Intercession – Br Geoffrey Tristram – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

geoffrey 150xBr. Geoffrey Tristram offered this homily on the prayer of intercession at the Monastery as part of the Teach Us to Pray series, October 20, 2009.

One of the most wonderful experiences of my life was some years ago when living in England I had a sabbatical, and I spent a few months living in Egypt. Most of the time I lived in Cairo, and the part of Cairo I loved most of all, was not the famous parts with the pyramids and the sphinx, or even the medieval Islamic City of Cairo, but Old Cairo, Al-Qahira, south of the modern city, next to the Nile. The small walled city is Christian, Coptic Christian, and it is full of ancient churches like St. Barbara’s, St. John the Baptist, St. George, St. Mark.

It’s a quiet world set apart from the frenetic world of modern Cairo. Here narrow, windy lanes lead from one ancient church to another. And it was here one day that I walked alone into the Church of St. John the Baptist and I saw a man kneeling in front of the altar with two others, and they had their hands on his shoulders, and there were other people standing around and praying.

After a while, the man and his friends got up, and they wandered off to another altar, and the same thing happened again, the kneeling and the praying, and they held his shoulders again. I asked one of the friends what was happening? The man kneeling at the altar was dying. The doctors could do no more for him, and so his family, and there were about 20 of them, had brought him to Old Cairo and they were making a pilgrimage to all the churches and praying for the sick man at all the Holy Shrines. I asked if I could come too, and they were delighted. They shook my hand and then they hugged me and I felt part of the family, and we set off to the next church, where a Coptic priest was waiting for us. He looked up to Heaven and he sang, I remember a beautiful prayer, and he took oil and anointed the sick man.

It was an extraordinary morning as we moved from church to church and different family members took it in turn to hold and support their sick family member. I was struck by the gentle kindness that they showed to him, and I was struck by their fervent faith and their love, both for this man and for God. At the end of the pilgrimage, I took my leave and I was invited to lay my hands on the sick man and to bless him. I don’t know what happened to him, I don’t know whether he died or not, but I’ll always remember the radiant look in his eyes, a look of profound joy. I had witnessed an event of profound spiritual healing.

In our Preaching Series on Prayer, we are considering Healing Prayer and Intercessory Prayer. That experience I had in Old Cairo helped me recognize a first deep truth I believe, about the meaning of healing, and that is that healing is not the same as recovery. Often when I was a parish priest, I witnessed a sick person’s life transformed by the loving prayers and support of family and friends, an experience of deep healing for them. But they didn’t always ‘recover’ their physical health.

Our monastic Rule says that “We offer thanks with joy whenever prayer results in the transformation for which we hoped, but we must often suffer the pain of seeing no visible results in our prayer. But we should let no frustration wear down the trust that sustains our waiting on God.”

I have also been very moved by the accounts of people who have been to such pilgrim places of healing, as Lourdes. Stories of wonderful physical healing, but also almost more movingly, those stories where the person was not specifically cured of their physical illness, but received a profound life-changing grace of deep inner healing.

One of the most beautiful accounts of healing in the Gospel is found in our story today, from Mark. It is a story full of beauty and tenderness. So many things which stand out in this gospel account, I saw mirrored in that morning in old Cairo.

Jesus and His disciples are in the region of the Decapolis on their way back to Galilee, and they meet a crowd of people who bring to Him a deaf man who also had an impediment in his speech and they beg Him, they beg Him to lay His hand on him.

We don’t know who the crowd were. Maybe it was the man’s extended family and friends. But they longed for their friend to be healed. Like that family in Cairo, they supported him and held him, as they brought him to Jesus.

I don’t know, but I imagine that being deaf in a crowd of people, even if they love you, and as they get more and more excited, could be a frightening experience. And Jesus in His gentle kindness and consideration takes the man aside into a private place, away from the excited crowd where he can feel safe. And then He put His fingers in his ears and He spat and touched his tongue.

Saliva was held to have healing properties, and so the man would have known what Jesus’ intentions were. But this was no mere miracle work. It’s what Jesus did next which was distinctive and crucial. He looked up to heaven and said, “Be opened”. He looked up to heaven to God, just as He did, you will remember in John’s Gospel, before the raising of Lazarus. There he looked upwards and cried, “Lazarus come out!”

The source of Jesus’ power was not magic, nor secret knowledge, but total trust in His Father. I have come to do the will of My Father. And immediately we read, His eyes were opened, His tongue released and He spoke plainly.’

