Intercession or intercessory prayer is the act of praying to God on behalf of others. In Western Christianity, intercession forms a distinct form of prayer, alongside Adoration, Confession and Thanksgiving.
The Apostle Paul's exhortation to Timothy specified that intercession prayers can be made for those in authority.
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.
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.
In the Early Church
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. 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”. 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)”.
St. Ignatius and the other church fathers, such as Paul the Apostle, 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. –Luke 6:27-28
According to Lionel Swain, of St. Edmund's College, Ware, St. Paul believed that intercession one of the most important aspects of faith and praying life, as praying for others as a recurring theme in his works. 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”. 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.
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". 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.
Intercession of the saints
Intercession of the saints is a doctrine held by the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, and most Anglicans, that saints may be asked to intercede (or pray) for others. The doctrine of requesting intercession from saints can be found in Christian writings from the 3rd century AD. The 4th-century Apostles' Creed states belief in the communion of saints which certain Christian churches interpret as supporting the intercession of saints. Following the stream of Judaic-Christian tradition, Judaism allows for the petition of the saints. In Lutheran teachings all believers are saints, but prayer to saints who have been transferred to the Church Triumphant is forbidden.
Intercession for the dead
In addition to praying for each other in life, early Christians would pray for those who had died. There is no unequivocal evidence that Christians began to pray for the dead before the third century AD. 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 AD). 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”, where Christians would only pray for those who had died as believers. The First Epistle of Clement (95 AD) contains a prayer, while mainly for protection for the living, also includes the dead. 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 AD), 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. In contrast, the "Apology of Aristides" shows how those who were not Christians were grieved for, while the dead faithful were rejoiced over.
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. 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.
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. 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.
- 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.
- Shepherd, Jr. Massey Hamilton. "Smyrna in the Ignatian Letters: A Study in Church Order." The Journal of Religion 20.2 (1940): 151. Web.
- Epistle to the Smyrnaeans Ch. 4
- "Smyrna in the Ignatian Letters: A Study in Church Order." The Journal of Religion 20.2 (1940): 152. Web.
- 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
- Homiletic Notes 17
- van Oort, Johannes. "The Holy Spirit and the Early Church: The Experience of the Spirit." Hervormde Teologiese Studies 68.1 (2012): 1-7.
- Against Heresies Book 2, Chapter 32
- "On the Intercession and Invocation of the Saints". orthodoxinfo.com.
- 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: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30067646
- Hamilton 203
- Hamilton 209
- Hamilton 202
- Martyrdom of Polycarp
- Hamilton 204
- Apology of Aristides
- 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.
- Al-Qazwini, Sayyid Moustafa. "Inquiries About Shi'a Islam". Islam.org. The Islamic Educational Center of Orange County.
- 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.
- Donaldson, Dwight M. (1933). The Shi'ite Religion: A History of Islam in Persia and Irak. BURLEIGH PRESS. pp. 339–358.
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