What Can the Orthodox Christian Do On Behalf of the Dead? - Orthodox Answers

Editor's Note: This article was generated by machine translation, so our staff cautions the reader about possible inaccuracies that may have resulted from this. However, it was deemed worthwhile to still publish such a piece because of the intrinsic value of the message - which remains evident even in its translated form.


A loved one has died. Can we help his soul in a completely new and unfamiliar reality? And what exactly can we do?

The Orthodox view of death differs from the secular one, and it's not just because Christians believe in an afterlife. They make no sharp distinction at all between the living and the dead: both, if they are Christians, remain members of the Church. Both are united to the eternally living Christ.

The apostle Paul writes, Whether we live, we live to the Lord; and whether we die, we die to the Lord: therefore whether we live or die we are always the Lord's (Rom 14:8). This means, St. Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894) explains, that even when dying, we "are not extirpated from His all-containing hands. The Lord is the Master of life and death. To Him all the entirety of our existence must be dedicated. The Lord also meets us on the other side of death, and if we were with Him in earthly life, we remain with Him in eternity.

The same apostle Paul likened the Church to the body of Christ, and the members of the Church, the Christians, to the different parts of that one body. We have all been baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether we are Jews or Gentiles, whether we are slaves or free, and all are filled with one Spirit," says the apostle. - But the body is not of one member, but of many... And you are the body of Christ, but apart you are members (1 Cor 12:13-14, 27). All the parts of the body mutually influence one another: if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member glories, all the members rejoice with it (1 Cor 12:26). And all take care of each other: if a person loses one eye or, for example, a kidney, the other eye or kidney takes on double the burden. For example, it has been noted for a long time that people who have gone blind often become hearing impaired. When they can no longer see, they receive more information through sounds.

It is the same way a Christian treats the deceased. They remain members of the Church, they are united with the living God (and therefore alive themselves), but until the moment of the universal Resurrection they are very limited in their abilities. It is as if they are asleep - hence they are called "the asleep. And while they are asleep, we, who are awake, can take care of them.

The first thing we can do for the deceased person is to pray for them

The prayer of loved ones is the first and most important thing the soul of a deceased person needs. An acquaintance of mine, who had experienced clinical death twice, told me that the moment her soul left her body she experienced a feeling of utter helplessness. "The moment the soul leaves the body, it is completely unfree, it can't change anything, can't even pray. I was given that feeling. And I realized how necessary prayers are for anyone, even the holiest and most extraordinary person. A soul that needs to go into that world needs prayer support as much as fuel for a rocket that needs to take off."

We cannot judge the extent to which the experience of clinical death correlates with the reality in which the soul of a deceased person finds itself. There is nothing in our personal experience, or even in the Gospels, to draw on here. Christ and the apostles describe only the possible extreme states of the soul, whose fate has already been decided before the Last Judgment. It is either unspeakable joy, of which the apostle Paul says: eyes have not seen it, ears have not heard it, and it has not come to a man's heart what God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor 2:9); or outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 8:12)...

But what people who have returned from "the other world" describe often echoes what the Fathers of the Church speak of as posthumous experiences.

St. Ignatius (Bryanchaninov; (1807-1867) collected some such testimonies in his Word on Death. He cites, for example, the account of the death of the Egyptian saint Agathon (ǂ ca. 435): in the last three days before his death he was silent and spoke to no one, but at the end answered his brothers, who asked him, "Abba Agathon, where are you?" "I stand before the judgment of Christ," said the ascetic. And he asked: "Give me love, now do not speak to me, for I am not free."

And here is how the Venerable Macarius the Great (4th century) described the exodus of the soul from the body: "When angels are sent to remove one's soul from the body... she becomes frightened and is afraid of the presence of fearful and formidable angels. Then ... she sees how useless for her, insignificant, does not deliver any help to the set of riches, friends and acquaintances, she hears and understands the tears and sobs of people around her, but can not utter a single word or raise a voice, because never happened to her experience such ... ".

The deceased himself cannot change anything in his situation. But it can be done by those who love him and wish him salvation and justification at the Last Judgment. Christians believe that through the assiduous prayers of friends and relatives, seeing their love and determination to work for the sake of the deceased, the Lord can change something in his soul (who may have had little interest in spiritual matters during his lifetime), cleanse it of passions, and plant in it a desire to be with God.

In the prayer book you can find the sequence of the exodus of the soul from the body, special prayers for the deceased, you can read a canon for the deceased... But you can also pray in your own words. If the words that we say are sincere, if we say them consciously and from our hearts, and not simply "because it is so," then God will certainly hear them.

For the deceased Christians there is a communal service of prayer - burial

Funeral service is a special church service, long enough and solemn, but in essence it is a joint prayer of the Church for the soul of the deceased, which is on the threshold of eternity. It would be good if all those who knew the deceased participated in this prayer, because the meaning of the funeral is in this collectivity, in the fact that relatives and friends gather together and ask God to have mercy on their soul, to take it to Himself.

