The first author seems quite strained in his response. He seems to be saying "Sure, the dead are alive. Sure they pray for us. Sure there are references that seem to indicate prayer exchanges, even. But until the Bible says "Pray to dead people" or "ask dead people for prayers" in the most explicit manner, I'm going to be a stubborn reductionist."
Well, he's mostly afraid of violating the anti-necromancy passages.
On the usual Orthodox argument about those passages, Holding says:
The explanation here seems ingenious, but is, I must say, a rather forced argument based on the assumption that when the OT spoke of the "dead" it excluded certain persons who would now be called the "living". In this case, one must note that at the time YHWH spoke at the burning bush, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would be among those "living" and not dead; yet we see no evidence that the law, some years later, gave exceptions to talk to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or any other faithful person.
So, if a medium couldn't have conjured up Abraham back then, we can't pray to him now.
The second guy seems to be making very odd inferences into texts that aren't dealing with his topic.
The Orthodox co-writer points out that Lactantius is speaking of a condemnation of idolatry, but it just doesn't seem clear to me that this is enough to exclude the fact that he just says, "the dead" without qualification as the second Protestant points out:
it is manifest that those who either make prayers to the dead, or venerate the earth, or make over their souls to unclean spirits, do not act as becomes men, and that they will suffer punishment for their impiety and guilt, who, rebelling against God, the Father of the human race, have undertaken inexpiable rites, and violated every sacred law."
Then we have Tertullian clearly seeming to deny the saints hear us.
Paradise, the place of heavenly bliss appointed to receive the spirits of the saints, severed from the knowledge of this world (The Apology, 47)
I don't think I'm persuaded by the second Protestant's use of Athenagoras, however.
Because the multitude, who cannot distinguish between matter and God, or see how great is the interval which lies between them, pray to idols made of matter, are we therefore, who do distinguish and separate the uncreated and the created, that which is and that which is not, that which is apprehended by the understanding and that which is perceived by the senses, and who give the fitting name to each of them,-are we to come and worship images?...For if they differ in no respect from the lowest brutes (since it is evident that the Deity must differ from the things of earth and those that are derived from matter), they are not gods. How, then, I ask, can we approach them as suppliants, when their origin resembles that of cattle, and they themselves have the form of brutes, and are ugly to behold?
Given the Incarnation and divinized humanity, it seems like Athenagoras can't be used against veneration (it's funny how the second Protestant quotes praise to the Theotokos as if he thinks it is some great secret that the Orthodox don't just
ask the Saints to pray for them).
I guess given theosis, we could say Lactantius is just being ignorant when he says:
I have shown that the religious rites of the gods are vain in a threefold manner: In the first place, because those images which are worshipped are representations of men who are deadand that is a wrong and inconsistent thing, that the image of a man should be worshipped by the image of God, for that which worships is lower and weaker than that which is worshipped
But I'm always concerned when I see patristic quotes like this, because doesn't it indicate veneration, at the very least of icons, was not practiced in Lactantius' area (which seeing as how he was St. Constantine's advisor, would have been substantial). I mean, I know Lactantius was kind of dense at times, but wouldn't he have noticed Christians venerating the dead?
His quote from Ireneaus doesn't seem relevant:
Nor does she [the church] perform anything by means of angelic invocations, or by incantations, or by any other wicked curious art; but, directing her prayers to the Lord, who made all things, in a pure, sincere, and straightforward spirit, and calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, she has been accustomed to work miracles for the advantage of mankind, and not to lead them into error....The altar, then, is in heaven (for towards that place are our prayers and oblations directed)" (Against Heresies, 2:32:5, 4:18:6)
He doesn't say they only
pray to Christ, though the denial of invoking angels might be problematic.
The reference to Clement of Alexandria certainly does to me seem to define prayer as communication with God, perhaps exclusively:
"But if, by nature needing nothing, He delights to be honoured, it is not without reason that we honour God in prayer; and thus the best and holiest sacrifice with righteousness we bring, presenting it as an offering to the most righteous Word, by whom we receive knowledge, giving glory by Him for what we have learned....For the sacrifice of the Church is the word breathing as incense from holy souls, the sacrifice and the whole mind being at the same time unveiled to God. Now the very ancient altar in Delos they celebrated as holy; which alone, being undefiled by slaughter and death, they say Pythagoras approached. And will they not believe us when we say that the righteous soul is the truly sacred altar, and that incense arising from it is holy prayer?...Prayer is, then, to speak more boldly, converse with God. Though whispering, consequently, and not opening the lips, we speak in silence, yet we cry inwardly. For God hears continually all the inward converse. So also we raise the head and lift the hands to heaven, and set the feet in motion at the closing utterance of the prayer, following the eagerness of the spirit directed towards the intellectual essence; and endeavouring to abstract the body from the earth, along with the discourse, raising the soul aloft, winged with longing for better things, we compel it to advance to the region of holiness, magnanimously despising the chain of the flesh. For we know right well, that the Gnostic [believer] willingly passes over the whole world, as the Jews certainly did over Egypt, showing clearly, above all, that he will be as near as possible to God." (The Stromata, 7:6-7)
Tertullian takes The Lord's Prayer to be representative of all prayer. The object of all prayer, then, is God:
"God alone could teach how he wished Himself prayed to. The religious rite of prayer therefore, ordained by Himself, and animated, even at the moment when it was issuing out of the Divine mouth, by His own Spirit, ascends, by its own prerogative, into heaven, commending to the Father what the Son has taught." (On Prayer, 9)
Notice that Tertullian refers to "the religious rite of prayer", meaning that he's referring to all prayers, not just some. All prayers are "commended to the Father", following the pattern of The Lord's Prayer, according to Tertullian.
He explains that prayer is a sacrifice to God, which would exclude praying to anybody else:
"We are the true adorers and the true priests, who, praying in spirit, sacrifice, in spirit, prayer,-a victim proper and acceptable to God, which assuredly He has required, which He has looked forward to for Himself! This victim, devoted from the whole heart, fed on faith, tended by truth, entire in innocence, pure in chastity, garlanded with love, we ought to escort with the pomp of good works, amid psalms and hymns, unto God's altar, to obtain for us all things from God." (On Prayer, 28)
The citations at the end from Hippolytus, Origen, and Cyprian seem to similarly narrow the definition of prayer. I know we have catacomb prayers from around this time and the Sub Tuum Praesidium in Origen's backyard, but the passage quoted makes it sound like he is unaware of it.