Prayers to the Saints - Part 2: Why Intercession?
Steven Robinson and Bill Gould · January 31, 2005
In this program we deal with the concept of prayer and intercession. What is prayer in the scriptures? Is "prayer" worship to be given only to God? What is intercession? Why are we commanded to intercede for each other? More importantly, who can intercede for us?
Program Notes - January 30, 2005
Prayer to the Saints - Part 2: Why Intercession?
PRAYER TO THE SAINTS PART II
"The Christian God is not just a unit but a union, not just unity but Community. There is in God something analogous to "society". He is not a single person, loving himself alone, not a self-contained monad or "the One". He is triunity: three equal persons, each one dwelling in the other two by virtue of an unceasing movement of mutual love…
The final end of the spiritual Way is that we humans should also become part of this Trinitarian coinherence or perichoresis, being wholly taken up intothe circle of love that exists within God. So Christ prayed to his Father on the night before his Crucifixion, "May they all be one: as Thou Father, art in me, and I in Thee, so may they also be one in us" (John 17:21).
Why believe that God is three? Is it not easier to believe simply in the Divine Unity, as the Jews and Mohammedans do? Certainly it is easier. The doctrine of the Trinity stands before us as a challenge, a "crux" in the literal sense: it is, in Vladimir Lossky’s words, "across for human ways of thought", and it requires from us a radical act of metanoia — not merely a gesture of formal assent, but a true change of mind and heart.
…Isolated, self-dependent, none of us is an authentic person but merely an individual, a bare unit as recorded in the census. Egocentricity is the death of true personhood. Each becomes a real person only through entering into relations with other persons, through living for them and in them. There can be no man, so it has rightly been said, until there are two men in communication. The same is true, secondly, of love. Love cannot exist in isolation, but presupposes the other. Self-love is the negation of love. As Charles Williams shows to such devastating effect in his novel Descent Into Hell, self-love is hell ; for carried to its ultimate conclusion, self-love signifies the end of all joy and all meaning. Hell is not other people, hell is myself, cut off from others in self-centeredness.
Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, pg. 27, 28.
O heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth who art in all places and fillest all things, the Treasury of good things and Giver of life, come and abide in us and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O gracious Lord.
Good afternoon and welcome to this edition of Our Life in Christ. I’m your host today, Steve Robinson, and I’m in the studio with Bill Gould. Hi, Bill!
Mr. Gould: Hi, Steve. How are you doing today?
Mr. Robinson: Well, I’m doing good. Right during the intro, I had this itch inside my headphones in my ear.
Mr. Gould: Tough place to scratch.
Mr. Robinson: Live radio: do I scratch it or do I pray?
Mr. Gould: As long as we don’t hear it scratching…
Mr. Robinson: Welcome to today’s show. We have a follow-up, a part two of a series that we began last week on the Orthodox Christian Church’s practice of what we call “praying to the saints.” We’re going to discuss that over the next couple of weeks. Today we want to follow up on last week’s topic and talk about some theological issues, some scriptural issues, a lot of muddy thinking, and I found out I had a lot of muddy thinking when I was studying and preparing for today’s show. It was challenging for me, too, Bill.
Mr. Gould: That’s always a good thing. We’re not off the hook from learning.
Mr. Robinson: Absolutely not. It’s just amazing, the stuff you find in the Fathers and in the writings of the early Church theologians that really clarify a lot of things that I found I had some loose ends flapping in the breeze. Gosh, those guys were smart! They were.
Mr. Gould: They are.
Mr. Robinson: They are. They still are, which will kind of bring us into today’s topic. Before we begin, Bill, let’s talk about our saying from the Fathers, because last week we had a really neat story that I want to follow up on today, because it got to the heart of what it means to die to yourself, what it means to take up your cross and lay down your ego, lay down your selfishness; you’re wrapped up in your own stuff.
Mr. Gould: It was about being dead to yourself and the fact that you’re immune from praise and from insults. So we have a few more this week that go along the same way.
Mr. Robinson: When I was studying more about this, I found probably eight or nine pages’ worth of quotes, and I just picked out about four of them here. We’re going to revisit this over the next few months. The topic of humility is probably the one that is written about most by the early Church theologians. It’s so central to the Orthodox spirituality. So, Bill, let’s talk a little bit more about dying to self.
