Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE SATURDAYS OF THE SOULS DURING HOLY AND GREAT LENT
Prayers and Memorials
That Christian love endures, is certain and strong even after our death (I Corinthians 13:8). Because our love remains, the Orthodox Church has from the beginning established the practice of saying special prayers for those who have fallen asleep, and on certain specified days it has memorials for them.
According to Saint John Chrysostom even the holy Apostles had established the practice of prayers and memorials (St. John Chrysostom, On Philippians, Homily 3, 4). According to Saint John of Damascus, the holy Disciples of the Savior and Holy Apostles are the ones who decreed that we remember the faithful who have fallen asleep in the Lord as the awesome holy and life giving mysteries (St. John of Damascus, On Those Who Have fallen Asleep in Faith 3).
The Three Soul Saturdays
These Saturdays are set aside by the Church for all Orthodox Christians, three during the Great Lent and one for the Saturday before the Feast of Pentecost. In general, the Holy Church has ordained that Saturday be a day of a commemoration of the holy Martyrs and of all the deceased.
Benefits of Memorials and Prayers
We all know that when one dies that is the end for correcting mistakes, errors, sins and have a change of heart for the things that we did while alive. Why then do we as Orthodox Christians pray and have memorials for the souls of the departed? It is a critical question and indeed it has been addressed by many holy Fathers of the Church. Here, however we are only give a very cursory overview on the topic and hopefully if the Christian is interested may see some of the references.
All our prayers and memorials are petitions on behalf of the dead to God because we believe in His mercy loving kindness and philanthropy as well as compassion. Our courage for asking is based in I John 5:14-15. Here we see that and this is the confidence that He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of Him. Furthermore, our assumption of the petitions is based on the knowledge that God "desires all men to be saved" (I Timothy 2:4), which according to Saint John of Damascus is what especially pleases and gladdens the compassionate Lord. He continues to emphasize the fact that our God wants very much that all of us be assisted by everyone both when living and after we die (St. John of Damascus).
The holy Fathers when they teach that our prayers for the dead are beneficial to the departed, they have in mind the words of the Lord and His philanthropic will. For example: Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (Mystagogical Catecheses) writes: We believe that a very great benefit is derived by the souls for whom the petition is made. Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki, following both the Apostolic as well as the Ecclesiastical Tradition writes: Nothing is so beneficial to him who has died and nothing is more conducive to 'gladness and enlightenment and union with God' as is the precious Blood of the Lord, which is poured 'for us the unworthy,' and His Immaculate Body which suffered for us upon the Cross. For this reason we ought not to omit the sacred Memorials. Particularly, we ought to commemorate the departed during the most awesome Sacrifice--the Divine Liturgy.
Perhaps the answer of whether or not memorials and prayers are of benefit to the departed has been answered by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (Mystagogical Catecheses 5, 10). Saint Cyril asks: What benefit is there for the soul that leaves with its sins from this present world? He proceeds to answer. Consider the king who has exiled some of his subjects that had revolted against him. Certain friends of the exiled go to the king and express their concern. And having weaved a crown they offer it to the king "on behalf of the exiled." Now the Catechist asks: Will the king not be swayed by these persistent requests to grant to those in exile some "relaxation of their punishment?" In a similar way, he continues, when we offer petitions to the Almighty God for the departed--even if they were sinners, we offer Christ, Himself, Sacrificed for our sins, and we seek and receive forgiveness from our Loving God both for them and for ourselves.
Saint John Chrysostom echoes this message when he observes that prayers and memorials for the departed are beneficial. He says that it is a great honor to have your name commemorated at the time of the Divine Liturgy for they provide a certain consolation.
Saint Athanasios the Great accepts that the souls of the sinners receive a certain benefit from the bloodless Sacrifice. However, he adds that this is done as only our God Who has authority over the living and the dead knows and ordains (St. Athanasios the Great, To Antiochos the ruler).
As we can see the prayers and memorials have been established by the Holy Church both for those who have departed in repentance and for those who have departed in sin. The Church prays out of love for all. In addition, however, to the prayers and memorials the Church also recognizes that charity on behalf of the souls of the departed is also beneficial. We see for example in the Apostolic Constitutions which prescribe the 3rd, the 9th and the annual memorial that that believers give charity from their possessions to the poor "in remembrance" of the departed, provided they, the deceased, departed with repentance (Apostolic Constitutions 8,42;43).
The Saturday of the Dead. On the day before the Sunday of the Last Judgment, and in close connection with the theme of this Sunday, there is a universal commemoration of the dead 'from all the ages.' (There are further commemorations of the dead on the Second , Third and Fourth Saturdays in Holy Lent.) Before we call to mind the Second Coming of Christ in the services on Sunday, we commend to God all those departed before use, who are now awaiting the Last Judgment. In the texts for this Saturday there is a strong sense of the continuing bond of mutual love that links together all the members of the Church, death does not constitute an impassable barrier, since all are alive in Him; the departed are still our brethren, members of the same family with us, and so we are conscious of the need to pray insistently on their behalf.
Personal note: I personally find most alarming and distressful that so many of our Orthodox Christians are not concerned about their loved ones departed this life enough to offer their names to be commemorated at these holy services of our Church. If you have not given their names please do so as soon as possible. It is your duty and obligation to do so as an Orthodox Christian!
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God