I saw this beautiful story from Mark’s Gospel enacted in those churches in Old Cairo. The family and friends who brought their loved one to Jesus, longing for Jesus to heal him. The faith and trust that Jesus will indeed heal them, and that extraordinary moment when that Coptic priest before he sang looked up to the source of His power and His faith.

The man in the story regains his hearing, and my friend in Cairo looked at me with eyes radiant with trust and faith.

I think these stories can teach us a lot about what we are doing when we pray for healing, especially for those who are sick. St. James in his letter urges us to pray for one another so that you may be healed.

It should be part of every Christian’s prayer, this practice of intercessory prayer for others. Intercessory prayer plays an important part in our life here as brothers, in this community. In our rule we read, “the church has from the beginning entrusted to the monastic communities the special responsibility for intercession.” In our community, we pray several times a day for those who are sick, and those who have asked us to pray for them. We have an intercessions board where we are happy to place the many prayer requests which are sent to us.

I don’t expect you have an intercessors board in your home, but I think it’s a great idea to keep a notebook with the names of those written in it whom you want to hold before God in prayer. And in your times of prayer, the book can help you to bring to mind the names of people. People I know also stick photographs in the book as well, and use that as a place from which to begin their prayers of intercession.

A bishop I know, at Christmas receives hundreds of Christmas cards from clergy and the diocese, and he says that during the weeks and months after Christmas, in his prayers, he has the Christmas cards in a basket and he takes them one at a time and uses that as a way to pray for all the clergy and his diocese. I think that is a great idea for intercessory prayer. But what exactly are we doing when we pray for someone in need, for someone who is sick? St. James urges us, pray for one another, so that you maybe healed. It’s part of our life as Christians to pray for each other. So what are we doing when we pray for each other, and for those in need?

There’s a wonderful passage in Archbishop Michael Ramsey’s book, ‘The Christian Priest Today,’ which has always helped me in my understanding of what intercessory prayer is all about. He points out that the New Testament Greek word, ‘entunchanein’, which means ‘to make intercession,’ literally translated does not mean, making petitions, or saying any words at all.’Entunchanein’, to make intercession, literally means ‘to be with someone on behalf of another.’

So when we talk of Jesus making intercession for us to the Father, it’s not Jesus ‘talking’ to God about us or for us, it is Jesus being intimately close to His Father and carrying us whom He loves on His heart, and into the very heart of God. So real profound intercession is not a detached un-impassioned shopping list of the needs of the world which it can sometimes feel like, but a profoundly loving and closely holding up of others before God. It is becoming close ourselves to the heart of God in our prayers of loving adoration, and then bringing those we love and long to be healed with us. True intercession, true ‘entunchanein’ is being with God with those we care for on our hearts.

You may have noticed and wondered why we read the Old Testament lesson we did today? It’s actually a beautiful passage, very great detail about the jewels and the settings of the breastplate which Aaron the Great High Priest wore when he went into the Holy of Holies’ It is because each of those jewels on his breastplate represented the tribes of Israel whose priest he was. Michael Ramsey says that, what Aaron was doing, was going near to God into the very holiest of holies, into the very heart of God carrying the people on his breast or on his heart. And that is what we are doing when we come into the presence of God; holding those for whom we care, holding those who have asked us to pray for them, holding them on our hearts, and taking them into the heart of God. That is New Testament ’entunchanein’, ‘making intercession for others’.

So praying for the sick is an offering born of love. As our rule puts it,” It is a wonderful thing that God makes us His fellow workers and uses our love acting as intercession to further the reconciliation of all things in Christ.” The family and the friends in the story of the deaf man, and the family and the friends of the sick man in Cairo, both brought their loved ones to Jesus. And we are encouraged to do the same.

In my own prayers, I will usually spend the first part of my prayers becoming centered and becoming very conscious of God’s loving presence with me. So as it were, I first will go into the ‘Holy of Holies’. I spent time going into the heart of God and becoming aware of God’s presence and love for me. And it is only then that I will turn to intercessory prayer, so that I can bring those I want to pray for, into that relationship.

So, those intercessions then are not disembodied, they are not a list, but they as if were emerge from that loving relationship, which I have with God. To hold them then on my heart before the loving heart of God, is how I see intercession. Sometimes I do that without any words at all. But I will often imagine this person who may be sick, I often imagine them in my prayers, lying on a bed, and I often imagine holding them up on that bed just as those four friends in that other story held up their friend before Jesus and asked Him to heal him.