Mr. Gould: We’ll just read these. St. Mark the Ascetic wrote:
Do not become a disciple of one who praises himself in case you learn pride instead of humility.
Mr. Robinson: Ooh. Ouch. That one almost goes without comment.
Mr. Gould: Exactly. St. Nilus of the Sinai said:
Avoid praise, but do not be ashamed of reproach.
Mr. Robinson: This is going to get fleshed out a little bit in our next two quotes, but I think this really gets to the heart of what it means to be truly humble and what it means to consider yourself the greatest of sinners, the chief of sinners. This hearkens back to St. Paul when he’s talking to Timothy and he says, “This is a trustworthy statement that deserves full acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world and died to save sinners of whom I am chief.” And this is at the end of Paul’s ministry, close to the end of his life. After serving the Lord for three decades, and now he says, “I am the chief of sinners,” not “I was,” but “I am.” So this is the Orthodox spirituality, that the closer we draw to God, the more we see our sinfulness; the higher we ascend on the mountain the lower we see ourselves in the valley.
Mr. Gould: Another one, from Father Paisios of the Holy Mountain—that would be Mount Athos:
Whoever rejoices when admired by people is mocked by demons.
Mr. Robinson: That is an incredible statement. I want to put that on my refrigerator, put it on my mirror, put it on the table in front of me when I’m doing the radio show.
Mr. Gould: So if you’re feeling really good when somebody says a lot of good things about you…
Mr. Robinson: Satan can just enter through that little door of pride, no matter how slim it’s cracked. I remember—this is something that happened to me when I was back in Lubbock and I was in Protestant seminary—a preacher came by and I went up to him and said, “Brother Joe, that was a great sermon this morning.” He looked at me and said, “Yeah, Satan already told me that.”
Mr. Gould: We have one here from the Apophthegmata Patrum.
Mr. Robinson: Just Sayings of the Fathers.
A brother questioned an old man: “Tell me something that I can do so that I may live by it.”
The old man said, “If you can bear to be despised, that is a great thing, more than all the other virtues.”
Mr. Robinson: And the reason that’s more than all the other virtues is because that’s a true, sure sign that you are humble before God.
Mr. Gould: And not a pleaser of men.
Mr. Robinson: And the final one.
Mr. Gould: It’s from Venerable Dorotheos—of Gaza, I assume.
Mr. Robinson: Yes.
Believe that dishonors and reproaches are medicines that heal the pride of your soul. Pray for those who reproach you, for they are the true physicians of your soul. Be assured that if you hate dishonor, you hate humility. If you avoid those who grieve you, you are fleeing from learning meekness
I can think of several things that come to mind…
Mr. Robinson: It was a bad week, Bill. That is a really hard one. Here again, it’s the scriptural admonition that Paul gives: pray for those who despise you. Pray for those who spitefully use you. And that really gets back to how are we to regard insults and slander? How are we to regard people who are our enemies? That’s where the real Christian rubber meets the road, because this is ultimately what the Cross is about. That’s ultimately what it means to bear the cross. When Jesus is hanging on the cross, being crucified and slandered and insulted and mocked, and he has the power as God to just lay waste to this entire scene, turn it into a sea of glass and just start over again, and he still takes it, forebears, and he says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” That’s where the Cross really plants itself in the middle of our hearts.
Mr. Gould: That’s amazing.
Mr. Robinson: It really is.
Mr. Gould: It can only be the work of the Holy Spirit that makes that happen.
Mr. Robinson: Absolutely. This is the spirituality of what we call the Desert Fathers, of the early, early monastics who sought to live the spiritual life. They found out that this is really where our whole life comes to: coming to the Cross and regarding all those around us, who would crucify us, as our benefactors, because they’re tearing out the roots of pride; they’re tearing out the roots of our ego; and they’re actually saving us by doing that. Wow.
Mr. Gould: I’ve been reading a little bit about Father Dorotheos, his discourses. We think of a monastery as being a place of bliss, and, of course, it is a very good experience for us, but a lot goes on in the monasteries that works this kind of things out of people. Still not all sweetness and light.
