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For academic mid-term break, see Intersession.

In Christianity, intercession or intercessory prayer is the act of praying to God on behalf of others.[1] In Islam it is called Shafa'ah which is a form of prayer to request God by the sake of those who are near to Him in order that as a member of the believing community one could hope for the intercession of the intercessors and hence deliverance from eternal damnation though not necessarily from temporary one.[2]

In Western Christianity, intercession forms a distinct form of prayer, alongside Adoration, Confession and Thanksgiving. In public worship, intercession is offered as prayer for the world beyond the immediate vicinity and friendship networks of the church community. As such, intercession constitutes part of the worshipping community's engagement with otherness, as it expresses Christians' solidarity with those who are 'other' than themselves. In doing so, a church both appeals to, and seeks to embody, God's own love for the world.

In the Greek version of the Scriptures, the Apostle Paul's tailored exhortation to Timothy specified intercession prayers can be made for those of worldly authority where it benefits God's immediate family members in maintaining their current way of life, as opposed to the use of intercession prayers motivated by love [agape] for worldly authorities.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2, NIV)[3]
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. (1 John 2:15, NIV)[4]

There are different forms of written intercessory prayer in various groups including Roman Catholicism, Anglican Communion, Ecumenical movements, Emerging Churches, and Methodist and Baptist churches. For example, a Christian prayer that says "we" instead of "I" is one example of intercessory prayer, as the person offering the prayer is offering it for everyone within that church or for all Christians.

Intercession in the Early Church[edit]

The early Christians continued to practice intercessory prayer on behalf of others after Jesus’ death. St. Ignatius of Antioch was one man who exhorted Christians to continue to pray for others, and especially for those who became Docetists or held other heretical beliefs.[5] In his letter to the churches of Smyrna, St. Ignatius exhorts the Christians there to pray for other people: “only you must pray to God for them, if by any means they may be brought to repentance, which, however, will be very difficult. Yet Jesus Christ, who is our true life, has the power of [effecting] this.”.[6] Throughout all of Ignatius’s letters, the word for prayers of intercession appear nineteen times, and Ignatius asks for prayer “for himself (eight times), for the Christian church in Syria (seven times), for persecutors, heretics, and all people generally (once each)”.[7] St. Ignatius and the other church fathers, such as St. Paul, who were keen on intercessory prayer based this practice on Jesus’ own teachings which required that one pray for others, especially one’s enemies: “27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”.[8]

St. Paul believed —according to Lionel Swain, of St. Edmund's College, Ware— that intercession one of the most important aspects of faith and praying life, as praying for others as a recurring theme in his works.[9] Prayer acts as a way for St. Paul to acknowledge God’s power. Intercessory prayer also acts as a way for the Apostle to “share in… the Father’s redemptive love”.[10]

In his Epistle to the Colossians, St. Paul writes: “9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,[e] 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God”.[11] This exemplifies Paul’s desire to help the world through prayer. St. Paul believes that prayer transforms the person doing the prayer, rather than the one being prayed for, which creates a stronger bond between him and God.[10]

Prof. Dr Johannes van Oort, Professor Extraordinarius in the Department of Church History and Church Polity of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Pretoria, South Africa adds that, in addition to praying for wisdom, the early church was very much involved with different charismas, one of which being healing. Praying for other people's illnesses was another way that intercessory prayer was important in the early church, as healing was a sign of "the power of God's Kingdom".[12] This gift of healing is specifically mentioned, among the other charismata, as a sign of being a true Christian by Irenaeus of Lyons in his text, Against Heresies.[13]

Intercession in Islam[edit]

Main article: Shafa'ah

See also

Main article: Tawassul

Shafa'ah is among the most controversial concepts within Islamic thought. This is because some verses of the Quran negate it stating that no intercession would be accepted in the day of resurrection. Some other verses however confirm it declaring that only God has the right to intercede in the next life. Finally there is a third kind of verses that state some people have the authority to intercede by permission of God. Wahhabies, taking the first two kinds of these verses as true, believe that there is no intercessor but Allah, and say that whoever believes in intercession of anyone other than God is not a Muslim, rather is a heretic.[14][15] According to Tabatabaie, however, it is a famous style of Quran that it first rejects any virtue or perfection for anyone other than God; then it confirms the same virtue for others depending on His permission and pleasure.[14]

