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Prayers for the dead in the Orthodox tradition ^

Posted on 11/02/2011 5:57:38 PM PDT by rzman21

PRAYER FOR THE DEAD How important commemoration at the Liturgy is may be seen in the following occurrence: Before the uncovering of the relics of St. Theodosius of Chernigov (1896), the priest-monk (the renowned Starets Alexis of Goloseyevsky Hermitage, of the Kiev-Caves Lavra, who died in 1916) who was conducting the re-vesting of the relics, becoming weary while sitting by the relics, dozed off and saw before him the Saint, who told him: "I thank you for laboring me. I beg you also, when you will serve the Liturgy, to commemorate my parents"—and be gave their names (Priest Nikita and Maria).* "How can you, O Saint, ask my prayers, when you yourself stand at the heavenly Throne and grant to people God's mercy?" the priest-monk asked. "Yes, that is true," replied St. Theodosius, "but the offering at the Liturgy is more powerful than my prayer."

Therefore, panikhidas and prayer a home for the dead are beneficial for them, as are good deeds done in their memory, such as alms or contributions to the church. But especially beneficial for them is commemoration at the Divine Liturgy. There have been many appearances of the dead and other occurrences which confirm how beneficial is the commemoration of the dead. Many who died in repentance, but who were unable to manifest this while they were alive, have been freed from tortures and have obtained repose. In the Church prayers are ever offered for the repose of the dead, and on the day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, in the kneeling prayers at vespers, there is even a special petition "for those in hell."

St. Gregory the Great, in answering in his Dialogues the question, "Is there anything at all that can possibly benefit souls after death?" teaches: "The Holy Sacrifice of Christ, our saving Victim, brings great benefits to souls even after death, provided their sins (are such as) can be pardoned in the life to come. For this reason the souls of the dead sometimes beg to have Liturgies offered for them ... The safer course, naturally, is to do for ourselves during life what we hope others will do for us after death. It is better to make one's exit a free man than to seek liberty after one is in chains. We should, therefore, despise this world with all our hearts as though its glory were already spent, and offer our sacrifice of tears to God each day as we immolate His sacred Flesh and Blood. This Sacrifice alone has the power of saving the soul from eternal death, for it presents to us mystically the death of the Only-begotten Son" (Dialogues IV: 57, 60, pp. 266, 272-3).

St. Gregory gives several examples of the dead appearing to the living and asking for or thanking them for the celebration of the Liturgy for their repose; once, also, a captive whom his wife believed dead and for whom she had the Liturgy celebrated on certain days, returned from captivity and told her how he had been released from his chains on some days—the very days when the Liturgy had been offered for him. (Dialogues IV: 57, 59, pp. 267, 270).

Protestants generally find the Church's prayer for the dead to be somehow incompatible with the necessity of finding salvation first of all in this life: "If you can be saved by the Church after death, then why bother to struggle or find faith in this Life? Let us eat, drink, and be merry..." Of course, no one holding such a philosophy has ever attained salvation by the Church's prayer, and it is evident that such an argument is quite artificial and even hypocritical. The Church's prayer cannot save anyone who does not wish salvation, or who never offered any struggle for it himself during his lifetime. In a sense, one might say that the prayer of the Church or of individual Christians for a dead person is but another result of that person's life: he would not be prayed for unless he had done something during his lifetime to inspire such prayer after his death.

St. Mark of Ephesus also discusses this question of the Church's prayer for the dead and the improvement it brings in their state, citing the example of the prayer of St. Gregory the Dialogist for the Roman Emperor Trajan—a prayer inspired by a good deed of this pagan Emperor.

*These names had been unknown before this vision. Several years after the canonization, St. Theodosius' own Book of Commemoration was found in the monastery where he had once been abbot, which confirmed these names and corroborated the vision. See the Life of Elder Alexis in Pravoslavny Blagovestnik, San Francisco, 1967, no.I (in Russian).

WHAT WE CAN DO FOR THE DEAD Every one of us who desires to manifest his love for the dead and give them real help, can do this best of all through prayer for them, and in particular by commemorating them at the Liturgy, when the particles which are cut out for the living and the dead are let fall into the Blood of the Lord with the words: "Wash away, O Lord, the sins of those here commemorated by Thy Precious Blood, by the prayers of Thy saints." We can do nothing better or greater for the dead than to pray for them, offering commemoration for them at the Liturgy, Of this they are always in need, and especially during those forty days when the soul of the deceased is proceeding on its path to the eternal habitations. The body feels nothing then: it does not see its close ones who have assembled, does not smell the fragrance of the flowers, does not hear the funeral orations. But the soul senses the prayers offered for it and is grateful to those whe make them and is spiritually close to them.