Mr. Robinson: It’s not Disneyland. I think we’ll have to do some programs about the monastic life here, Bill, because I think we had this idea of this monk who’s somebody who’s running away from the world, and actually the monk is entering into the warfare in a way that we cannot and do not in the world. They are coming mano a mano, hand-to-hand combat with Satan in the wilderness.
Mr. Gould: It’s easy for us to let all the distractions of our culture distract us from what’s really true in terms of the spiritual life. They’re face to face with it all the time.
Mr. Robinson: Well, when we come back from our break, Bill, we’re going to start back in on our topic of the prayer to the saints, and we’re going to recap last week a little bit, and then we’re going to talk about what does it mean for us to live as people created in the image and likeness of God, and what does that have to do with praying to the saints.
Mr. Gould: It has a lot to do with it.
Mr. Robinson: I hope it does, because we’ve got a lot of notes here!
Mr. Gould: Some serious bass there.
Mr. Robinson: Some serious voices. I don’t know what tradition that’s in, probably like a Gregorian chant.
Mr. Gould: It was beautiful.
Mr. Robinson: Very prayerful. Anyway, Bill, last week we started a series on the practice of praying to the saints. The thing that we noted last week is that surrounding this topic is just a whole, whole lot of muddy thinking, and a whole lot of actually unscriptural thinking, when you really get down to it, because there are tons of passages on this topic that just never get underlined or they never get cross-referenced in our Bibles. We’re going to be taking a look at, over the course of the next couple weeks, a lot of Scripture that really doesn’t make a lot of sense apart from an understanding of who these people are who have passed on before us, who have died in Christ, who have died in faith, and their relationship to us in Christ, who are still alive on the earth.
Last week, we started the series talking about, first of all, who is a saint, because that’s kind of, again, a muddy-thinking thing, because a lot of people think of the saints—or at least one of the things we always here—is “Everybody is a saint.”
Mr. Gould: It’s kind of a positional term as opposed to the way the Orthodox tend to look at it, which is positional for Orthodoxy as well, but there’s…
Mr. Robinson: We are set apart.
Mr. Gould: Yes, we are set apart, and that does come to us when we receive the grace of the Holy Spirit, but then the grace of the Holy Spirit continues to work on us.
Mr. Robinson: To work within us.
Mr. Gould: And we grow up in holiness.
Mr. Robinson: And we lay aside every weight of sin that so easily besets us. The passage you quoted in II Corinthians 7:1.
Mr. Gould: Perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Mr. Robinson: So there are these people who live the Christian life in a way that’s exemplary. Exemplary just means a person who is worthy as an example for us. Paul, we’ve quoted a whole bunch of passages last week—and you can go back and look at our notes and listen to last week’s show on the website—but Paul constantly refers to himself as an example. He refers to those who listen to his teaching and followed his example as examples to be followed. He encourages Timothy to be an example.
This is what the Christian life is all about. We are saints. We are positionally set apart in Christ, but then there is this process that we mature in Christ, that we grow up in Christ. We become holy. We become more and more sanctified as a process of drawing closer and closer to the image of Christ. A saint is a person who, at the end of their life, because of the people who knew him intimately—or her—because of people’s experience with that person, we can assuredly point to them and say, “This person’s life was worthy of emulating.” This person lived their life in a way that we can hold them up before the entire Church and say, “Follow them as they followed Christ.”
Mr. Gould: “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ,” as Paul said.
Mr. Robinson: So this is what a person who has in a sense been declared a saint—we don’t actually declare somebody a saint. That’s kind of a term that gives some misperception, because the person is a saint, and we just recognize them as such. We point to them as such, and we hold them up as such, but, no, it’s not like this arbitrary something where we just come along and say, “Ah, yeah, there’s ole Bill. We’re going to make him a saint. Let’s sign a document. He’s got a certificate hanging on the wall.” No. There actually has to be a saintliness about this person.
Mr. Gould: You can’t write away on the internet to get your saint papers.
