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Warning: Idolatry

This is part of our No Longer Sola Series.

This series details my investigation of Orthodoxy and comparison to the doctrine of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod as they understand it from the Book of Concord. This post is but one on a journey that lead me to conclude that Lutheranism, for all it's strengthens, is not the fullness of the Church.

Readers are invited to check out the other posts in this series (found at the link above) for a fuller view of the journey.


The most serious struggle I had with Orthodoxy surrounds the question of idolatry. Indeed, it was the last serious wall to fall. My Lutheran catechesis had taught me quite well that Christians are absolutely not to ask departed saints for their prayers or help. Prayer goes to God alone and to ask saints in heaven for their help was at best sending mail to the wrong person and at the worst idolatry, worshiping the saints.

When I talk to Lutherans who worry about the way we Orthodox venerate icons or the way prayers to the saints or the Theotokos are worded, I'm sympathetic. I get it. I remember how you, dear Lutheran, felt about it.

I will also confess that I did not overcome this obstacle by thinking about it or through reason. My walls were too high and too well fortified. I overcame this obstacle by asking the Theotokos for her help. Here’s my story.

Amelia had been suffering with despondency. In Orthodoxy this is a very common term, but outside of Orthodox circles it is not used as often theologically. When I say she was struggling with despondency, I mean depression to the point of no longer caring what happened. Amelia has always struggled with depression, but this was a severe bout that had lasted for weeks.

I tried everything I could think of, but my own prayers and efforts were not helping. I was getting frustrated with the situation. Simultaneously I was going through a season of trying to put Orthodoxy out of my mind. I couldn't figure out invocation of the saints, it didn’t fit in my current worldview and I didn't want to think about it anymore.

So the thought occurred to me that I could get rid of my Orthodoxy problem by asking the Theotokos to pray for this issue Amelia was having. I could ask her for help, nothing would happen, and I could go back to being a Lutheran. Case duly closed, I turned to Google to search for Orthodox prayers to the Theotokos related to depression. I found a really good one embedded in an article so I wrote it down. That night after everyone was asleep I went to my prayer chapel, swallowed really hard, and prayed that prayer as sincerely as I could muster until I was too tired to go on anymore.

The next morning I got up with the kids and while I was making breakfast Amelia came into the kitchen with the sunniest disposition I had seen on her face in a long while. I waited a few minutes to see if it would change, but it didn’t. I cautiously asked her how she was feeling and she proceeded to tell me something “so weird” had happened that morning.

When she woke up there were these words or feelings that seemed to be present in the room with her. Almost like they were up above her and after she was awake they came into her and filled her. As she described these feelings my stomach dropped. She was essentially reciting the contents of the prayer I had prayed to the Theotokos the night before.

I must have looked like I saw a ghost, because she asked me what was wrong. I opened my computer up and showed her the prayer I had found that I said for her well into the night in the chapel. She was stunned; exactly the things I prayed for her were gifted to her that morning when she woke up. Not only was such an extremely persistent dark cloud over her and our family suddenly lifted, but the exact words I had prayed were given to her so clearly that she could repeat them almost verbatim.

After finally humbling myself and asking the Mother of God to pray for us, we were given a miraculous healing. I believe that through her intercessions for our family, God gave me an unusually immediate resolution to my request. I have found repeatedly that the times when I ask the Theotokos to pray for me that her petitions are answered rather speedily, whether they are yes or no.

Along my journey I had listened to the refutation of Orthodoxy by Pastor Will Weedon, including his now infamous talk at Redeemer Lutheran in Fort Wayne. In that talk one of his main points of disagreement and warning about Orthodoxy is that prayers to the saints, and the Theotokos in particular, are idolatrous.

Over the next few days I'm going to share resources I wish I had known about when I was wrestling with the question of the Theotokos and prayers to her. Asking her and other saints to pray for us is not an instance of paganism or idolatry invading Christianity, but rather it flows from a right understanding of the Incarnation and how God shares His Holiness with His people and creation.

Update: 5/29/18 - Be sure to check out this follow-up post with resources for understanding the theology of prayer to the Theotokos.

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