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All Souls Saturday

PRAYERS FOR THE DEAD By Archpriest Nicholas Simkoff

 

The prayers which are mentioned for the souls of our departed brothers and sisters is a holy ritual, a Church law, adopted and used by the Universal Eastern Orthodox Church since earliest times. This holy ritual is based on the belief that in the presence of the Lord all are living, there is no death, as God did not create death. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in a discourse with the Saducees as recorded by Saint Matthew, said: "I am the God at Abraham, and the God at Isaac, and the God at Jacob. Gad is not the God at the dead. But at the living." (Matt. 22:32). A similar quotation is found in the Book of Exodus (3:6). The Holy Apostles commanded that we pray for one another: "Pray one tar another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer at a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). St. Paul, in the Second Epistle to Thessalonians, requested the brethren of Thessalonia to pray for him (II Thess. 3:1). In the Second Epistle to Timothy, Apostle Paul writes: "Without ceasing I have remembrance at thee in my prayers night and day." St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, appeals: "Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word at God: whose faith tallow, considering the end at their conversation" (Heb. 13:7). All these and many other references are the testimony of the word of God, and definitely prove and verify that we should remember and pray for those near and dear to us,' and we should pray not only for the living but also for the dead, as this manifests Christian love, and love, according to Apostle Paul, as he wrote to the Corinthians (I Car. 13:8) :"Love Never Faileth."

 

We find illustrated very clearly in the Old Testament the traditions of praying for the dead. We read in the Book of Tobias:"Lay out thy bread, and Thy wine upon the Burial at a just man." (Tab. 4:18). The Wise Son of Sirach says: A gift hath grace in the sight at all the living, and restrain not grace from the dead (Ecclasiasticus 7:37).

 

Faith in prayers for the dead is brought out very clearly in the Old Testament in a renowned and historical event 170 years before the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, when Judas Maccabeus, after the battle with the Idumeans, approached his fallen soldiers on the battle-field to take them away for burial. "And they found under the coats at the slain same at the danaries at the idols at Jamnia, which the law forbiddeth to the Jews: So that all plainly saw, that tar this cause they were slain. Then they all blessed the just judgement at the Lard. And so betaking themselves to prayer, they besought him, that the sin which had been committed might be forgotten. And making a gathering, he sent 12,006 drachmas at silver to Jerusalem tar sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerni ng the resurrecti6n. Far it he had not hoped that they who were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray tar the dead. And because he considereth that they who had fallen asleep with Godliness, had great grace laid up tar them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed tram sins. (II Macc. 12:39-46).

 

In the New Testament, the Holy Apostles, the disciples of Our Lord, and their successors celebrated the Holy Eucharist after the command of Jesus Christ and in commemoration of His suffering and resurrection,' these Apostles and their successors also celebrated the commemoration of all loyal and faithful brothers and sisters, in general, they prayed for one another. When the Apostles had finished their work on this earth and when later appeared the martyrs for Christianity, the faithful, naturally, remembere d the Apostles and martyrs in their prayers during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. It is very important to remember the fact that the faithful began to celebrate the Holy Eucharist on the graves of these martyrs, to have prayers for them and to commemorate their good deeds.

 

We have evidence of this in the ancient rites of the Holy Liturgy, to which we still adhere to the present time. The most ancient Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church is the Liturgy of St. James, the Apostle, the first Bishop of the Church of Jerusalem. In this Liturgy we already find instituted a special prayer for the dead. These prayers for the dead and the reference of the names of the departed existed and entered into use in all ancient Liturgies.

 

In the Eastern Orthodox Church there exists from ancient times, the so called "DIPTICHI." The word "DIPTICH" is a Greek word meaning the joining together of two. tablets or pages, on which are written the names for which petitions are to be made-on the one side, the names of the living-on the other, the names of the departed. These Diptychs the faithful brought with them to all liturgical services where they were handed to the priests for mention, and the priests in turn; read these names in special prayers at respective intervals and moments indicated in the Divine Liturgy. We find this evidence from the immediate followers of the Apostles and their successors. Thus, in the second century, Dionysious Areapagit, a disciple of St, Paul, certifies: "The Holy Prayers at this life, and are so after death, are indeed in effect tar those worthy at Holy Prayers, that is, the faithful. Recurrent prayers have their worth and power before the Lord."