Mr. Robinson: No. You don’t send in $50 and get the saint diploma. This is problematic for a lot of us, especially in our culture, Bill, because we’re so politically correct. We’re so raised with this idea that everybody’s equal. Our Constitution, our Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal.” There’s this kind of a sense, I think, that goes counter-culturally to our American sensibility when we elevate somebody and say, “Yes, this person is worthy of being held up as an example of somebody who has excelled in the spiritual life.”
Mr. Gould: We have the sense that maybe life in the Church is sort of pass/fail.
Mr. Robinson: With social promotions. Ultimately, God isn’t really concerned about your self-image! He really doesn’t care. In fact, he says, “Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought.” He’s more concerned about his image in you, and that’s the thing that we’re concerned about: his image in those who are claimed to be saints of God, who are set apart by Christ in the Church. This is ultimately, again, when we talk about the saints, we’re not talking about something that’s an arbitrary, political machinery in place. This isn’t an honor that’s given to somebody by committee. It’s really a recognition by the people who knew this person well and know that this person’s life was exemplary.
Mr. Gould: This has happened, again, down through the ages as people have come and gone in the Church. We have seen the Apostles, the martyrs. If you go into an Orthodox church, you’ll see lots of icons of people who, in fact, are recognized as saints. We talked about that a little bit when we did that icon show.
Mr. Robinson: One of the neatest books that’s come out in recent times in the Protestant genre is a book called Jesus Freaks. I bought copies of that for all my kids a couple of years ago for Christmas. Basically, it’s stories of people who gave their lives for Christ. It goes all the way through Church history. It has Irenaeus in it. It’s got all these early martyrs, and talks about all these people up through the present day who gave their lives for Christ. In a sense, this is a book about saints. These are people who are recognized by all Christians as being exemplary. They’re being held up in front of us as the Church and saying, “Look what they did! Emulate this. Imitate this.”
Mr. Gould: There are a lot of saintly men and women that aren’t part necessarily of the Orthodox Church; they aren’t recognized because they are not part of the Orthodox Church.
Mr. Robinson: We don’t play with other people’s toys without their permission, so we don’t pass judgment on anybody else.
Anyway, that’s what a saint is, so when we talk about the saints, that’s just people who have passed on. Now, Bill, what about these guys? Why is it important for us to recognize saints? Why is it important for us to recognize or to see ourselves as connected to these people? Why is it important that we acknowledge that the people who have died have some kind of relationship to us here on earth? Why even go there?
Mr. Gould: This is the design of God, and our life, especially in Christ—we’re talking about our radio show, Our Life in Christ, well, our life in Christ is to reflect the reality of God. God is love. God is selflessness. God is in communion with himself, in the sense of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Our Trinitarian view of God puts us in a place to see that God is fellowship with himself.
Mr. Robinson: You’re touching on something that just goes right to the very bottom of the ocean. It goes to the very depths of what we call orthodox theology. When I say “orthodox,” I’m saying that with a small “o,” because Trinitarian theology is the foundation for the Christian faith. Christian faith in the broadest sense of the term is that we are a Trinitarian faith.
I listen to Hank Hanegraaff regularly on this station, and he probably deals with questions about the Trinity at least a dozen times a week. People are always calling about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Oneness Pentecostals, the Mormons, all of these heretical views of the Trinity, and Hank always hearkens back to the great credal statements of the early Church—the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed—and affirms the orthodox Christian understanding of God as he exists in Trinity.
Let’s connect the dots here, Bill, because what we’re talking about is the intercession of the saints. We’re talking about the relationship between the saints and us and whether or not they can actually have any relationship to us, any influence over us, whether or not they can pray for us, whether or not we can pray for them.
Mr. Gould: And whether or not they’re in fellowship with God.
Mr. Robinson: And whether or not we’re in fellowship with them. So in a sense, what we’re asking is not necessarily—let’s take a step even further back from the intercession of the saints and praying to the saints, but let’s ask the question—why intercession at all? Why prayer at all? Why should we pray for anybody? Why should we intercede for anybody at all?
Mr. Gould: If God already knows everything, and we have one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus—which, again, we believe, but we believe it a little differently from some people.
Mr. Robinson: We’ll talk about that next week. And if God has already, in Christ, borne all the weaknesses and all the sins and all the travail and all the grief and all the sorrows and all the guilt of every human being on earth, then why do we need to intercede and pray for anybody? Why do that at all? Because God has already taken care of 110% of it. So why intercession and prayer at all? Not even intercession and prayer of the saints, between the living and the dead; why at all, between even the living?