Often it can be very helpful in prayer to use our imaginations and to actually spend time holding a person before God or before Jesus, and asking for Jesus’ healing touch for that person. I often imagine Jesus looking at the sick person with deep kindness, not just one more sick person, but looking at them, knowing them, loving them as someone unique. I imagine Jesus laying His healing hands upon them, and filling them with new hope and peace.

On this St. Luke’s Day, I think the gospel challenges each of us to become more fully Christ’s fellow workers in His work of healing and in reconciliation.

So what does your intercessory prayer look like?

How do you pray for others? When do you pray for them? Do you sometimes feel it’s just like reading out a list of names, and feel, ‘I wonder, what I am doing here?’ The New Testament understanding of intercession I think, challenges us to have more passion in our intercessory prayers. The crowds longed and they yearned for Jesus to heal the deaf man. They came looking for Jesus, they begged Him, they beseeched Him, they spoke to Jesus from a place of deep love for the person who is unwell, and they didn’t give up.

So, how passionate are you about your prayers for healing? Do you long for healing? Do you expect healing? In Cairo they carried their friend all morning, hour after hour, from one church to the other. It was hard work. And intercessory prayer is hard work, but it is a work of love. It is carrying those we love and long to be healed on our hearts, and taking them mysteriously and wonderfully into the very heart of God. Amen!

© 2009

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  1. Margaret Dungan on July 17, 2018 at 17:21

    Thank you .Br. Tristram , keeping prayers real is not always easy but your words today have really helped and inspired so many people myself included.


  2. Rhode on July 17, 2018 at 11:26

    As my faith grows I am realizing I can be giving to others what God faithfully gives me. A shelter in prayer. In Intercessory prayer I feel as if I am reaching up to pull down Gods’ love over whomever I am praying for, or talking to. It is a physical aching cry for His providence to cover and intercede. In my 64 yrs I have been privileged to see God move in ways too numerous to list. I will not be witness to all resolutions on this side of life but, here, I have a shelter of my own in the hope of His Word that He is listening, preparing and able to reconcile all people and things. Thanks be to God.

  3. David W on July 17, 2018 at 07:47

    Thank you, Br. Tristram for this message on intercessory prayer. In my daily prayer, I do have a mental list such as you describe, and it does help me to focus my prayer; but the suggestion of having a book in which the names are listed is very much appreciated. Reading again the Monastic Wisdom booklet on Intercession also will be helpful. This talk has given me a clearer vision of how to make intercessory prayer for those I hold up to God in prayer. Thank you again.

  4. Marta Engdahl on June 29, 2017 at 07:18

    In re-sorting in-coming mail that I had previously neglected, I was blessed to discover this beautiful homily and instruction in healing prayer. Today, I pray for my beloved son who is ill, on top of another illness in 2001, which has never healed, and he has now begun to speak of not being able to live a long life (at age 40)! I nurtured, (diagnosed and located doctors, etc.) and helped him heal, I thought, through his first illness, and now this (pneumonia in both lungs from allergies). Then, there is also the issue of his (justified) anger at his father, and thus further directed to the world. So, I have this kind of prayer to also offer. And, yet, I cannot intrude, interfere, etc. as he is still independent and strong willed, a wonderful husband, and father of two young children. Yes, I will pray, I will try to divest myself of my own concerns (kenosis), ask to be permeated with God’s love, and then lift up my son to that love of God so that he may find peace and comfort in his travails. Thank you, God, for letting me find this homily this morning, a morning when I deeply needed to reset my priorities.

  5. Lorna Harris on June 27, 2017 at 14:51

    I enjoyed this homily immensely. What a wonderful experience you had in Cairo. Also thank you for the more accurate meaning of intercession!

  6. Ruth West on June 26, 2017 at 21:23

    Dear Br. Geoffrey, even though I commented on this sermon in 2012, I want you to know that it spoke to me afresh today. I read it aloud, which was so helpful. It is a good way to avoid distractions. I keep a list of prayer requests, but, as you stated, they are more than just a list. You have inspired me to bring those persons to Jesus, picture them in my mind and pray for their healing, not just in body, but in bringing them alongside Jesus and know that He hears and looks at each one of them with eyes of love, as we bring them to Him trusting His touch, however is best for them. Sometimes, the ultimate healing is death of the body. I fear not physical death; I do indeed fear the loss of His presence. Thank you, dear brother in Christ, for this marvelous sermon.

