Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On the first Saturday of November this year, the Church calls us to come together to pray for the souls of all the faithful departed. This is one of the blessed parts of our inheritance as Orthodox Christians. It is therefore incumbent upon us to observe this.
We are led by the world to regard the dead as simply dead and no more. For example, “What do the dead care…,” etcetera. They care a great deal, according to our traditions. Our prayers for departed souls are of great benefit for them and for ourselves.
We are reminded that the community of the Body of Christ, the Church, is not simply made up of those in this life. Our icons of all the saints remind us of this, but praying for the dead directly puts us even more in touch with this fact. The more we pray for them, the more we ward off the notions of the demons that anything to do with the dead is merely ghoulish and macabre.
Church Fathers tell us that our prayers help departed souls in their encounters with the results of their shortcomings in this life. Father Seraphim Rose goes into some detail about these encounters in his book, “The Soul After Death” (highly recommended). We would also learn of the effects of our prayers in the services themselves, such as the services for Demetrius Saturday (this year 11/6 and 11/7).
By praying for the dead, we put ourselves in line to be prayed for when our time of departure comes. We are also stimulated by a heightened awareness of death towards repentance.
One benefit to us is not perhaps immediately discernable, but it accrues over time to sensibility. We slowly become aware that we are close to the souls of those for whom we pray, even those unknown to us. Joy may overtake us in this awareness because of its unexpectedness. This is worth working toward, even if we have no Orthodox dead in our families.
It is true that only Orthodox names may be read aloud in the course of the services for the dead and this is a source of pain for some, including myself. This does not mean that we do not pray for these dead. We should pray for the souls of those in our connection each and every day in our private prayers. And it is no excuse to remain away from the services because we cannot mention our own people aloud. The services instill in us the teaching of the Church about the dead and put us in frequent remembrance of this teaching and their souls. If we do not enter into prayers for all the dead, what do we teach those who come after? Who will pray for us if our children do not know to do so?
Let us therefore enter with joy into that which will bring us joy, both here and hereafter. Let us keep the Faith in this way, and keep faith with those who have gone before and with each other for the sake of fulfilling God’s will for us, now and forever in His Kingdom.