Mr. Gould: I would say, and I think I’m right in saying this, it is part of the way in which we grow up into the image of God.
Mr. Robinson: Okay, well, let’s talk about the image of God that we’re supposed to grow up into.
Mr. Gould: And that’s where we get back to the Trinity.
Mr. Robinson: We’re going to talk about what does it mean to exist in the image and likeness of God? God has created us in his image, and in that image we have some, I guess you would want to say, ontological constraints. We have this way in which we have to exist to fulfill what it means to be a true and complete and whole human person. So, Bill, when we come back from the break, let’s talk about image and likeness, let’s talk about the life of the Trinity, and let’s talk about the practical application of what it means to understand that God exists in one essence as three Persons.
Mr. Robinson: Boy, Bill, I bet that pegged the meters. Beautiful stuff. This is some music from the Russian tradition, the choral tradition.
Mr. Gould: Ah, that is beautiful.
Mr. Robinson: So, Bill, before the break we were talking about our life in Christ and what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God and how it relates to what we call the communion of the saints and how that relates to the necessity that we have and the commands that we have by the Scriptures to intercede for one another, to pray for one another, to be involved in one another’s lives.
Mr. Gould: To rejoice with those who rejoice, to weep with those who weep, to suffer with those who suffer.
Mr. Robinson: The thing that this really cuts into is our Western philosophical sensibilities, because since about probably the sixteenth century, we’ve had this really Western undercurrent of rugged individualism, and this permeates, in more ways than I think we realize, our Western thinking.
Mr. Gould: And especially America.
Mr. Robinson: We are so individualistic, and I think a lot of our theological language that surrounds Christianity in modern American Evangelicalism—the personal relationship with Christ—
Mr. Gould: ...has been bent in that direction.
Mr. Robinson: I remember the song, about ten, fifteen years ago, by Depeche Mode, “Your Own Personal Jesus.” It’s such an indictment of the way that we view our relationship with God, but this is so antithetical, it’s so contrary, to how the early Church saw the meaning of the Trinitarian life and what it means for us as Christians, and it really forms the foundation for what our whole life is about. You cannot understand the human being apart from understanding how God exists as God, in three Persons in one essence. It’s not just a dry dogma. It’s not just something that the theologians thought up in some kind of esoteric, way-up-there, pie-in-the-sky experience.
Mr. Gould: It’s not an ivory tower kind of thing.
Mr. Robinson: No, it’s not. This is something that has just become clear to me as I read Western literature. There’s a book that came out a few years ago by Dr. James White who happens to be here in the valley called The Forgotten Trinity, but in the East the Trinity has never been forgotten. It was never forgotten. In fact, it’s placed before us probably dozens and dozens of times every Sunday in our services. It really does, as we said, form the very roots and foundations of everything we understand about creation and especially the human being. This follows into what it means to live as a Christian, what it means to live the life in Christ and to grow up in the image of God.
Bill, you’ve got something. This is an excerpt from…
Mr. Gould: I was reading in The Orthodox Way by Bishop Kallistos (Ware).
Mr. Robinson: This is actually an excellent book.
Mr. Gould: A very good book for anyone out there who would like to read more about this. It says:
The Christian God is not just a unit, but a union; not just unity, but community. There is in God something analogous to society. He is not a single Person, loving himself alone, not a self-contained Monad or “the One.” He is Triunity, three equal Persons, each one dwelling in the other by virtue of an unceasing movement of mutual love.
Mr. Robinson: That is what St. John means in I John when he says, “God is love.” You cannot have love if there is not something or somebody to love. This, again, isn’t just esoteric stuff.
Mr. Gould: It makes a lot of sense.
The final end of the spiritual way is that we humans should also become part of this trinitarian co-inherence or perichoresis—that’s a Greek word—being wholly taken up into the circle of love that exists within God. So Christ prayed to his Father on the night before his crucifixion, “May they all be one as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee; so may they also be one in us” (John 17:21).
