One of the main practices that distinguishes Orthodox Christianity from Protestantism is prayer to the Saints. Even most traditional Anglicans reject the invocation of Saints, instead opting for the advocation of Saints, i.e. they believe the Saints pray for us, but we cannot pray to them. However, as this florilegium will demonstrate, such a distinction is utterly foreign to historic Christianity. From her earliest days, the Church has always believed that we can and should seek the intercessions of the Saints by praying to them. And unlike other Orthodox doctrines, such as the Deity of Christ and the Trinity, this belief was never questioned by anyone in the ancient Church; rather Orthodox and heterodox alike consistently attested to the apostolic practice of praying to the Saints:

Shepherd of Hermas (2nd century):

I prayed [to the angel of repentance] much that he would explain to me the similitude of the field, and of the master of the vineyard, and of the slave who staked the vineyard, and of the sakes, and of the weeds that were plucked out of the vineyard, and of the son, and of the friends who were fellow-councillors… And he answered me again, saying, Every one who is the servant of God, and has his Lord in his heart, asks of Him understanding, and receives it, and opens up every parable; and the words of the Lord become known to him which are spoken in parables. But those who are weak and slothful in prayer, hesitate to ask anything from the Lord; but the Lord is full of compassion, and gives without fail to all who ask Him. But you, having been strengthened by the holy Angel, and having obtained from Him such intercession, and not being slothful, why do not you ask of the Lord understanding, and receive it from Him? (Shepherd, 5.4)

St. Hippolytus of Rome (3rd century):

Tell me, you three boys [Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego], remember me, I entreat you, that I also may obtain the same lot of martyrdom with you, who was the fourth person with you who was walking in the midst of the furnace and who was hymning to God with you as from one mouth? (Book II, 30.1)

Egyptian Papyrus (3rd century):

Beneath your compassion we take refuge, Theotokos. Our petitions do not despise in time of trouble, but from dangers ransom us, Only Holy, Only Blessed. (John Rylands Papyrus 470)

Origen of Alexandria (3rd century):

Now request and intercession and thanksgiving, it is not out of place to offer even to men—the two latter, intercession and thanksgiving, not only to saintly men but also to others. But request to saints alone, should some Paul or Peter appear, to benefit us by making us worthy to obtain the authority which has been given to them to forgive sins—with this addition indeed that, even should a man not be a saint and we have wronged him, we are permitted our becoming conscious of our sin against him to make request even of such, that he extend pardon to us who have wronged him. (On Prayer, X)

2nd Ecumenical Council (4th century):

May God by the prayers (εὐχαῖς τῶν ἁγίων) of the Saints, show favor to the world, that you may be strong and eminent in all good things as an Emperor most truly pious and beloved of God. (Letter of the Synod to Emperor Theodosius)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem:

Then we commemorate also those who have fallen asleep before us, first Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, that at their prayers and intercessions God would receive our petition. Then on behalf also of the Holy Fathers and Bishops who have fallen asleep before us, and in a word of all who in past years have fallen asleep among us, believing that it will be a very great benefit to the souls, for whom the supplication is put up, while that holy and most awful sacrifice is set forth. (On the Mysteries)

St. Gregory of Nyssa (4th century):

For he [St. Ephraim’s friend], being in the greatest danger and expecting death (since the path was littered with barbarians), as soon as he remembered your name and called out: “Saint Ephraim help me,” he escaped unharmed the danger of getting lost and freed himself from fear, unexpectedly saved himself, and protected by your care returned to his homeland beyond expectation. Wherefore, I dared to expound at length what I had said, and with unclean lips I dared to utter his praise. If in this word we have achieved anything worthy of you, then we recognize your assistance as the culprit of this success and thank you; and if our praises are below your dignity, then in this discrepancy we recognize you as the culprit, although these words are somewhat impudent. Because you, wanting to avoid praise, as you did during life, so after death, out of love for humility of wisdom, prevented those who wanted to glorify you. But be that as it may, whether or not, as much as possible, we have fulfilled our holy duty and we believe that you [St. Ephraim] will not turn away from us, the ardent admirers of our father, but will accept our praises, like childish babble, kind to the father. But you, standing before the divine altar and together with the Angels serving the life-giving and most holy Trinity, remember us all, asking for the remission of our sins and for receiving the eternal kingdom, in Christ Jesus, our Lord, to whom be Glory with the beginningless Father and the divine and life-giving Spirit, now and forever and forever and ever. Amen. (A Eulogy to our Reverend Father Ephraim)

But first of all, let us not go through their number insensibly and ungratefully; for he who has so many intercessors will never leave without the fulfillment of his prayers and petitions, even if he is burdened with many sins. In favor of this thought and hope, the witness is himself God in conversation with Abraham. When He accepted the intercession for the Sodomites, He was looking not for forty, but only ten righteous people in order to spare the city, which was ready for destruction. But we, according to the Apostle, having “a fraction … a cloud of witnesses surrounding us” ( Heb. 12, 1), we recognize ourselves as blessed, rejoicing in hope, enduring in prayer and partaking of the memory of the martyrs; for the forty martyrs are strong defenders against enemies and reliable intercessors in prayer before the Lord. (A Eulogy to the Holy Forty Martyrs)

St. John Chrysostom (4th century):

And the tombs of the servants of the Crucified are more splendid than the palaces of kings; not for the size and beauty of the buildings, (yet even in this they surpass them,) but, what is far more, in the zeal of those who frequent them. For he that wears the purple himself goes to embrace those tombs, and, laying aside his pride, stands begging the saints to be his advocates with God, and he that hath the diadem implores the tent-maker and the fisherman, though dead, to be his patrons. Wilt thou dare then, tell me, to 403 call the Lord of these dead; whose servants even after their decease are the patrons of the kings of the world? And this one may see take place not in Rome only, but in Constantinople also. (Homily XXIV, 5)

