Occasionally, some well-meaning yet uninformed Christians will attack others who honor and pray with the saints (holy men and women) who are in heaven. They inevitably argue that "It's not right to pray to 'dead' people." First of all, it has been the Christian practice for 2000 years not to pray to the saints, but to pray with them. We ask them to pray to God for us, since they are praying to Him already. We simply ask them to add us to their "prayer list", for lack of a better term. Secondly, true Christians do not believe in death. Physical death, the parting of the soul from the body, is not an end. Rather, it is a beginning. It is a passage from this temporary, fallen, sinful world, to the one that is eternal, joyful and perfect. In a word, without physical death we would not be able to be with God in Paradise. (And this passage would not be possible without the Death and Resurrection of the God-Man, our Lord Jesus Christ.) Although Christians from the past have died bodily, and they are invisible to us at the present time, their souls live on. The pages of the New Testament make this abundantly clear. Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ says to the Sadducees: "And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not God of the dead, but of the living." (Matthew 22:31-32). In telling the story of our Lord's Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, before His Crucifixion, St. Matthew tells us that Moses and Elijah were present.
"And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, 'Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah'" (Matthew 17:1-4).
Moses and Elijah had departed from this world several centuries before Christ took on human flesh. In the eyes of the world Moses and Elijah were "dead", yet they appeared with Jesus on Mount Tabor, and the disciples saw them talking with Him. Their souls were alive.
In St. Luke's Gospel, Christ tells a parable (story) of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man dies (in the earthly sense) and has a conversation with Abraham, who had departed this life centuries earlier.
"The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom [Heaven]. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.' And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment'..." (Luke 16:22-28).
How could souls converse with each other if they were not conscious, if they were "dead"?
Indeed with our Lord there is no death, only life. In the Book of Revelation, St. John the Theologian has a vision of heaven, in which souls of the martyrs are under the Altar. "When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, 'O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?' Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been" (Revelation 6:9-11).
God has one family, and it is united even though the heavenly portion is presently invisible to the earthly portion. St. Paul prays for the family of God in his Epistle to the Ephesians:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom the whole family [not "families"] in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19).
Furthermore, St. Paul writes that "we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses...let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us..." (Hebrews 12:1). The saints surround us and "cheer us on", so to speak. Imagine that we are in a local high school football stadium, with a track around the edge of the field. We are running a race on the track. The saints in heaven--the cloud of witnesses--have already run the race and are now cheering us on to victory from the bleachers. And the bleachers are quite crowded, too! The saints have completed the race and have fought the good fight. By following their example of perseverance and faithfulness to Christ, we too can be victorious in the race that is our life.
Sacred Scripture is clear that souls are conscious--they are alive--after they depart this earthly life. Why not ask them to pray for us? Some may say, "But I'd rather go directly to God." If we really want to go "directly to God" with our petitions and prayer intentions, then why do we ask people on earth to pray for us, especially when they are bogged down with worldly cares? Why not ask the saints in heaven, who are praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) to intercede on our behalf? They are ready, willing and able to do so!
Through the prayers of all Your saints, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.