Beloved in Christ,
Remembering the deceased in prayer to the Almighty God is an important expression of love and faith. Trisagion services can be done at the time of death, the third day (in honor of the Holy Trinity and Christ's three day burial), the ninth day (in honor of the orders of Angels), the fortieth day (in honor of Christ's 40 days on earth after His Resurrection), three months, six months, nine months, one year, or any time the Orthodox family feels the need. The memorial service is a little longer service that is typically done on the fortieth day. The memorial service requires Koliva or Sitari (Wheat). Koliva or Sitari is the boiled wheat dish that symbolizes the seed of the body that has been placed in this earth to sprout forth new, resurrected life when all the dead are raised at the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Some of our parishioners are confused on how to submit the names of their deceased loved ones to the priest. The forms for the living and dead are at the pangari at the Narthex of the church i.e., where you will find the candles. Take either one or both and write the names of your loved ones to be prayed for at the Divine Liturgy during the preparation of the holy gifts.
You are required to write the Orthodox Baptismal name of your relative and not his or her secular name. The Lord knows us by the name we were given at our Baptism and that is the official Christian name that we use throughout our earthly livesFor example if someone was baptized Panayiota, but was called by her secular name Bertha, we will, of course, always use the Baptismal name, Panayiota. Many of the secular names have no connection to the Baptismal name. Also, you do not need to include the last names. If you are not sure of their first name do not write down on the paper, Mr and Mrs so and so.
Furthermore, if you have a 40 day memorial service it is important that you include prosforo or prospora (the bread for the Divine Liturgy), communion wine, and olive oil. Believe it, or not, the prosforo, is more significant at the divine service, than the Koliva (boild wheat), but both are required. The prosforo will be used for the Holy Eucharist and following the Consecration, it will become the very body of Christ.
Memorial Services are necessary and are performed both for the benefit of the living as well as for the benefit of the departed.
First for the benefit of the living. Why? Because they help and strengthen our faith in the future life and keep alive our love for our departed relatives, parents, brothers, sisters and friends. This is how we are benefited.
Secondly, the Memorial Services are performed primarily for the departed. And indeed, for those departed who repented -- possibly even at the hour of their death -- but were not able to confirm and manifest this repentance through active penitence and through good works (works of charity). It is also true, of course, that even for those who died in iniquity and sin we hold Memorial Services and offer up prayers to God on their behalf. And we do this, not because we believe that by the Memorial Service they suddenly move out of Hell and enter into Paradise. No, we do not believe such a thing. We do believe, however, that even the worst sinners can repent at the last moment, being goaded and moved by God's grace to repentance and the seeking of God's mercy and be saved. Did this not happen in the case of the Good Thief who was crucified with Jesus? At first he, too, blasphemed the Crucified Christ, as did the other thief. But in a moment he repents, utters the words "Lord, be mindful of me" and inherits Paradise. And who can know how many sinful souls, guilty souls, the souls of thieves and robbers, repented at the last moment and asked God's mercy? But because this is unknown to us, for this reason we perform Memorial Services for all the departed and ask God to show compassion on them. Only for those who take their own lives through suicide do we not allow burial and memorial services. Also, those who are cremated. (Source: Our Orthodox Christian Faith by Athanasios S. Frangopoulos)
What do the Holy Fathers of the Church say?
As concerns the righteous foretasting of the benevolence of the Kingdom of God, Saint Gregory the Theologian says: "Every good and God-beloved soul...when it has been released by death from the body with which it was united...immediately experiences the joy and pleasures which it shall enjoy in full measure in the future...And though now immediately after death this enjoyment is small, after, when it shall again receive its body with the resurrection of the dead, it shall enjoy blessings in perfect measure".
And Saint John Chrysostom says: "There those present continuously and constantly enjoy God the King...as being both present and as adorning all those present with the splendor of His very own glory".
Most of all, it is Saint Paul who confirms the fact that the faithful and righteous man is with Christ immediately after death, when he says: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain...For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ" (Philip. 1:21,23).
This is made clear by the Holy Fathers Saints John Chrysostom and Blessed Augustine who say: "After death no unrepentant person can escape the consequences of his sins, but just as prisoners are led out of their cells bound in chains and brought before the court, so are all souls when they depart hence, they bring with themselves their chains of sins before the dread judgment seat".
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us think upon our own sinful lives! Will we die in true repentance, cleansed of all our sins? Are we so sure that we deserve Paradise? Is it not true that, after death, we may very well need someone to pray for us? Let us, then frequently offer sacred Liturgies and Memorials, as well as give donations to the Church and alms to the needy for the sake of the dead, so that, when we die, someone hopefully will do this for us: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy".
When in doubt, call your parish priest.