Why believe that God is three? Is it not easier to believe simply in the divine unity as the Jews and the Mohammedans do? Certainly, it is easier. The doctrine of the Trinity stands before us as a challenge, as a crux in the literal sense. It is, in Vladimir Lossky’s words, a cross for human ways of thought, and it requires from us a radical act of metanoia, not merely a gesture of formal assent, but a true change of mind and heart.
Mr. Robinson: What that means is, in English, that if we understand God properly, if we understand God-in-Trinity, that God exists in three Persons in this constant communion of love, then that reframes who we are. It reframes our entire existence, and it calls us to metanoia: repentance. We have to repent of our worldly ways, of our earthly understanding of what it means to be human, which is essentially selfishness, self-centeredness.
Mr. Gould: We’re “individuals.” We’re egos. We’re “self-made men.”
Mr. Robinson: And what this means is repentance from that and turning to a proper understanding, which means that we have to live in community, that we have to learn to love others as God in Christ has loved us, if we are to become true, real, healed, and whole human beings. Kallistos Ware comments on that.
Mr. Gould: He says:
Isolated, self-dependent, none of us is an authentic person, but merely an individual, a bare unit as recorded in the census.
We’re just numbers.
Egocentricity is the death of true personhood. Each becomes a real person only through entering into relation with other persons, through living for them and in them. There can be no man, so it has rightly been said, until there [are] at least two men in communication. The same is true, secondly, of love. Love cannot exist in isolation, but presupposes the Other. Self-love is the negation of love. As Charles Williams shows to such devastating effect in his novel, Descent into Hell, self-love is hell. For, carried to its ultimate conclusion, self-love signifies the end of all joy and meaning. Hell is not other people; hell is myself, cut off from other people in self-centeredness.
Mr. Robinson: Wow. Bill, let’s talk a little bit about that. We have Christy on the phone, so let’s take Christy’s call before we come back to Kallistos Ware. Hi, Christy! How are you today?
Christy: I’m good, thanks, and you? How are you guys?
Mr. Gould: Good.
Mr. Robinson: Good. We missed you this morning. How are you lately?
Christy: I’m doing fine, thank you. Can I ask you a question?
Mr. Robinson: Sure.
Christy: One is regarding the praying to dead saints. Just from a practical standpoint, I don’t understand why one would pray to dead saints rather than pray with a live saint, where they would have accountability and a real relationship and that sort of thing.
Mr. Robinson: You touched on two words there real quickly, and we’re going to deal with this in the next couple of weeks, too, more in-depth.
Christy: Do you want the other question now, too?
Mr. Robinson: Sure.
Christy: Sorry to tie up your phone. The other one is, I was talking to an Orthodox person about praying with a prayer partner, and the response was, “Well, I don’t see why you would do that when you could pray with the priest.” I was just wondering if that was a typical Orthodox viewpoint, and what is their viewpoint on that?
Mr. Robinson: Those are two excellent questions. If you want to go ahead and hang up, we can go ahead and answer those. Then, as I said, we’re going to really, really flesh those two things out in the next couple of weeks. What we’re talking about right now is exactly those issues. Two words that Christy used in her first question: one is “accountability” and “like a real relationship.” And why pray to a dead saint that you don’t really have a real relationship with and no accountability to.
What we’re getting to with this discussion of our life in Christ in the Trinity is we do have accountability to these people. They are not dead. This is actually the next topic on our outline here: what about the dead saints? Are they dead? If we have this life in Christ, then, yes, there is still an accountability to these people that transcends death, that transcends this gulf that we find between what we call on earth the living and the dead. The sense of having a real relationship—and, again, this presupposes that the only reality that there is is a flesh-and-blood… that Bill is real because he’s sitting across from me in the studio and I can touch him and feel him, but…
Mr. Gould: ...but St. Basil isn’t, because he’s dead and he’s been dead for a thousand years.
Mr. Robinson: But because we can’t see him, because he’s not sitting here in flesh... I guess the real question there is who is really more real? Who is really more real: Bill who is sitting in front of me, or St. Basil, your patron saint, who is alive in Christ, who is, as St. Paul says in Hebrews 12:25, “the spirits of righteous men made perfect”? We would say that St. Basil, because he is departed and is now with Christ, as Paul says, “I desire to depart and be with Christ.” Because that’s where real life begins. That’s where real reality is, is when you are fulfilled and you are completed in Christ. That’s the short answer to that.