The principle of intercession is mentioned in some of Muhammad's sayings when he said for example: I have received five gifts from God, [one of which] is that of intercession, which I have in store for my community. My intercession is for those who have not associated any partner with God.[16] According to Quran the prophets and angles have the authority to intercede on behalf of believing members of Islamic community. According to Shiite Imams and other intimate friends of God could also intercede on permission of God.[17][2][17]

Intercession for the Dead[edit]

In addition to praying for each other in life, early Christians would pray for those who had died.[18] There is no unequivocal evidence that Christians began to pray for the dead before the third century CE.[19] G. F. Hamilton argues that the earliest example of Church prayer on behalf of dead Christians are found in the Sacramentary of Serapion of Thmuis (350 CE).[20] Rather than pray for the departed in regular church services on Sunday, these early Christians would hold special commemorative occasions during the week. There was a sharp distinction drawn between remembering and praying on behalf of the dead, and those who were the “’faithfully’ departed”,[21] where Christians would only pray for those who had died as believers. The First Epistle of Clement (95 CE) contains a prayer, while mainly for protection for the living, also includes the dead.[19] Even quite early, a distinction was drawn between those who had died as Christians, and those who had died as unbelievers. In the Martyrdom of Polycarp (155 CE), Polycarp is killed and his bones are taken by fellow Christians and a shrine is set up to him, where they may remember his martyrdom.[19][22] In contrast, the "Apology of Aristides" shows how those who were not Christians were grieved for, while the dead faithful were rejoiced over.[23][24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Question: "What is intercessory prayer?"". Retrieved 5 April 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Dakake, Maria Massi. The Charismatic Community Shi˜ite Identity in Early Islam. edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Albany: State University of New York Press. pp. 132–137, 172–173. 
  3. ^ "1 Timothy 2:1-2 NIV - Instructions on Worship - I urge, then, - Bible Gateway". Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  4. ^ "1 John 2:15 NIV - On Not Loving the World - Do not love - Bible Gateway". Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  5. ^ Shepherd, Jr. Massey Hamilton. "Smyrna in the Ignatian Letters: A Study in Church Order." The Journal of Religion 20.2 (1940): 151. Web.
  6. ^ Epistle to the Smyrnaeans Ch. 4
  7. ^ "Smyrna in the Ignatian Letters: A Study in Church Order." The Journal of Religion 20.2 (1940): 152. Web.
  8. ^ Luke 6:27-36
  9. ^ John Greehy, John Quinlan, Lionel Swain and S. Purcell "Homiletic Notes" 17 The Furrow Vol. 19, No. 11, Supplement: The Bible, No. 6 (Autumn, 1968) , pp. 14-19
  10. ^ a b Homiletic Notes 17
  11. ^ Col. 1:1-14
  12. ^ van Oort, Johannes. "The Holy Spirit and the Early Church: The Experience of the Spirit." Hervormde Teologiese Studies 68.1 (2012): 1-7.
  13. ^ Against Heresies Book 2, Chapter 32
  14. ^ a b Tabataba'i, Muhammad Husayn (1983). al-Mīzãn; An Exegesis of the Qur’ãn. Translated by Sayid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi. Beirut,: World Organization for Islamic Services. pp. 264–293. 
  15. ^ Al-Qazwini, Sayyid Moustafa. "Inquiries About Shi'a Islam". The Islamic Educational Center of Orange County. 
  16. ^ Sobhani, Ayatollah Ja'far. doctrines of shii islam; A Compendium of Imami Beliefs and Practices. Translated and Edited by Reza Shah-Kazemi. London: I.B.Tauris Publishers. pp. 132–137. ISBN 978-1860647802. 
  17. ^ a b Donaldson, Dwight M. (1933). The Shi'ite Religion: A History of Islam in Persia and Irak. BURLEIGH PRESS. pp. 339–358. 
  18. ^ Prayers of the Ancient Church for the Faithful Departed G. F. Hamilton The Irish Church Quarterly Vol. 9, No. 35 (Jul., 1916) , pp. 201 Stable URL:
  19. ^ a b c Hamilton 203
  20. ^ Hamilton 209
  21. ^ Hamilton 202
  22. ^ Martyrdom of Polycarp
  23. ^ Hamilton 204
  24. ^ Apology of Aristides

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