Answers to Prayers – Angels’ and Saints’ place in Heaven
Opinions on where we go and what our role becomes after death have widely varied since the beginning. Even within the Jewish, Muslim, and classical Christian religions, people differ on the matter of what a deceased saint or an angel can actually do to help you. A Jewish doctor when viewing St. Martin’s tomb once remarked “Martin will do you no good, whom the earth now rests, turning him to earth… A dead man can give no healing to the living.” The opposing opinion also has the attention of many who want to believe that Raphael the archangel, or any of the angels and saints in heaven, will hear their prayers and come to aid them as he did for Tobit and Tobias in the Bible. The division seems to be on whether we can address the saints as intercessory beings or whether we should pray to God directly, as He has angels (some with their own dominions and stewardships) that He can send to answer prayers. The evidence from history and holy writ seems to favor the idea that God, when prayed to directly, sends angels to answer the prayers of the faithful.
Peter Brown in his book The cult of the saints: its rise and function in Latin Christianity explains that the origin of the cult of the saints can be found in the Hellenistic and Roman practice of honoring fallen heroes. Private cults were often formed in those times to venerate a worthy ancestor or to worship a public hero of the nation. At this time, however, Brown points out that “the forms of cult for heroes and for the immortal gods tended to be kept apart.” The difference seems to be that the fallen heroes were not seen to be capable of intercession on behalf of mortals as they were not thought of as “friends of God.” Many pagans saw the rise of Christianity and the cult of the saints with abhorrence. The Roman emperor Julian the Apostate thought of the cult of the saints as “a novelty for which there was no warrant in the gospels.” Burial practices began to change in the early fifth and sixth centuries that made the tombs and sepulchers of the saints a sharp contrast to what they used to be. They became a place of worship and a place where the deceased saints could address God on behalf of the world. Gregory of Nyssa said of the martyrs, “those who behold them embrace, as it were, the living body in full flower: they bring eye, mouth, ear, all the senses into play, and then, shedding tears of reverence and passion, they address to the martyr their prayers of intercession as though he were present.” As Christianity spread in the west, the cult of the saints became more and more pronounced in worship.
Nilsson, in his book Greek Folk Religion, indirectly argues that when Christianity took over the Greek religions, it successfully replaced the major Greek gods with Christianity but he notes a few cases where minor gods were not as easily removed. A good example is the nymph god, Artemis. Nilsson says of Artemis, “the Greek peasant of today still believes in the nymphs, though he gives them all the old name of the sea nymphs, Neraids… it is remarkable that they have a queen… perhaps she is a last remembrance of the great goddess Artemis.” It is possible that the cult of the saints developed, in part, as an attempt to replace these minor deities with something more Christian.
Nilsson offers another explanation that could explain the origin of the cult of the saints. In the veneration and respect offered to Greek heroes, the foundation for intercessory beings had already been established in Greek culture. When explaining the early “cult of the heroes,” Nilsson says “their cult was bound to their tomb, and their power was bound to their relics, which were buried in the tomb.” The heroes were called on for aid in battle on many occasions as well. “The sense which the word ‘hero’ had in Homer, namely ‘warrior,’ was not forgotten either, and the heroes were particularly well suited to defend the land in which they were buried.” In addition to aiding the Greeks in warfare, the heroes “were often healers of diseases, like the Mohammedan saints, whose tombs are often hung with patches torn from the clothes of the sick.”
With the way heroes were venerated in ancient Greece and with the powers they supposedly had, Nilsson remarks that “it is not to be wondered at that the people applied to them for help in all their needs.” It is easy to see the direct evolution from the “cult of the heroes” to the “cult of the saints” as they perform similar roles as intercessory beings capable of granting aid and small miracles.
The idea that praying to God directly is a superior method is evidenced in some early Jewish and Christian works. The Book of Tobit (which is considered apocryphal to some religions but canonical to Catholics and ancient Jews) recounts a story of a righteous Israelite family from the tribe of Naphtali. Tobit had been punished by the ruling elite and eventually went blind as well in persevering in his burial of the dead. Sarah, a young girl, had been deprived on her wedding night of seven husbands by a demon that possessed her. Both prayed for relief.
Raphael the archangel came among them in disguise and eventually corrected all the wrongs that had befallen both Tobit and Sarah. Tobias, Tobit’s son, is able to successfully marry Sarah and the demon is cast out and bound by Raphael. Tobias uses part of a fish to cure his father’s blindness as instructed by Raphael. Raphael, his work done, reveals himself and says, “I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord.” He also revealed that “I can now tell you that when you, Tobit, and Sarah prayed, it was I who presented and read the record of your prayer before the glory of the Lord; and I did the same thing when you used to bury the dead.” Clearly Raphael had heard their prayer (which was addressed to God) and was able to perform small miracles to aid them, all this with God’s approval. Raphael had his own stewardship that he oversaw and he presented prayers before the Lord for Tobit and Sarah on at least two occasions, hoping to gain God’s approval in his desire to aid them.
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 Peter Brown, The cult of the saints: its rise and function in Latin Christianity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1981), 4.
 Ibid., 5.
 Peter Brown, The cult of the saints: its rise and function in Latin Christianity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1981), 7.
 Ibid., 11.
 Martin P. Nilsson, Greek Folk Religion (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1940), 16-17.
 Martin P. Nilsson, Greek Folk Religion (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1940), 19.
 Ibid., 20.
 Tobit 12:15
 Tobit 12:12
 David Cook, trans., Joseph and Aseneth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 1:6.
 Ibid., 1:8.
 Ibid., 4:12-13.
 David Cook, trans., Joseph and Aseneth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 6:2-3.
 Ibid., 12:6.
 Ibid., 10:13-14.
 Ibid., 14:7.
 David Cook, trans., Joseph and Aseneth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 15:2-5.
 Ibid., 19:2.
 Luke 1:13.
 See Luke 1:26.
 Luke 1:31.
 Daniel 8:16.
 Daniel 9:21.
 Daniel 9:22-23.
 2 Enoch 6:3
 2 Enoch 6:4
 John 14:6.
 Willis Barnstone, The Other Bible (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco), The Acts of John 422.