Funeral services are usually performed on the third day after the death of a person (it is believed that the soul stays on earth for the first three days, and only then goes into the next world). But one may give the funeral service even if his body has already been buried or has not been found at all. Such is the case if a person died in a car accident, was drowned in the sea, burned in a fire, etc. Then a so-called absentee burial takes place.

Only the unbaptized, those who have willfully renounced the faith and those who have committed suicide are not buried. This is not a matter of "corporate solidarity" between believers. It is simply that the person who did not receive Baptism in life remained aloof from Christ, did not become part of His Body, and although it is still possible (and necessary!) to pray for him or her, different words are needed. It is strange to ask for the "rest of God's servant" if one denied God during his lifetime. It is strange to ask for the preservation of his soul "in the blessed life that is with Thee, O Mankind," if the person felt disgust at the mere mention of the temple and mocked Christians as "blessed."

In all other cases, even if the deceased was not an exemplary Christian, the hope remains that he had time to repent before his death, just as the robber, crucified on the cross next to the Lord Jesus Christ, repented and was received into heaven (cf. Luke 23:39-43). Only suicide, that is, the violation of the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" against oneself, deprives one of the last opportunities for repentance. However, if the priest knew the murdered person well and is convinced that he did it while insane, he has the right to give him the requiem (as one of the church canons says in the 14th rule of Timothy of Alexandria). And we have the right to pray and place candles for any deceased, including suicide victims.

There are other services for the repose of the deceased in which we can participate regularly

Firstly, the funeral service and the Litia are funeral services performed by the priest at the request of the relatives of the deceased. Both services consist of a series of prayers and hymns, in which we ask God for the mercy and eternal life of the deceased, asking that his soul rest "in a place of light, in a place of peace, in a place of peace, away from disease, sorrow and lamentation. Litia is a shortened version of the funeral service; the only difference between them is the number of prayers. They can be served at any time and in any place: in a church, in a cemetery, at home ... If requiem is served in the temple, it is most often after the liturgy before the canon - a rectangular candlestick, resembling a table, connected to the Crucifix (that is, the Cross and the Savior crucified on it). It is there, on the canon, that it is customary to place candles for repose.

The meaning of the funeral service and the Litia is about the same as the funeral service - to gather together and pray for the repose of the soul of our dear one. Funeral services are held once a day (usually on one of the days following the death), while requiem and litya can be served even daily, if you simply ask the priest to do so.

Often candlelight vigils are served not only as private services, that is, at the individual request of a particular parishioner, but also on a regular basis on particular days of the week (for example, every Saturday after Liturgy). At these memorial services, all those who wish to attend are prayed for and all the deceased whose names appear in the memorial service notes are commemorated.

Second, there are general church memorial days for the deceased included in the church calendar. These are the so-called Parents' Sabbaths: Ecumenical (i.e., dedicated to the remembrance of all Orthodox Christians deceased from all ages) parental sabbaths on the eve of the Week of the Last Judgment; The three parental Saturdays of Great Lent (the evening services on the eve of Saturdays in the second, third, and fourth weeks of Great Lent, plus the liturgy on these Saturdays), All-National Saturday of Trinity and Demetrius (similar services on the Saturday before the feast of the Trinity and on the Saturday before November 8, when the memory of the Great Martyr Demetrius of Thessaloniki is commemorated). Also among the days of commemoration of the deceased in the church are Holy Week (the Tuesday following Easter), October 30 and May 9, when special memorial services are offered for those killed during the years of Soviet repression and World War II.

To give alms for the deceased

Prayer supported by good deeds, such as giving alms to the needy, carries especially great weight. In some parishes it has become customary after the death of a loved one to bring refreshments (such as candy) to the church and, at the conclusion of the funeral service, distribute them to the congregation with a request to pray for the newly departed. We should not think that by doing these things in the name of the deceased, we "bargain" with God for the salvation of his soul. Rather, it is a deed that proves that we really love the person who has left us, that we are willing to work hard and sacrifice something for him.

Or maybe even in his place. Consider the hagiography of Blessed Xenia of Petersburg, who after her husband's death changed into his clothes, called herself "Andrei Fedorovich," and began to do many good deeds on his behalf. From the outside it seems, to put it mildly, eccentric. But if we remember the Apostle Paul and his words about Christians as part of the one Body of Christ, the oddities of Blessed Xenia appear in a slightly different light. Secretly doing good deeds to people, it is as if she was completing what her husband did not manage to do during his lifetime. Similarly, by the way, the Grand Duchess Elisabeth Fyodorovna, after the death of her husband, conducted the affairs of numerous charitable societies founded and headed by Sergei Alexandrovich.

