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Question 231

Pater mou, I would like to know about what The Orthodox Church believes the blessing of our passed loved ones at memorials should be done or not. Should a priest bless at the cemetery on the day every year as he did at 40 days, 3, 6, 9 & 12 months as well of course as the mnimosino & kolifa in church?

 

Answer to Question 231

 

The Church is not only the visible congregation worshipping here on earth, but also the invisible congregation of the saints and the angels worshipping in heaven. The Church visible on earth lives in complete communion and unity with the whole body of the Church of which Christ is the Head. Our departed family members and friends are also members of this one body and just because they have crossed over to the other side doesn’t mean that they cease to exist or are no longer members of the Church of Christ. If we were to believe such a thing, then all our hopes of the future life and the Resurrection would be lost.

 

Our Christian parents, grandparents, children, brothers, sisters, and friends live on with Christ after they die, and remembering the great unity that we still have with them as fellow-members of Christ's Body, we continue to express our love for them through prayer.  The Church, firmly believes that prayer for the dead in Christ is helpful to them because in the Orthodox view, sanctification is seen not as a point-in-time occurrence, but as a process which never ends. As Saint Paul says, “And we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corin. 3:18). And in another place St. Paul says: “For preaching of the cross is foolishness to them that perish; but unto us who are being saved it is the power of God”, the phrase “who are being saved” suggests that we are continually being saved. For this reason, Orthodox Christians look upon salvation itself as a continual growth in holiness, purity, and closeness with God, which continues even in heaven. Holiness is rarely achieved or completed in anyone's life while on earth - no one becomes sinless. It is the Orthodox understanding that sanctification continues on, in some way, into the world beyond-especially in the beginning stages of the next life. The Church believes that our prayers for the departed can help them in this process of healing and purification. 

 

There is yet another dimension to these prayers. Not only do our prayers help the departed, but praying for them helps us as well. It keeps their remembrance alive in us, helping our hearts to stay warm and full of love towards them. It gives us a way to experience a sense of their presence, since prayer is far more than simply the making of requests. It keeps them before our eyes as living examples of Christian faith for us to emulate. And a vivid remembrance of those living with Christ in heaven can more thoroughly and deeply assure us that there truly is life after death, which can help diminish any fear of death, which we may have. We can see, then, that our prayers for the departed help preserve and increase the unity between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven-which helps both aspects of the Church. As a contemporary British Orthodox theologian, Bishop Kallistos Ware, says, “just as Orthodox Christians here on earth pray for one another and ask for one another's prayers, so they pray also for the faithful departed and ask the faithful departed to pray for them. Death cannot sever the bond of mutual love which links the members of the Church together”.

 

Besides the personal days set aside for commemorating our departed friends and relatives, the Orthodox Church, has set aside certain days on which all Orthodox Christians that have departed in hope of resurrection and eternal life must be commemorated in general. There are two such days which we can term as “universal,” days for the departed. The first is on Meatfare Saturday. It is the last Saturday on which we may eat meat before the Great Fast begins. On the following day, Sunday, the Church commemorates the Dread judgment of Christ, thus the Church prays for all that have departed in faith and in the hope of the resurrection, beseeching God, the righteous judge to show forth His mercy upon them before the universal judgment. The other day is the Saturday before Pentecost. The day of Pentecost is the day the Holy Spirit descended upon the earth to teach, sanctify and lead all people to eternal salvation. Therefore, the holy Church calls upon us to make a commemoration on the Saturday before the feast, that the saving grace of the Holy Spirit wash away the sins from the souls of all our forefathers, fathers and brethren, that have reposed throughout the ages and, asking that they all be united in the Kingdom of Christ.