O relatives and close ones of the dead! Do for them what is needful for them and what it within your power. Use your money not for outward adornment of the coffin and grave, but in order to help those in need, in memory of your close ones who have died, for churches, where prayers for them are offered. Show mercy to the dead, take care for their souls. Before us all stands that same path, and how we shall then wish that we would he remembered in prayer! Let us therefore be ourselves merciful to the dead.

As soon as someone has reposed, immediately call or inform a priest, so he can read the "Prayers on the Departure of the Soul," which are appointed to be read over all Orthodox Christians after death. Try, if it be possible, to have the funeral in church and to have the Psalter read over the deceased until the funeral. The funeral need not be performed elaborately, but most definitely it should be complete, without abbreviations; think at this time not of yourself and your convenience, but of the deceased, with whom you are parting forever. If there are several of the deceased in church at the same time, don't refuse if it be proposed to serve the funeral for all together. It is better for a funeral to be served for two or more of the deceased at the same time, when the prayer of the close ones who have gathered will be all the more fervent, than for several funerals to be served in succession and the services, owing to lack of time and energy, abbreviated; because each word of prayer for the reposed is like a drop of water to a thirsty man. Most definitely arrange at once for the serving of the forty-day memorial, that is, daily commemoration at the Liturgy for the course of forty days. Usually, in churches where there are daily services, the deceased whose funerals have been served there are commemorated for forty days and longer. But if the funeral is in a church where there are no daily services, the relatives themselves should take care to order the forty-day memorial wherever there are daily services. It is likewise good to send contributions for commemoration to monasteries, as well as to Jerusalem, where there is constant prayer at the holy places. But the forty-day memorial must he begun immediately after death, when the soul is especially in need of help in prayer, and therefore one should begin commemoration in the nearest place where there are daily services.

Let us take care for those who have departed into the other world before as, in order to do for them all that we can, remembering that "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY One day this whole corruptible world will come to an end, and the everlasting Kingdom of Heaven will dawn, where the souls of the redeemed, joined to their resurrected bodies, will dwell forever with Christ, immortal and incorruptible. Then the partial joy and glory which souls know even now in heaven will be replaced by the fullness of joy of the new creation for which man was made; but those who did not accept the salvation which Christ came to earth to offer mankind will be tormented forever-together with their resurrected bodies—in hell. St. John Damascene, in the final chapter of his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, well describes this final state of the soul after death:

"We also believe in the resurrection of the dead, for there really will be one, there will be a resurrection of the dead. Now, when we say resurrection, we mean a resurrection of bodies. For resurrection is a raising up again of one who has fallen. But, since souls are immortal, how shall they rise again? Well, if death is defined as a separation of soul from body, the resurrection is the perfect rejoining of soul and body, and the raising up again of the dissolved and fallen living being. Therefore, the very body which is corrupted and dissolved will itself rise up incorruptible. For He Who formed it in the beginning from the dust of the earth is not incapable of raising it up again after it has again been dissolved and returned to the earth whence it was taken by the decision of its Creator ...

"Now, if the soul had engaged alone in the contest for virtue, then it would also be crowned alone; and if It alone had indulged in pleasures, then it alone could be justly punished. However, since the soul followed neither virtue nor vice without the body, it will be just for them to receive their recompense together ...

"And so, with our souls again united to our bodies. which will have become incorrupt and put off corruption, we shall rise again and stand before the terrible judgment seat of Christ. And the devil and his demons, and his man, which is to say, the Antichrist, and the impious and sinners will be given over to everlasting fire, which will not be a material fire such as we are accustomed to, but a fire such as God might know. And those who have done good will shine like the sun together with the angels unto eternal life with our Lord Jesus Christ, ever seeing Him and being seen, enjoying the unending bliss which is from Him, and praising Him together with the Father and the Holy Spirit unto the endless ages of ages. Amen."*

*Exact Exposition, Book Four, ch. 27, in The Fathers of the Church vol. 37, 1958, pp. 401, 402, 406.

