Is your fate sealed at death? Unlike Protestants & Catholics, the Orthodox Church says there is still hope. Near Moscow, Russia, there is a beautiful church built in memory of a man who died unbaptized, outside the church.
St. Varus has long been recognized as one who prays to God, requesting mercy for those who are already in the grave. In the story of his life, he appears to a particular woman, encouraging her with these words:
"I have prayed first of all for your relatives, with whom you buried me, that their sins be remitted them, and now I have enrolled your son in the army of the King of Heaven."
For some readers, these words are surprising indeed. After all, Protestants and Roman Catholics agree on one thing: Your fate is sealed at death. You are headed either for heaven or hell, and no amount of prayer can change the outcome.
Protestants believe you either go to heaven or to hell, immediately at the time of death, and that no change of location can take place later.
Roman Catholics believe that some people, on their way to heaven, go to a place called "purgatory" first. But this is only considered to be a temporary stopping point. Everyone in purgatory eventually goes to heaven, according to Roman Catholic teaching. As for those in hell, they are stuck forever, and no amount of prayer can ever change their destiny.
The Orthodox Church stands alone, believing there to be hope even for those in the grave. By the deep love and fervent prayer of faithful Christians, a reposed person's eternal destiny can sometimes be changed. It is possible for mercy to be extended, even to those who have already passed through death.
In the 17th century, a chapel was built in the Moscow Kremlin, dedicated to St. Varus. The Patriarch — St. Hermogenes — gave a blessing to commemorate this saint, for the sake of people who had died without baptism.
More recently, in 2003, the Church of St. Varus was built in a village just north of Moscow. At the front of the church, the following message is written on a stone:
If the Orthodox Church believes that the prayers of St. Varus can benefit the soul of Ildar, who reposed outside the Church, and is willing to dedicate an entire church to St. Varus in the memory of Ildar, then I can take comfort in asking St. Varus to pray for my reposed loved ones, as well.
As we walk closer to the church, I am impressed by its majestic size and appearance. The golden crosses and massive domes loom far above my head.
Stepping inside, we are greeted by a church interior that is no less majestic. The iconostasis is exquisite:
Walking to the right, I encounter a particularly beautiful icon of St. Varus. It depicts him holding a cross in his right hand, representing his profession of the Faith. Behind him, it depicts the fires of martyrdom:
Just below the icon, a reliquary holds a precious relic of his holy martyr.
The reliquary itself shows an icon of St. Varus, and a piece of his bone is displayed beneath a protective covering of glass:
My godson made a pilgrimage here with me. This particular church holds a special place in his heart.
He is a convert to the Orthodox Church, and he received the name Varus at his baptism. So this pilgrimage was a very special event — it is not every day that you get to get to see an entire church, dedicated to your own patron Saint!
In this picture, he stands by the holy relic, holding a hand-painted icon of St. Varus:
When asked why he took the name Varus, he explained that he was the first person in his family to convert to Orthodoxy. Thus, many of his relatives have reposed outside the Church.
He prays for them regularly, and St. Varus gives him hope that they may receive mercy, even after death. He recommends the following akathist to St. Varus, which is available in English, in America:
There is also a shorter version available. Almost every day, my family and I say the following prayer together:
Prayer to the Holy Martyr St. Varus for Those Who Have Died Outside the Faith
O Holy, wondrous Martyr Varus, who, burning with zeal for the Heavenly King, didst confess Him before thy torturers and didst greatly suffer for Him!
Now the Church doth venerate thee, as one glorified with the glory of heaven by Christ the Lord, Who granted thee the abundant grace to approach Him boldly. And now, standing before Him together with the Angels, rejoicing on high, beholding the Most Holy Trinity clearly, and enjoying the Uncreated Light, remember the suffering of our relatives who have died outside the Faith, and accept our pleas, and as thou didst intercede for the unbelieving ancestors of Cleopatra and didst free them from eternal suffering, remember those who have died unbaptized and have been buried in an ungodly manner, and pray earnestly that they may be delivered from eternal darkness, that we may all, with one mouth and one heart, praise the Most Merciful Creator unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Afterwards, we say the names of our departed loved ones.
I am very grateful for St. Varus. His story gives me hope for my loved ones who have passed away.
Holy martyr, St. Varus, pray to God for us!