Your Online Cup of Tea
It’s funny how you can hear something a million times, but then it just clicks later. Listening to a podcast on Ancient Faith radio on the intercession of saints, I started connecting dots on the issue that otherwise had alluded me. The accusation often comes that asking the saints for prayer, or believing that we are in communion with them is necromancy. Often verses like the following are cited:
“So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance (1 Chronicles 10:13).”
“And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? (Isaiah 8:19).”
However, I think there are some assumptions here that are mistaken. I’ve dealt with a similar issue in my previous post on fantasy fiction. Moses stood before Pharaoh and his rod turned into a snake as a sign of God’s power. However, Pharaoh’s sorcerers, likewise copied this act by turning their rods into serpents. But in the scriptures, one of these parties are righteous, the others are said to practice sorcery. Why? Both did supernatural works. Power is clearly not the issue. The problem is about the source. It’s a question of legitimacy. There is no force called “magic.” There are only spiritual beings who have abilities that we do not. Scripture teaches that they are either for or against God. The problem with Saul, and of sorcery, is trying to bypass God in order to have access to knowledge or power by an illegitimate channel.
This is the same issue with calling communion of saints necromancy. First of all, in Christ, no one is spiritually dead or inactive. Death is not a cessation of consciousness. Nor are the “dead” in Christ, separated from union with him. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life… will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).” They are still in Christ and part of his body. And He has resurrected and living body. Not a dead one. That is why we as the Church participate in his resurrection life now sacramentally. As members of Christ’s body, a new bond had been formed between believers. One that was not there before Christ came. And since death had been defeated, it does not separate them. And separation is death. Saints in heaven then are dead only in the sense that they lack their bodies. But in Christ this physical separation no more changes relations than being in physically different rooms. I can still pray for my neighbours when I’ve moved house. And if I loved them as I should and remembered them before God on earth or in heaven, why wouldn’t I? I’m not allowed or unable to think of loved ones in heaven? If I did, would I be so callous as to not offer prayer for them? They who need it most? Do I care less in heaven about the Body that I’m a part of?
Plus being spiritual in and of itself is not deadness. They are just as alive, or even more so than the Angels. God certainly doesn’t see them as in a state of deadness “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him (Luke 20:37-38).” They are dead physically. But not dead as in unconscious or lacking activity, thoughts, emotion (Rev 6:10). Nor dead in their relationship to God. Which is the primary form of death and the root of all others (Ephesians 2:1). For even the living are called dead if they are separate from God. While the dead are called living while in relationship with God.
And in fact, those in Christ have the indwelling Spirit of Life! Did they lose that once their souls became separate from their bodies? No way. Unlike the Old Testament, God’s Spirit now has a permanent abiding in those united to Christ. The same Spirit of Life which indwells us now, indwells them. Uniting us in Christ. How can they be dead, when they are in fact raised to life? And in fact reign with Christ now, just as he reigns from Heaven (Rev 20:4-6, Daniel 7:10)? And since Christ too in his capacity as a human, can be a High Priest who is aware about all our petitions, then it should not be a problem for other glorified human beings either (1 John 4:17). Unless one wants to say that Christ via his humanity has been left in the dark about our struggles for the past 2000 years.
Also the issue of necromancy is not that spirits and embodied people are not supposed to communicate. Otherwise Angels would not have appeared to people. It would have been condemned in scripture. And Jesus too, spoke with Moses and Elijah at his transfiguration (Matthew 17:3). These however were legitimate channels of communication. Thus the condemnation of necromancy is not a blanket condemnation against a relationship between human and spiritual beings. The Psalms even have us address angels in our worship “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! (Psalm 103:20-21).” The problem is legitimacy. Working with God, or trying to bypass him. This was the main issue with Saul.
The problem with Saul was that God had already disowned him. And would not respond or give Saul a message. Saul then tried to bypass God’s dealing with him and find out information in an illegitimate way. Orthodoxy teaches that God has set up the Church such that we are all intercessors for each other. We all pray for and care for one another. True we have a direct line and relationship with God. But since we are made in his image, and God is Trinitarian, in eternal communion, so too He wishes to work in us through others. So that we too can live in communion as He does. And this fellowship, does not end when one physically dies. Though they are separate from their body, they are not separate from the body. They still know us and care for us. Orthodoxy teaches that in Christ, this relationship still continues. Though it takes on a new form. Much in the same way that we have communion with God, who is spirit and we do not see. So too we have with them. It may feel very much one sided at times, but it is no less real. The difference between this and necromancy is that communion of saints is not trying to bypass God. Rather the Orthodox Church teaches it is established by God.
So if one’s issue with communion of the saints, is either that:
a) The Saints are dead
b) Spirits beings and humans are forbidden from communication
Then for the first, one will have to take issue with the scriptures which only speaks of dead saints in reference to physicality. Not spiritual life or activity. At the same time refuting the second point if it is brought forward in an unqualified manner. Nor is Orthodoxy teaching that one bypasses God. Even if one were to think the doctrine is incorrect, strictly speaking it is not necromancy.