Examples of the Efficacy of Prayers Offered for the Dead at the Liturgy and of the Church's Prayers for the Dead St. Gregory the Dialogist, Pope of Rome [11], sets before us a remarkable example of the effectiveness of prayer and the bringing of offerings for the departed, which took place in his monastery.

"One brother," he says, "for breaking the vow of poverty, was deprived of a church funeral and prayers after his death for a period of thirty days, in order to strike fear in the hearts of the others. But later, out of compassion for his soul, the Bloodless Sacrifice and prayers were offered up for him for the space of thirty days. On the last of these days, the deceased appeared in a vision to his brother, whom he had left among the living, and said: 'Until now it has gone badly for me, but now I am at peace, for today I received communion.'"

This same holy Father, in his dialogues with the Deacon Peter, tells of the apparition of a dead man who begged a priest to help him by praying for him to God. "From this it is obvious," he concludes, "how profitable the Sacred Sacrifice is for souls; for the souls themselves ask it of the living, and indicate the means by which they are cleansed of sins."

St. John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria, [12] often celebrated the Divine Liturgy for the dead, and stated that it is a great aid to their souls. To corroborate this, he cites the following:

"There was a certain prisoner whose parents, considering him dead, had the Liturgy served three times a year for him—on Theophany, Pascha and Pentecost. After he had been released from captivity, returning unexpectedly to his parents, he recalled that on those very days a certain man of glorious appearance came to him in prison carrying a torch. The fetters fell from his hands and he was freed; the rest of the days he was again in chains as a prisoner."

St. Gregory the Dialogist also relates that during the lifetime of St. Benedict of Nursia [13] there lived two women who had the unfortunate habit of judging their neighbors, speaking evil and reproaching others. Learning of this, the Venerable Benedict said to them: "Curb your tongues, or I will have to excommunicate you from the Holy Mysteries." But, all the same, they did not cease their evil habits and even said nothing in reply to the saint's paternal admonition. Several days later both women died in their virginity and were buried together in the church. When the Divine Liturgy was served and the deacon exclaimed: "Catechumens, depart!", many Christians beheld the two virgins leaving their tombs and the church, for they were unable to remain there during the Divine Liturgy. This occurred at each Divine Liturgy. When St. Benedict discovered this, he took pity on them and, taking a prosphora, he commanded them to take it to the church and to remove a particle from it for the repose of their souls. He also ordered them commemorated during the performance of the Mysteries of Christ. After that, none of the Christians saw them leaving the church. From this, all understood that, owing to the Holy Church's prayer for the departed and the offerings, the departed virgins had received forgiveness from God. [14]

The Greek Emperor Theophilus [15] lived carelessly and did not concern himself with the salvation of his soul. Death found this sovereign in the midst of his sinful life. The Empress St. Theodora, Theophilus' consort, was horrified at the heavy lot that would befall her husband in eternity. At her behest, prayers were increased in the churches, alms were distributed, good works were performed. And what was the result? The prayers of the Church reached the Lord. Theophilus was forgiven, to the spiritual joy of his grieving spouse and to the consolation of the Church, which has so merciful and mighty a Lord, Who gives life to the dead and leads them forth from the abyss of hell, not only bodily, but spiritually. [16]

"But who can number," asks St. John of Damascus, "all of the testimonies found in the biographies of holy men, in the accounts of the lives of the holy martyrs and the divine revelations, which clearly indicate that even after death tremendous benefit is rendered to the departed by prayers, Liturgies and the distribution of alms for them. For nothing given to God perishes in return, but is rewarded by Him with the greatest interest."

Examples of the Efficacy of Prayers for the Dead St. John of Damascus relates: "A certain holy man had a disciple who was living heedlessly. And what happened? Death found him in the midst of his carelessness. The merciful Heavenly Father, roused by the tears and cries of the elder, revealed to him the youth burning in flames up to his neck, like the merciless rich man mentioned in the parable of Lazarus. And when the saint subjected his flesh to strict mortification, fervently beseeching God for the forgiveness of his disciple, he beheld him enveloped in flame up to his waist. Finally, when the holy man had increased his ascetic labors yet more, God revealed him in a vision to the elder, removed from the flame and completely free."

