The Bible and St Augustine on the place of Saints in the Church

machenitsiThe place of saints in Christianity in general is a hot topic.  Many non-Orthodox groups reject showing any kind of reverence towards the Saints in heaven (whom we believe intercede for us) or further yet towards their holy remains.  The issue is, can the remains holy saints be the vehicle of God’s grace?  We shall see, the Biblical answer is an affirmitave yes!  Further, Scripture also gives us a very clear example with the reverence we should show towards the blessed remains of these holy saints.

Firstly, the Scriptures give us a clear indication that the saints offer prayers for us and intercession before God.

Revelation 8:1-41 When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 2And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. 3Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.

Revelation 5:8,98Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints

The incense rising from the golden bowls befor the throne of God are the prayers of the saints!  When someone walks into an Orthodox Church and witnesses Orthodox Christians worshipping God they will often see pious behaviour directed towards the holy martyrs and saints.  This is clearly not the worship we offer God, but a reverence and respect for those blessed ones who preceded us in the Body of Christ.  We do not say all are saints, only those whom the Church has approved by God’s will.  Yet it can be confusing for someone to see people prostrating and kissing icons etc., and the priests annointing relics with an ancient mixture of spices. 

Exodus 13: 19 And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had placed the children of Israel under solemn oath, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here with you.”St. Sedhom Bishay

With reverence and respect the Hebrews of old preserved and maintained the bones or relics of the prophet and patriarch Joseph for centuries until Moses brought them out of Egypt.  This tradition is continued to this day in the Christian Orthodox Churches where the bones of Saints are kept near or under altars and in holy places for the faithful to receive blessings.  But, isn’t all this superstitious nonsense?  Do these relics really pass on the grace of God?  Countless miracles through history and in telishahe modern era attest to an affirmative yes!  However, Scripture also reveals another evidence of the power of relics to reflect the glory of God…

2Kings 13:20 Then Elisha died, and they buried him. And the raiding bands from Moab invaded the land in the spring of the year. 21 So it was, as they were burying a man, that suddenly they spied a band of raiders; and they put the man in the tomb of Elisha; and when the man was let down and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet.

Interestingly, the bones or relics of Elisha still exist and are located in an Orthodox Church in the middle east with the relics of St John the Baptist…

Clearly then the bones of holy saints of God can bestow miraculous blessing upon us on earth.  Yet it is without further ado that I wish to share the teaching of St Augustine which clarifies the Orthodox Christian tradition that WORSHIP IS DUE TO GOD ALONE – and further that our reverance for the saints is something altogether different to this…

FROM ST AUGUSTINE – THE CITY OF GOD…. (End of Book VIII)St-Takla-org_Coptic-Saints_Saint-Augustine-01

But, Nevertheless, we do not build temples, or ordain priests, rites, and sacrifices for these same martyrs; for they are not our gods, but their God is our God.  Certainly we honour their reliquaries, as the memorials of holy men of God who strove for truth even to the death of their bodies, that the true religion might be made known, and false and ficticious religions exposed….But who ever heard of a priest of the faithful, standing at an altar built for the honour and worship of God over the holy body of some martyr, say in the prayers, I offer to thee a sacrifice, O Peter, or O Paul, or O Cyprian? for it is to God that sacrifices are offered at their tombs – with holy angels in celestial honour; and the reason why we pay such honours to their memory is that by doing so we may give thanks to the true God for their victories, and by calling them afresh to remembrance, may stir ourselves up to imitate them by seeking to obtain like crowns and palms, calling to our help that same God on whom they called.  Therefore, whatever honours the religious may pay in the places of martyrs, they are but honours rendered to their memory, not sacred rites or sacrifices offered to dead men as gods…

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4 thoughts on “The Bible and St Augustine on the place of Saints in the Church”

    1. Thanks for your comments Liz, we are blessed by the depth of the Orthodox faith!
      The prayers of St Mary and St Mark be with you…

  1. Thanks! I never was able to defend this practice before. I am finding it odd that many of the “great preachers” of the Reformation were supposedly heavily influenced by St. Augustine, and have such stark contrast in quite a few doctrines?

    1. They do the same thing with the Scriptures! Twisting them to suit their doctrine which ammounts to ecclesial psychology! Remember, none of the Church Fathers are infallible. St Augustine is no exception. Yet he was a deep and profound thinker, and wrote some wonderful words, and be of no doubt he was a defender of the Apostolic Orthodox Faith! He was not as many would like to imagine an ancient protestant running around evangelising the world! He was a repentant and a Bishop as can be seen from reading his ‘Confessions’ and to publicly confess ones shortcomings shows his orthodox spirit and deep humility. I think it is unfair that some elements of the Eastern Church unfairly dismiss St Augustine because of his connection with Rome, his writings are well worth a read.

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