When you see that God is punishing you, do not flee to his enemies, the Jews, so that you may not rouse his anger against you still further. Run instead to martyrs, to the saints, to those in whom he is well pleased and who can speak to him with great confidence and freedom. (Homily VIII, VI.8)

St. Augustine of Hippo (5th century):

As to our paying honor to the memory of the martyrs, and the accusation of Faustus, that we worship them instead of idols, I should not care to answer such a charge, were it not for the sake of showing how Faustus, in his desire to cast reproach on us, has overstepped the Manichæan inventions, and has fallen heedlessly into a popular notion found in Pagan poetry, although he is so anxious to be distinguished from the Pagans. For in saying that we have turned the idols into martyrs, he speaks of our worshiping them with similar rites, and appeasing the shades of the departed with wine and foodIt is true that Christians pay religious honor to the memory of the martyrs, both to excite us to imitate them and to obtain a share in their merits, and the assistance of their prayers. But we build altars not to any martyr, but to the God of martyrs, although it is to the memory of the martyrs. No one officiating at the altar in the saints’ burying-place ever says, We bring an offering to you, O Peter! Or O Paul! Or O Cyprian! The offering is made to God, who gave the crown of martyrdom, while it is in memory of those thus crowned. The emotion is increased by the associations of the place, and love is excited both towards those who are our examples, and towards Him by whose help we may follow such examples. We regard the martyrs with the same affectionate intimacy that we feel towards holy men of God in this life, when we know that their hearts are prepared to endure the same suffering for the truth of the gospel. There is more devotion in our feeling towards the martyrs, because we know that their conflict is over; and we can speak with greater confidence in praise of those already victors in heaven, than of those still combating here. What is properly divine worship, which the Greeks call latria, and for which there is no word in Latin, both in doctrine and in practice, we give only to God. To this worship belongs the offering of sacrifices; as we see in the word idolatry, which means the giving of this worship to idols. (Contra Faustum XX, 21)

We can see your fruits that came by the will of God: you [St. Paul] are read everywhere, chanted everywhere, everywhere you are converting to Christ the hearts that oppose him, everywhere as a good shepherd you are gathering huge flocks. You [St. Paul] are reigning with the one you stoned [St. Stephen], reigning with Christ. There you can both see each other, can both now hear my sermon; both of you please pray for us. He will listen to you both, the one who crowned you, one first, the other later on, one who suffered persecution, the other who did the persecuting. The first was a lamb then, the other was a wolf; now, though, both are lambs. May the lambs acknowledge us, and see us in the flock of Christ. May they commend us to him in their prayers, so as to obtain a quiet and tranquil life for the Church of their Lord. (Sermons of Augustine, 316.5)

There was a fellow-townsman of ours at Hippo, Florentius, an old man, religious and poor, who supported himself as a tailor. Having lost his coat, and not having means to buy another, he prayed to the Twenty Martyrs, who have a very celebrated memorial shrine in our town, begging in a distinct voice that he might be clothed. Some scoffing young men, who happened to be present, heard him, and followed him with their sarcasm as he went away, as if he had asked the martyrs for fifty pence to buy a coat. But he, walking on in silence, saw on the shore a great fish, gasping as if just cast up, and having secured it with the good-natured assistance of the youths, he sold it for curing to a cook of the name of Catosus, a good Christian man, telling him how he had come by it, and receiving for it three hundred pence, which he laid out in wool, that his wife might exercise her skill upon, and make into a coat for him. But, on cutting up the fish, the cook found a gold ring in its belly; and immediately, moved with compassion, and influenced, too, by religious fear, gave it up to the man, saying, See how the Twenty Martyrs have clothed you. (City of God XXII, 8)

Eucharius, a Spanish priest, residing at Calama, was for a long time a sufferer from stone. By the relics of the same martyr [Stephen], which the bishop Possidius brought him, he was cured. Afterwards the same priest, sinking under another disease, was lying dead, and already they were binding his hands. By the succor of the same martyr he was raised to life, the priest’s cloak having been brought from the oratory and laid upon the corpse. (City of God XXII, 8)

St. Andrew of Crete (7th century):

Thy womb bore God for us, fashioned in our image. Implore thou Him as the Creator of all, O Theotokos, that we may be justified through thine intercessionsO Theotokos, the hope and protection of those who praise thee, take from me the heavy yoke of sin and as thou art our Most-pure Lady, accept me in repentance. (Great Canon)

Pope St. Gregory II (8th century):

But if it be the image of His Holy Mother, we say—“O Holy Mother of God, intercede with thy Son, Our True God, to save our souls.” Or it is of any particular martyr, as of St. Stephen, we say—“O Holy Stephen, who hast poured forth thy blood for Christ, having boldness, as the Proto-Martyr, intercede for us.” And so we say of any other martyr who hath borne testimony to Christ. Such are the prayers we offer by them: so it is not, as you say, that we call on our martyrs as gods. Turn from thine evil imagination, I entreat thee; and free thy soul from the scandals and from the curses which come upon thee from the whole world. Yea, the very children will make sport of thee. Go into any of the elementary schools and say, I am the opponent and destroyer of images, and they will throw their writing tablets at thine head: so that, if thou wilt not be taught by the wise, thou shalt by the foolish. (Letter to Emperor Leo)

Iconoclast Council of Hieria (8th century):

If anyone shall not confess the holy ever-virgin Mary, truly and properly the Mother of God, to be higher than every creature whether visible or invisible, and does not with sincere faith seek her intercessions as of one having confidence in her access to our God… If anyone denies the profit of the invocation of the Saints… anathema! (The Seven Ecumenical Councils, pg. 545-546)