Hence the tradition of bringing food "for the canon," that is, on a special table next to the candlestick, where candles are placed "for the repose of the dead. This is especially common on "Parents' Sabbaths" and other memorial days. This is by no means a pagan "offering to the dead," but a voluntary - and, it must be said, completely optional - donation to the temple in memory of the deceased (then these products are usually distributed to temple staff and needy parishioners, used for parish meals, etc.). And, of course, such donations are no substitute for participation in worship and prayer for the deceased.

Submitting a note of remembrance for the liturgy

The Liturgy is the central liturgy of the Church, during which the main Christian sacrament, the Eucharist, is celebrated. At the prayer of the Church, offered by the bishop or priest, the bread and wine brought to the altar are transformed into the true Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, with which the faithful are then communed. When the priest returns to the altar after receiving Holy Communion, he then pours into the cup with the remaining Holy Blood the particles taken out of the chalice at the very beginning of the liturgy, during the proskomidia, for each of the people whose names are mentioned in the submitted notes. In doing so, the priest prays: "Wash away, O Lord, the sins of those commemorated here by Your honest blood, through the prayers of Your saints. Thus, during the liturgy, not only are the Christians mentioned in the notes prayed for, but also a sacrament that purifies their souls. This applies not only to Christians alive today, but also to the deceased. The same thing happens to the deceased that we ask of God when we pray for the enlightenment and purification of their souls.

The reading of notes at the liturgy (or, more precisely, at the proscomedia) is the most important form of Church commemoration. To get an idea of how much it helps the deceased is a story that the Venerable Macarius the Great told his disciples. One day he was walking in the desert and saw a human skull on the ground. The Venerable Macarius picked it up and asked: "Who are you?" The skull answered, "I was the chief pagan priest and now suffer in hell with other sinners. We are in great fire and in addition in pitch darkness, so that we cannot see each other. But when you, Abba, pray for those in hell during the liturgy, the darkness somewhat disperses and we begin to see each other a little, and this serves to comfort us. Here, of course, the reference is not to a Christian, but to one of the Gentiles, whose names are not commemorated at the proskomidia. And yet even his soul received some relief from the priest's prayer alone!

Submitting the names of the deceased for commemoration on a commemoration for a cross

A forty-day memorial is a remembrance of Christians during the first forty days from the time of their death. Forty - because, as it is believed, that is how long the soul of the deceased travels through the spaces of the afterlife before the Lord assigns it a place of residence before the Last Judgment. During these forty days, counting from the day of death, the deceased is called newly departed. And during this period, his soul is in particular need of our prayer.

For these forty days, the names of Christians, inscribed in the nameplate for the forty days (so-called synodik), are daily remembered in the altar, including during the proscomedia. It is a good opportunity to take care of the soul of a deceased loved one, but by no means should it replace our personal prayer. After all, a priest, deacon or altar boy, reading notes in the altar, will never pray for a departed person as warmly and sincerely as we, who personally knew that person and continue to love him, can do.

To place a candle for the deceased

People traditionally go to church to put a candle for some of their loved ones - either "for health" or "for rest" (in the latter case, recall, the candle is usually placed on a special rectangular candlestick next to the Crucifix, - canon). In this tradition, of course, there is nothing wrong, but it is worth bearing in mind that the candle itself has no "sacred" function. It is merely an object symbol of our prayer for a loved one (as the flame of the candle is lifted up, so our prayer is directed to God) and is also a form of donation to the temple. The candle can help us pray, but it does not replace prayer and is not needed outside of prayer. Therefore, the widespread popular custom of taking home the shard of a candle left on a candlestick in the church (e.g. during a funeral or memorial service) has absolutely no basis in fact.

Most importantly: be more active in our own church life

Various forms of prayer and commemoration of the deceased are important, but they will remain incomplete unless the loved ones of these persons, who are still living on earth, seek contact with God and become more involved in the life of the Church. First and foremost, it is a matter of participating in the sacraments of the church.

All Christians are bound to one another not only by blood ties, but also by membership in the one Body of Christ, and this bond is not broken with death. Saint Righteous John of Kronstadt (ǂ1909) wrote that we preserve communion with one another in God, but, of course, only if we take care to preserve our connection with God Himself, to maintain a living relationship with Him. This is what happens in the sacraments, when we cleanse our hearts in confession and receive communion of the Body and Blood of Christ. In drawing closer to God, in uniting with Him, in receiving His gracious help, we not only fill ourselves with His light and life: those of our loved ones who have departed from us also benefit. It is as if we are sharing with them the gifts of grace that we have received (unless they have been ideologically divorced and have abandoned Christ). The Christian life, which is inconceivable without the sacraments of the Church, is the best way to care for the blessed repose of our loved ones and to bring our prayers for them to God.


Source: foma.ru (Russian)

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