Mr. Gould: There’s a lot that goes with that.
Mr. Robinson: Oh, there is. There’s a ton that goes with that, and, again, we’re going to have to deal with that next week more completely.
Also the idea of a prayer partner. The notion of a prayer partner began back in the late ‘70s. I was part of the movement that started that in the campus ministries. It kind of blossomed, and it’s become quite a popular thing now. Basically, a prayer partner is touching the hem of the garment of what we’re talking about right here, right now: the communion of the saints, because at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy, it says, “Blessed is the kingdom, now and forever and unto ages of ages. Amen.” What we’re acknowledging with that opening statement of our worship is that we have entered into the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is us on earth; it’s all of us, corporately joining together, not just with ourselves, not just with the person in the pew next to us, and not just the priest, but with the heavenly choir of angels, with the elders surrounding the throne, with others who have gone before us, with the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. That’s what all the icons that are at our church are about. It reminds us that we have entered the kingdom of heaven in Christ. Our prayer partners are not just the priest. We don’t pray with just the priest; we pray with everybody.
Mr. Gould: I was just going to say, that would be one thing I would take issue with, with the advice that she got.
Mr. Robinson: I would, too.
Mr. Gould: I would say that you don’t just want to pray with the priest. You want to pray with the entire heavenly host, with the entire Church. Prayer partners are probably a little short-sighted in terms of the scope which we have access to in terms of our prayers.
Mr. Robinson: Those are the two short answers, Christy, and those are always… You just have such great questions. I love it when you call.
We’re coming up on another break here, Bill. When we come back from the break, we’ll wrap up our discussion of communion in Christ and what it means to be created in the image of God. Then we’ll maybe begin our next topic: what about the dead saints? But we’re going to have to pick that up next week.
Mr. Robinson: Bill, before the break we were talking about what it means to be created in the image of God. Christy’s question really touched on what it means for us to really think about, what it means to really consider, what it means to live the Christian life, and what it means to be saved, what it means to be alive in Christ, because life is really about love. Life is really about fulfilling who we are as people, living what we’re created to be by learning how to love. When we really look at the bottom line here, if people who died in Christ, if people who have died in faith are dead dead, then what’s the point?
Mr. Gould: Like as in non-existent.
Mr. Robinson: [As in] unconscious and completely out-of-touch and out-of-the-loop, then what is really the point of the trinitarian life? Because these are people who have learned to love; these are people who have laid down their lives for their brethren, who have laid down their lives for God. And if life is in love, then what does it mean for them to be alive?
Mr. Gould: It just challenges our understanding of what death is, right?
Mr. Robinson: Yes, and it also challenges our understanding about what life is, because why would God take somebody who is alive in him and all of a sudden, because they’ve experienced physical death, why would he cut them off from the very thing that he created them for, which is communion, which is union with him and with all others who also live in communion with him?
Mr. Gould: It doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Mr. Robinson: The quote that you had from Kallistos Ware here talks about individualism being death, that death is really about separation and life is really about union and communion. So when we die in Christ, we don’t die and become separated; we die and become even more unionized with God and with his saints, with his Church, and with his Body than we were before. This is the importance of the Church. This is the importance of what it means to live in Christ.
Jesus says, “If you have faith, even though you die, you will live.” What does life mean, then, if it doesn’t mean continued communion in love?
Mr. Gould: In James 2:26, it says, “The body without the spirit is dead.” It’s saying that the body without the spirit is dead, not necessarily the other way around.
Mr. Robinson: So the spirit still lives, and it lives in Christ.
Mr. Gould: Now we agree that in the resurrection, that’s the joining back of the spirit and the body together, and we preach that. Death is unnatural in a pure sense, but it doesn’t mean the spirit is dead.
Mr. Robinson: It doesn’t mean that we’ve lost connection with everything and everybody, because the spirit is alive in Christ. The spirit dwells with Christ.
Mr. Gould: I think we have some scriptures to prove that, too.