  7. Barb c on June 26, 2017 at 10:52

    Thank you. A helpful reminder that healing is not the same as recovery.
    This posting came at a pivotal moment in my intercessions and encouraged me to keep trusting in God’s infinite love and wisdom for those we love and pray for regularly.

  8. Anders Benson on June 26, 2017 at 10:46

    Thank you. Your story reminds me of an elderly friend I visited returning to a city I had lived. He had cancer and I soon realized he didn’t need to be cheered up, he needed to die. I sat down and told stories, laughed and cried and said goodbye. He couldn’t talk but there was a light in his eyes that I’ll never forget. As a man, healing is more about my fix-it, materialistic ego-driven agenda. Perhaps the showing up, the entunchanein, is more important than healing, for in such spaces peace is a crowbar, and it is good.

  9. Christina on June 26, 2017 at 10:43

    Dear Br. Geoffrey: I have read this sermon on a couple of occasions before today. Thank you. I had one of those nights when I couldn’t sleep. I went through all my family and friends and asked God to be with them.//But the one I truly bring to God and ask for healing prayer isr my beautiful granddaughter. She is a young woman who has just had her heart broken by the one she loved. I sat across the table from her the other day; her face expressing her hurt and sadness. As I write this, I cry for her. //When your children are small, they fall, and you put a bandage on the hurt. But, as you probably all know, with the affairs of the heart, others can only hold their hands and let them know that they are still loved by family and friends. I know God loves her and that that Eternal Spirit is with her; she will be healed even if, as Br. Geoffrey once wrote in another sermon, there is always a scar.
    Blessings to all. Christina

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  11. Virginia W. Nagel on October 7, 2016 at 16:43

    I am very moved by your understanding of the emotional state of the deaf man as he was brought to Jesus for healing. I am deaf myself and you “got it” perfectly. This Gospel from Mark 7 is the source of the name, “Ephpatha” used by many churches for the deaf, including the one I pastored prior to my retirement.

    I very much appreciate your emphasis on the fact that healing isn’t necessarily recovery. Not understanding this fact is the source of so many people losing their faith when their prayers for a loved one or for themselves did not result in recovery as they anticipated. I have found in my own healing ministry tat most often the Lord starts with healing the soul and then usually the emotions before healing the body…often resulting in the person having a happy and peaceful death rather than a rapid physical recovery.

    I, too, was blessed by seeing the healing ministries at the old churches in Cario, many years ago.

  12. Betsy Jeffery on June 10, 2015 at 21:02

    I ask you join me in prayer for Danny Zalewski – a young man who under went 12+ hours of heart surgery yesterday. He is a sweet, 21 year old with many other challenges. Thank you.

  13. Dee Dee on June 9, 2015 at 17:21

    I ask the brothers to pray for my beloved, who is a friend of SSJE and from whom I am apart. I set him before God, praying for his spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being, and that he knows he is loved.

  14. suzannem. johnson on June 9, 2015 at 15:56

    Please pray for healing for Pam. Prayers for strength and renewal for Dianne, and prayers for a congregation going through a difficult time.

  15. Martha Paine on June 9, 2015 at 11:57

    A marvelous commentary on the power of prayer. I belong to a women’s Bible study group and I have seen how 35 women effect healing of body mind and spirit of the receivers of the prayers. These women are called the “Prayer Warriors” and it proves when one or two are gathered together. The Lord God is listening.
    I am lifting my husband up to the Lord for healing of body, mind and spriit. Br. Geoffrey, your sermon today came as a gift of strength for me at this difficult time. Blessings of thanks, Marty

  16. Robert on June 9, 2015 at 11:31

    The invitation to name a person who is indeed of prayer and to post their picture on Facebook seems wrong. Many in grave need of prayer would be hurt and feel violated by such exposure. I know more than one hurting person who would be harmed by the revelation!

    • Reviewer on June 9, 2015 at 14:49

      Dear Robert,

      We are asking people to offer public prayers of intercession in a very public medium. You are right that people could be hurt if such prayers violate privacy. Thank you for reminding us all that social media is no place for private prayers and that only prayers that one is comfortable with being read out in the Prayers of the People are ones that should be shared. Thank you for your deep care.

  17. Muriel Akam on May 27, 2015 at 05:17

    Thank you for this guidance on intercessory prayer. I am praying for family members who are in need of healing . I pray that they will find the love of God, place their trust in our Father and through this find healing and live their best lives with hope , courage, and thankfulness.

