daughter, son, or friend to pray for you. Why would you want to ask them to pray for you at all? Why go to the branch office when you can go to the president?

But if it is OK to ask your spouse or neighbor to pray for you, then it is also OK to ask a heavenly saint to pray for you. If your prayer request does not imply that your spouse or neighbor are deities, then neither does your heavenly prayer request imply that the saint is a deity.

What sorts of help and protection can the saints give us? For the most part, I believe they can help us and protect us by praying for us. They are utterly righteous. And Scripture says that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16). Thus, the prayers of the saints avail much. Therefore, why not ask them to pray for us?

“There is no authority in scripture for prayers either by, to or for the dead.”

Actually, there is Scriptural authority for it. 2 Maccabees 12 says, “It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.”.

Icons, Statues, and other Holy Images

“The Eastern Orthodox church has icons and idols that are part of their worship and service.”

No, we don’t. An “idol” is of a false God. Our icons are of Jesus. Jesus is not a false God.

“The Hebrew word for worship is to kiss toward or bow down. To bow down or genuflect as an act of worship. (7812 shachah (shaw-khaw’);a primitive root; to depress, i.e. prostrate (especially reflexive, in homage to royalty or God): bow (self) down, crouch, fall down (flat), humbly beseech, do (make) obeisance, do reverence, make to stoop, worship.)”

Correct. “Shachah” is a Hebrew word for “worship”, which literally means “to bow down”. And throughout the Old Testament, godly men and women repeatedly bow down (shachah) before other godly men and women. They do not reserve this for God alone.

“Nowhere does God approve of any type of worship toward objects that are even of Himself, neither the tabernacle which housed His presence, nor the ark which had the tablets, were to be worshiped.”

The Bible says differently:

“But as for me, in the multitude of thy mercy I will come into thine house; and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple” (Psalm 5:7).

The Psalmist bowed and worshiped toward the temple, because God was in it. Similarly, I bow and venerate a fellow Christian, because God is within him/her. According to Scripture, Christians are temples of the Holy Spirit, and according to Scripture, we are encouraged to bow towards the temple. Thus, when you put 2 + 2 together . . .

About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
This entry was posted in 2 Maccabees 12, 2 Maccabees 15:12-14, Genesis 12, Genesis 13, Holy Images, Icons, James 5, Luke 15:4-10, Prayers to Angels & Saints. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Saints and Icons – Common Protestant Objections

  1. deaconalex says:

    Great post Fr. Dcn!

    Kalo Triodio!

    fr. dcn. alexander

  2. Ari says:

    Magnificent! ‘What else do you want?’ as my pappou says

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