 

Tertullian in the third century certifies: We offer our prayers for the, dead annually on that day when they have passed away.

 

St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem in the fourth century, gave us these words of instruction: Let us pray tar all those who have departed tram among us, and I firmly believe that these prayers will bring much benefit to those souls for which Holy Prayers and sacrifices have been offered on the altar of oblation.

 

St. John at Damascus, of the eighth century, a wonderful writer and composer of many church hymns and songs, in his testimony about the prayers for the dead, testified: The divine apostles 'with due reason and consideration instituted and established the remembering at departed brethren at the service at the divine, immortal and life-giving mysteries at Christ, and the apostolic and Catholic Church at Christ our God firmly holds and will hold incontestably these precepts tram the ends at the earth and tar all time, The Christian faith adopts nothing that is useless and irrelevant, but accepts and preserves only that which is useful, salutary, and Beneficial. We yet have time tram today and until the day at judgement to help each other in the salvation at God, in appreciation at our creation and the gratification we receive when we are mindful at our salvation and the salvation at our friends and neighbors; when we exercise charity to the living and the dead.

 

St Basil the Great, a prelate of the Eastern Church in the fourth century and Archbishop of Caesaria, was the author of many teachings, prayers, hymns, speeches, and sermons. St. Basil formulated a series of beautiful and high instructive prayers for the Feast of the Pentecost: these prayers are recited kneeling at vespers, which as a rule, follows the Liturgy. We read in the third of these prayers: O God our Savior, for Thou art, to a truth, the Master to all men, hear us, Thy humble ones, who make out supplications unto Thee, and give rest to the souls at Thy servants who have fallen asleep, in a place of light, a place at verdure, a place of refreshment whence all sickness, sorrow and sighing have fled away, and establishe Thou their souls in the mansions of the just; and graciously vouchsafe unto them peace and pardon.' for the dead shall not praise Thee, 0 Lord, shall they who art in hell make offer unto thee?. But we who are living will bless Thee, and will pray, and offer unto Thee propitiatory prayers and sacrifices for their souls,

 

"Wherefore; O Master, receive Thou our prayers and supplications, and give rest unto the fathers, mothers, children, brothers, and sisters, blood-relation and kin-talk at' each and all at us, and unto all souls which have fallen asleep before us; and establish their spirits in the Kingdom at Heaven, in the paradise of sweetness where thy radiant angels guiding all into Thy holy mansions; raising up with Thee, also, our bodies, in that day which Thou hast appointed by Thy holy and faithful promise.

 

The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is celebrated regularly in all Eastern Orthodox Catholic Churches, although in different languages; that is-Slavonic, Greek, Syrian, and Romanian. There are three appointed places in the Divine Liturgy of St. James Chrysostom where mention is made of the names of the departed. 1) The Divine Liturgy begins with Proskomedia, the office of Oblation for the preparation of the Eucharistic Elements; the priest, at this time removes a particle from the Holy bread and mentioning the name of the departed soul, places the particle upon the Holy Paten. The particles thus taken the private offerings for living and the dead do not form a part of the communion, because they are not changed.

 

2) During the Liturgy of the Catechumens, and after the reading of the Gospel, there is a separate Litany and prayer on behalf of the dead, where audibly are mentioned, all the names of the dead.

 

3) During the Liturgy of the faithful and after the change of the Sacred Sacrament, again a prayer is read remembering the dead: We offer unto Thee,

 

O Lord this service tar all Thy servants departed this life before in the faith; for our ancestors, Fathers, and Patriarchs, Prophets , Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics ; and tar every righteous soul who hath died in the faith.

 

We find that the prayers found in the Lives of the Saints, the Menology, the Prologues, and other writings are great in their intent and power, therefore most intense and mighty is the significance of these prayers upon the teachings and faith in the' Eastern Orthodox Church.