  18. Annette Foisie on September 4, 2013 at 11:05

    As a member of the Order of Saint Luke, also known as OSL, I read this teaching with great interest. Yes, our hearts are filled with love as we intercede for others: first with love of God, the Blessed Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but also with love for those who come forward for prayer: those with debilitating illness,
    those with troubled minds, and those who seek a closer relationship with the
    Lord, a spiritual healing. I have been blessed to witness many healings, and above all I give thanks to God, Who first loved me.

    Annette Foisie, lifetime member, Order of Saint Luke

  19. Rick Porter on July 25, 2013 at 08:56

    Brother Geoffrey, thank you for this lesson and its many wonderful points. As the leader of an intercessory prayer ministry at my church, I used this lesson in one of our training sessions. I have read it many times and each time, including this morning, I am given greater understanding of what it means to bring another The Lord in prayer.

    For the past 18 months I have been praying for the healing and conversion of a member of my family who is filled with fear, anger, suspicion and resentment; conditions which make it difficult to fell love for him. Thank you these insights. Jesus tells us that the two greatest commandments are to love God above all else and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

    You so well point out that by loving God first, in all that it means, we can lovingly bring those in need to the altar of The Lord.

  20. Sally S. Hicks on March 19, 2013 at 14:37

    My 19-year-old grandson, Adam, is very ill with Crohn’s disease and today he’s in lots of pain as we await further blood tests to provide the necessary information to proceed with treatment. Your offering on intercession could not have been more timely nor more reassuring. Thank you so much.

  21. Melanie Zybala on March 9, 2013 at 21:33

    Wonderful–especially right now, praying for two friends who are sick.
    This is the guidance I ( we) needed.

  22. Paul Wakeford on January 20, 2013 at 12:06

    Thank you, Brother. I was deeply moved by your brief message and the image of Jesus looking at and laying hands on a person we are praying for…I was blown away by your story of Old Cairo and the dying man and his family…I wish I could have been with you and them. I am a Spiritual Director in an Episcopal Church and although I do not do healing per se, many of my directees are dealing with life matters which need healing. You have offered me a new way to pray for them. How very beautiful and powerful. Deo gratias…and blessed be thee. Paul

  23. MARILYN BURNETT on December 1, 2012 at 16:14


  24. Ruth West on October 18, 2012 at 20:07

    Thank you for this inspiring message on intercessory prayer. I have been the
    giver and the recipient of such prayers. Though I have been praying since I was a little child, God opens my heart to new ways to pray through the Gospels and men and women of faith. Thanks again. REW

  25. Pablo Eduardo Martínez Mena on October 18, 2012 at 10:34

    Muy bello comentario. La reflexión Evangélica diaria, son un bálsamo para el Alma, el hombre y la mujer de Dios no sabemos vivir sin escucharlo, gracias hermano Geoffrey quiera Dios pudiéramos tener en Uruguay una Congregación de de San Juan el Evangelista. Saludo fraterno en Cristo, Pablo.

    • Editor on October 18, 2012 at 14:36

      Google Translation:
      Very beautiful comment. daily Evangelical reflections are a balm for the soul, men and women of God do not know how to live without listening, may God thank brother Geoffrey Uruguay could be one congregation of St. John the Evangelist. Fraternal greetings in Christ, Paul.

  26. Jack Zamboni on October 18, 2012 at 10:27

    Thank you, Geoffrey. Words I much need to hear as one I Love was recently diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer.

  27. Janice M. Schuyler on October 18, 2012 at 10:09

    I will be supplying at a small, struggling Lutheran church this Sunday and have been preparing the sermon, wanting to foucs on the Hebrews reading about Jesus as High Priest interceding for us. I wanted to make the connection between his interceding with that done by all of us, his followers. I plan now to use Geoffrey’s Cairo story as part of that. What a beautiful connection.

  28. Susan Moore on October 18, 2012 at 09:38

    I have become a real believer in intercessory prayer both as a giver and as a receiver. Your reminder to us all to utilize the power that comes from such prayer inspired me. I have been on a pilgrimage to Lourdes and it changed my life. Thank you for sharing with us.

  29. DLa Rue on October 18, 2012 at 07:57

    Both the words and the actions in such prayer are consistent, one of the hallmarks of sacramental practice. An oral exam question a long time ago brought this to my attention, that both the verbal texts and the enacted ones go together to move worship and prayer forward. “Carrying someone into God’s presence in love” is such a succinct way of describing this. Thanks.

  30. Harry W on August 18, 2011 at 05:36

    Wonderful posting this morning Br. Tristram, it really helped deepen my thoughts on intercessory prayer in my life.

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