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I Believe in the Resurrection of the Dead

October 14, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Our Grief Over the death of our close ones would be inconsolable and boundless if the Lord had not given us eternal life. Our life would be meaningless if it ended with death. What benefit, then, would there be from virtue or good deeds? They would be right who say, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” But man was created for immortality, and by His Resurrection Christ opened the gates of the Heavenly Kingdom, of eternal blessedness, to those who believe in Him and who live righteously. Our earthly life is a preparation for the future life, and this preparation ends with our death. It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment (Heb. 9:27). Then a man leaves behind all his earthly cares; his body disintegrates to rise again in the general resurrection. His soul, however, continues to live; not for a moment does it cease its existence.

Many appearances of the dead have given us to know in part what happens with the soul when it leaves the body. When it no longer sees with its bodily eyes, its spiritual vision is opened. This frequently occurs even before actual death; while seeing and even conversing with those around them, the dying see that which others do not. Leaving the body, the soul finds itself among other spirits, good and evil. Usually it strives towards those which are more akin to it, but if while still in the body it was under the influence of certain spirits, it remains dependent upon them when it leaves the body, no matter how unpleasant they might prove to be at the encounter.

For two days the soul enjoys relative freedom and can visit its favorite places on earth, but on the third day it makes its way towards other realms. At this time it passes through a horde of wicked spirits, who obstruct its path and accuse the soul of various sins by which they themselves had deceived it. According to revelations, there are twenty such barriers, socalled “toll-houses.” At each stop the soul is tested as to a particular sin. Passing through one, the soul comes upon the next, and only after successfully passing through them all can the soul continue its way, and not be thrown straightway into gehenna. These demons and their trials are so horrendous that the Mother of God herself, when informed by Archangel Gabriel of her imminent repose, entreated her Son to deliver her from those demons and, in fulfillment of her prayer, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared from Heaven to take the soul of His Most Pure Mother and carry it up to Heaven. The third day is terrifying for the soul, and it is especially in need of prayer.

Once having safely passed through the toll-houses and having bowed down before God, the soul spends the next thirty-seven days visiting the heavenly habitations and the chasms of hades, not knowing where it will find itself, and only on the fortieth day is it assigned its place of waiting until the resurrection of the dead. Some souls find themselves with a foretaste of eternal joy and blessedness, while others — in fear of eternal torments, which will begin in earnest after the Dread Judgment. Until that time, changes in the state of the soul are still possible, especially through offering for their sake the Bloodless Sacrifice (commemoration at the Divine Liturgy), and likewise through other prayers.

The importance of commemoration at Divine Liturgy is demonstrated by the following incident. Before the opening of the relics of Saint Theodosius of Chernigov (1896), the priest who had re-vested the relics sat down exhausted near the relics and dozed off. As he was sleeping the hierarch appeared to him and said, “Thank you for laboring on my behalf. I also ask that when you serve the Liturgy, you commemorate my parents,” and he gave their names, Priest Nikita and Maria. “How is it that you, a holy hierarch, are asking my prayers, when you stand at the throne of Heaven and grant people God’s mercy?” asked the priest. “That is true,” replied the Saint. “But the offering at the Divine Liturgy is more powerful than my prayers.”

The departed likewise benefit from memorial services and prayers at home on their behalf, and also from good deeds performed in their memory, as, for example, alms-giving and donations to churches. But they benefit most especially by being commemorated at the Divine Liturgy. There have been many appearances of the dead and other occurrences which confirm what great benefit lies in commemorating the departed. Many who died repentant but were unable to manifest this during their life, were released from torment and received repose. In church prayers are always offered for the repose of the departed, and even on the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit, in the kneeling prayers at Vespers, there is a special petition for those “who are held in hades.” Each of us, desiring to show his love for the departed and to be of real help to them, can best do this by praying for them, and especially by commemorating them at the Divine Liturgy, when those particles taken out [of the Lamb] for the living and the dead are placed into the Blood of the Lord with the words, “Through the prayers of Thy saints, wash away, O Lord, with Thy precious Blood the sins of those commemorated here.” We can do nothing greater, nothing better for the departed than to pray for them, offering their names for commemoration at the Divine Liturgy. They are always in need of this, but especially during those forty days, when the soul of the deceased makes its way to the eternal mansions. The physical body no longer feels anything, it does not see its close ones who have gathered, it does not smell the fragrance of the flowers, it does not hear the graveside soliloquies. But the soul senses the prayers offered in its behalf, and it is grateful to those who offer them and is spiritually close to them.

Relatives and dear friends of the departed! Do what is needful for them and what lies in your power. Rather than expending money on the external adornment of the coffin and grave, spend it on helping the poor, in memory of your close ones who have fallen asleep, and on churches, where prayers are offered on their behalf. Show mercy to those who have fallen asleep; attend to the good of their soul. That path awaits all of us. How great will be our desire then to be remembered in prayer! Let us be merciful to the departed. As soon as someone passes away, straightway call a priest, so he can read ‘The Office at the Departure of the Soul,” which is appointed to be read over every Orthodox Christian immediately after his repose. Make every effort to arrange for the funeral to be served in a church and, until the funeral, to have the Psalter read over the deceased. The funeral need not be elaborate, but it must not be abbreviated; think not of yourself and your own comfort, but about the deceased, with whom you are parting forever. If in the church there are several deceased at the same time, do not object to having a joint funeral service. It is better that a funeral be served for two or more deceased at once, for the prayers of all their close ones gathered together will be yet more fervent than if the services were conducted in succession and the services abbreviated owing to lack of time and energy; because each word of prayer is for the departed like a drop of water to a thirsty man. Likewise, it is essential to make immediate arrangements for the forty-day memorial, that is, the daily commemoration of the departed at the Divine Liturgy during the first forty days. Usually, in churches where there are daily services, those whose funerals were served there are commemorated over the course of these forty days and longer. But if the funeral is served in a church which does not have daily services, those close [to the deceased] must arrange for a forty-day memorial in a church which does. It is good likewise to send for commemoration the name of the departed to monasteries and to Jerusalem, where there are constant prayers at the holy places. But it is important that the forty-day memorial begin immediately after the person dies, when the soul is particularly in need of prayer, and for that reason to begin the commemoration in the nearest place where there are daily services.

Let us look after those who precede us into the other world, and do for them all that we can, remembering that Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.


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