The holy martyr Perpetua [17] relates: "One day, at the time of general prayer in prison, I unexpectedly uttered the name of my dead brother Dinocrates. Struck by this unusual occurrence, I began to pray and sigh for him before God. On the following night I received a vision: I saw Dinocrates come forth, as though from a dark place. He was in intense heat, tormented by thirst, filthy in appearance and pallid. On his face was the wound from which he had died. Between us yawned a deep crevasse, and we were unable to approach each other. Beside the place where Dinocrates stood there was a full cistern, the lip of which stood much higher than my brother's stature, and Dinocrates stretched, trying to reach the water. I was filled with pity, for the height of the rim prevented my brother from drinking. Immediately after this I awoke and realized that my brother was in torment. But believing that my prayer could help him in his suffering, I prayed all day and night in the prison, with cries and lamentations, that Dinocrates be treated mercifully. And on the day on which we were kept in chains, I received a new vision: the place which before I had seen had been made bright, and Dinocrates, with a clean face and beautiful apparel, was enjoying its coolness. Where he had had a wound, I saw only a trace of it. The rim of the cistern was no higher than the waist of the young man, and he was able to draw water from it without effort. On the rim of the cistern stood a golden cup full of water. Dinocrates approached it and began to drink from it, but the water in it did not decrease. Satisfied, he stepped away from it and began to rejoice. With this the vision ended. I then understood that he had been released from punishment.

One day the Venerable Macarius of Egypt was walking about the desert and found a dried-out human skull lying on the ground. Turning it over with his staff, the saint heard a sound, as though from a distance. Then Macarius asked the skull: "What manner of man wast thou?"

"I was the chief of the pagan priests that dwelt in this place," it replied. "When thou, O Abba Macarius, who art full of the Spirit of God, pray for us, taking pity on them that are in the torments of hell, we then receive a certain relief."

"And what manner of relief do ye receive?" asked Macarius. "And tell me, what torments are ye subjected to?"

"As far as heaven is above the earth," replied the skull with a groan, "so great is the fire in the midst of which we find ourselves, wrapped in flame from head to toe. At this time we cannot see each others' faces, but when thou prayest for us, we can see each other a little, and this affords us some consolation."

On hearing this reply, the venerable one wept and said: "Cursed is that day when man broke the divine ordinance!" And once again he asked the skull: "Are there any other tortures worse than yours?"

"Beneath us, much farther down, there are many others," it replied.

"And who are found in such unbearable torments?" asked Macarius.

From the 17th Century Confession of Dositheus, Patriarch of Jerusalem. DECREE XVIII. We believe that the souls of those that have fallen asleep are either at rest or in torment, according to what each hath wrought; — for when they are separated from their bodies, they depart immediately either to joy, or to sorrow and lamentation; though confessedly neither their enjoyment, nor condemnation are complete. For after the common resurrection, when the soul shall be united with the body, with which it had behaved <151> itself well or ill, each shall receive the completion of either enjoyment or of condemnation forsooth.

And such as though envolved in mortal sins have not departed in despair, but have, while still living in the body, repented, though without bringing forth any fruits of repentance — by pouring forth tears, forsooth, by kneeling while watching in prayers, by afflicting themselves, by relieving the poor, and in fine {in summation ELC} by shewing forth by their works their love towards God and their neighbour, and which the Catholic Church hath from the beginning rightly called satisfaction — of these and such like the souls depart into Hades, and there endure the punishment due to the sins they have committed. But they are aware of their future release from thence, and are delivered by the Supreme Goodness, through the prayers <152> of the Priests, and the good works which the relatives of each do for their Departed; especially the unbloody Sacrifice availing in the highest degree; which each offereth particularly for his relatives that have fallen asleep, and which the Catholic and Apostolic Church offereth daily for all alike; it being, of course, understood that we know not the time of their release. For that there is deliverance for such from their direful condition, and that before the common resurrection and judgment we know and believe; but when we know not.

From the Confession of Metropolitan Peter Mogila Q. 65. If, indeed, prayers and pious works are customarily performed for the dead, how is one to regard them?

R. The same Theophylactus speaks about this in explaining the words of Christ the Lord: "'Fear him who has power to cast into hell.'[162] Be mindful", he say, "that he did not say: 'Fear him, whom after he has killed, I will send into hell,' but that he has the power to send. For the sinners who die are not cast into hell; but it rests in the power of God such that he may even pardon them. But I say this because of the sacrifices and almsgivings made for the sake of the dead, which works are of no small benefit even for those who have died in grave sins. It is not so certain, therefore, that God sends to hell one who has killed, but rather that he does have the power to send him. And so let us not cease working hard through almsgiving and prayers to win over him, who has indeed the power of sending, so that he may not use this power fully but be able to pardon."[163] And so, it is deduced from the teaching of Sacred Scripture and this Father that we are obliged to pray to God certainly for such deceased, to offer the unbloody sacrifices and give alms, since they cannot do the same for themselves.