Mr. Robinson: We’ll go into those, but let’s keep talking about what it means to live in communion, because you had that great quote at the end of the passage there, Bill.
Mr. Gould: It says, “Hell is not other people; hell is myself, cut off from others in self-centeredness.”
Mr. Robinson: Now this gets back to what we opened the segment with: why intercession at all? Not just intercession of the saints, not just intercession with those who have departed and gone with Christ; why intercession between you and [me]? Why should I even pray for you? Why should you pray for me, if God has done everything?
Mr. Gould: It’s because we love. It’s because we’re supposed to love. It’s because we’re supposed to emulate God, who is love.
Mr. Robinson: And we’re supposed to give ourselves to one another and submit ourselves to one another as God has submitted within the life of the Trinity.
Mr. Gould: As Kallistos Ware said, “God is an unceasing movement of mutual love.” I mean, that’s what God is.
Mr. Robinson: For me to love you means that I have to be as God was toward me. We are to love one another as God and Christ loved us. Well, how did God love us? He enters our suffering. God enters our pain; he takes into himself all that we have and all that we are, including our suffering, our pain, our problems, our issues, our guilt, and up to and including our death.
Mr. Gould: Our wrath.
Mr. Robinson: He even took our wrath. Exactly. On the cross. We killed Christ, not God. He voluntarily took our wrath and laid down his life when he didn’t have to. This is what it means to live the trinitarian life. It means that when I see you suffering, when I see you in pain, love demands, communion demands, this union of beings demands that I enter into that pain. This communion demands that I, in love, look at your suffering, and I make it my suffering. And that’s what intercession is all about.
That’s what communion of the saints is all about. That’s what Hebrews 12 talks about: the great cloud of witnesses. If you read that list of people, who have all suffered for their faith, and they are looking at our walk on earth, and that passage begins with talking about us, striving for the kingdom and trying to lay aside our weight of sin and to suffer for the sake of the kingdom. They’re witnessing us going through that, because they’ve been through it. This is what we’re talking about right here.
It gets to the root of Christy’s question: why talk to these dead saints? Well, because these dead saints aren’t dead. They’re alive in love. They have been perfected in love. They’re “the spirits of righteous men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:25), and part of that perfection is being able to look at us and enter the striving and the suffering and the pain that we still experience here on earth.
Mr. Gould: The souls under the altar in Revelation that cry out, “How long?”
Mr. Robinson: “How long, O Lord?”
Mr. Gould: “How long are we going to suffer?”
Mr. Robinson: We’re going to talk a lot about that next week. This is what Paul is talking about in Philippians 3. If you go through your New Testament and you read about the sufferings of Christ and you read about what it means for a Christian to suffer, this is so central to what it means to live the Christian life. Paul talks about knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection. This is Philippians 3:10:
That I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, in order that I may attain to the resurrection from among the dead.
Paul in Colossians 2 talks about “fulfilling the sufferings of Christ in the Church.” That’s a mysterious passage. How do you understand what it means to fill up the sufferings of Christ, if you don’t have an understanding of what it means to live in the image of God, being created in the image of Trinity, that our whole human existence is fulfilled in love, and that love demands that we suffer with those who are suffering, that we weep with those who weep, that we enter into somebody else’s pain, that we enter into somebody else’s struggles and intercede for them, pray for them, encourage them?
Mr. Gould: Be strong for the weak.
Mr. Robinson: Bind up the wounds of the weak. Make strong the legs of those who are crippled. Why do any of that? It’s because of who we are in Christ. That is what makes us real human beings. That’s what makes us in the image of the Trinity. That’s the practical bottom-line application of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God who exists in Trinity in this constant communion of submission and love to one another.
If we can’t do that to other human beings and if we are not perfected in that after we die, then we have not fulfilled that existence. Our God means nothing if that is not true. Those who are dead in Christ are the ones who have fulfilled this purpose and have become true, healed human beings.
Well, Bill, the music’s coming up. We’re out of time. Next week, we’ll talk about Christy’s question: what about those who are dead? Are they really dead? What is their relationship to us, and what are they doing in the grave, if anything, for us? Join us next week on Our Life in Christ. Have a blessed week, and go out and try to be a saint this week for somebody. God bless you.