 

Through the prayers of the church and the faithful, the reposed souls receive relief in their destiny beyond the grave, the forgiveness of sins, and even complete deliverance from eternal punishment. Therefore, that is why the Eastern Orthodox Church perpetually offers prayers for the dead; especially, during the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist.

 

Since the earliest times the Church commands that the faithful particularl y mention the names of newly departed souls for a period of forty days; as, for forty days there came a deluge of rain at the time of the great flood; for forty days the Hebrews mourned the death of Jacob; (Gen. 50:3). The prophet Moses lived in fast and prayer for forty days on Mt. Sinai, to receive the Commandments of God for his people; for forty days, the prophet I Elijah journeyed in fast to Mt. Horeb to witness the vision of Jehovah and to receive the Divine communication; Our Lord Jesus Christ, after baptism, fasted for forty days in the wilderness to combat t h e temptation of the devil; and after the Resurrection the Savior spent forty days with His Apostles to affirm them of His Resurrection and the Sacred mysteries of the Kingdom of God; The Holy Church authorizes a fast of forty days for the cleansing of all sins and impurities; the Church directs that through a period of forty days after death, requiem prayers must be offered for the soul of the deceased, and especially an the fortieth day, when prayers are offered in the hope that they may prove strengthened in the grace of God to gain victory over the devil, and to reach the throne of God where abide the Souls of the righteous. In the course of these forty days the Church places much importance on the third, ninth, and fortieth days after a death by religious services. "On the third day he who rose again from the dead commandeth that every soul, in imitation of his own resurrection, shall be brought to heaven, that it may do reverence to the Gad of all." Wherefore the Church has the blessed custom of celebrating oblation and prayers on the third day for the soul. After the soul has done reverence to God, He ordered that it shall be shown the varied and fair abodes of the saints and the beauty of Paradise. All these things the soul vieweth during nine days. marveling and glorifying God, the Creator of all. And when the soul has beheld all these things, it is changed, and forgetteth all the sorrow which it felt in the body. But if it be guilty of sins, then at the sight of the delights of the saints, it begineth to wail, and to reproach itself, saying, "Woe is me! How vainly did I pass my time in the world! Engrossed in the satisfaction of my desires, I passed the greater part' of my life in heedlessness, and obeyed not Gad as I ought, that I, also, might be vouchsafed these graces and glories. After having thus viewed all the ways of the just for the space of six days, the nine choirs of angels lead the soul again an the ninth day."

 

Through various places of torment the soul is borne during thirty days, and on the fortieth day the soul is again taken to do reverence to God; and then the judge determineth the fitting place of its incarceration, according to its deeds. Therefore the soul of the departed is in need of prayers, especially on the day of its appearance before the tribunal of God, and later to await the second advent of our Lord and the universal resurrection of the dead.

 

The Eastern Church has assigned other special days when prayers can be offered in remembrance of the dead: on Saturday the week before Great Lent, and the Saturday before the day of the Holy Trinity. These special holidays are called in the Orthodox Church "Ancestral Saturdays."

 

The Eastern Orthodox Church concerns herself with the care and salvation of her faithful children; guiding them, not only in this life, on the road of salutary Christian life, but also, after death, the Church does not cease to pray for their salvation. The Church prays and beseeches our Lord Jesus Christ to appease and forgive the sins of the departed souls, and to pardon and remit their sins both voluntary and involuntary, in the hopes and faith of eternal life.

 

The Eastern Orthodox Church believes that the Merciful Lord with His undying Grace grants the remission of sins and the deliverance of the souls of the righteous dead. Our Lord Jesus Christ said: "All manner of sin and Blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, nor in the world to come." (Matt. 12,31-32).

 

In the Book of Revelation of St. John the Divine we read how the Apostle "Saw an Angel which came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, and the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand." (Rev. 8,3-4).

 

We, yet living on this earth, and members of the Church, are not only able to offer prayers for ourselves, do good deeds for our salvation, admit our iniquities, and repent our sins at the Holy Confession, and to partake of the sacred Body and the most precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ; but, we also have the contingency to offer prayers for others, for our departed brothers, for the forgiveness of their sins, and for the attainment of their eternal salvation. Indeed, only in this manner can we manifest our Christian love.

 


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