Q. 66. How must one consider the purgatorial fire?

R. No Scripture makes mention of the fact that after death there is a temporal punishment that cleanses souls; what is more, the opinion of Origen was condemned by the Church at the second Council of Constantinople because of this. Also, the soul can receive no sacraments after death; and if it were then to make satisfaction for its sins, it would have to perform a part of the sacrament of holy Penance, which would be contrary to the orthodox teaching. Therefore, the Church rightly performs for them the unbloody sacrifice and prayers, but they do not cleanse themselves by suffering something. But, the Church never maintained that which pertains to the fanciful stories of some concerning the souls of their dead, who have not done penance and are punished, as it were, in streams, springs and swamps.

"We who did not know God, yet experience the mercy of God a little," answered the skull. "But they that knew the name of God, yet rejected Him and did not keep His commandments, undergo much heavier and worse torments below."

After this St. Macarius took the skull, buried it in the ground and departed thence. [18]

Examples of the Efficacy of Alms Distributed in Memory of the Dead The Blessed Luke relates that he had a brother who, having, become a monk, concerned himself little with his soul and died, not having prepared himself for death. The holy elder wished to discover what his brother had been accounted worthy of, and he began to entreat God to reveal his lot. One day, during his prayers, the elder beheld the soul of his brother in the hands of demons. Meanwhile, money and costly things had been found in the cell of the deceased, from which the elder understood that the soul of his brother was suffering, among other reasons, for breaking the vow of poverty. All the money that had been found the elder gave to the poor. After that, he again began to pray, and beheld the judgment seat of God and the radiant angels contending with the demons for the soul of his brother. The demons cried out to God: "Thou art just! Judge Thou! This soul belongs to us, for it hath done our deeds!" But the angels said that the soul of the dead man had been freed by the alms which had been distributed for it. To this the evil spirits objected, saving: "Did the deceased distribute the alms, or did this elder distribute them?", indicating the Blessed Luke.

The elder was terrified by this vision, but nonetheless summoned up the courage to say: "It is true that I distributed the alms, but not for myself, but for this soul." The outraged spirits, hearing the elder's reply, straightway vanished, and the elder, consoled by this vision, ceased to doubt and grieve over the fate of his brother.

The holy Abbess Athanasia of Aegina [19] stipulated in her testament that the sisters of her convent prepare meals for the poor in her memory throughout the forty days following her demise. But the nuns carried out this command only until the ninth day, and afterwards ceased. Then the saint appeared to them with two angels and said: "Why have ye forgotten my bequest? Know ye not that alms given for the soul until the fortieth day and the feeding of the poor move God to mercy as well as the prayers of the priests? If the souls of the departed were sinful, God granteth them remission of sins; and if they were righteous, the charity performed on their behalf serves for the salvation of them that perform the charitable works." Having said this, the Venerable Athanasia drove her staff into the ground and vanished. The next day the sisters saw that her staff had sprouted. Then they gave glory to God, the Creator of all things. [20]

TOPICS: Catholic; Orthodox Christian; Theology; Worship
KEYWORDS: catholic; evangelical; orthodox

1 posted on 11/02/2011 5:57:43 PM PDT by rzman21
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To: rzman21
Thanks for posting. Pinging for a full read later.

Memory Eternal to our faithful departed this life before us.

2 posted on 11/02/2011 6:26:25 PM PDT by Martin Tell (ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it)
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To: rzman21

Interesting Post. Thanks.

3 posted on 11/03/2011 12:14:36 AM PDT by johngrace (1 John 4!- declared at every Sunday Mass.)
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To: Martin Tell

The Byzantine Catholic belief is identical to the Orthodox despite the fact we are in full communion with the Pope of Rome.

4 posted on 11/03/2011 4:41:15 AM PDT by rzman21
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To: rzman21; Religion Moderator

I’d strongly recommend having this made a “Catholic/Orthodox Caucus” thread.

That is your call rzman21.

5 posted on 11/03/2011 7:02:25 PM PDT by FormerLib (Sacrificing our land and our blood cannot buy protection from jihad.-Bishop Artemije of Kosovo)
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