Memorial Services and Prayer for the Reposed

This morning, Father Dragan Zaric served a panikhida in our chapel at Most Holy Theotokos Rescuer of the Perishing for the newly reposed handmaiden of God Kyriaki.  She is the mother of Demetrios Calamas, a faithful volunteer whose support has been tremendous.

The service reminded me of the importance and awesome responsibility we have in praying for the reposed.  After all, those who’ve reposed can no longer repent.  They rely on our prayers and sacrifices.   One may ask why do Orthodox Christians pray and give alms for the dead?

The answer is for many different reasons. Here are a few of them:

    1. This has been an ongoing and uninterrupted practice from the earliest centuries of the Christian Church.
    2. Death does not destroy the bond between Christians. On the contrary, as the Scriptures say, “Love is strong as death.” (Song of Songs 8:6). That is, the bond of agape between Christians overcomes the limits of death. For the Christian, “death is no more.” Therefore, just as we are united by the bond of prayer on earth, so all the more should we unite ourselves by the bond of prayer to those who have gone to the life in the other world.
    3. We know from the testimony found in the Lives of the Saints and the writings of the Fathers that the prayers and alms of the Church help those who have gone before us.

Here is what our Holy Father, St. Nektarios of Aegina (+1920) says about those who have died:

“The Partial Judgment, to which all men are subjected after death, is by no means complete and final, wherefore it naturally follows that they await another, complete and final judgment. During the Partial Judgment, only the soul of man receives its retribution, not the body as well, even though the latter shared with the soul its deeds, good or evil. After the Partial Judgment, the righteous in Heaven and the sinners in Hades have only a foretaste of the blessedness or punishments which they deserve. Finally, after this Partial Judgment some of the sinners will be relieved of the burden of the punishment and will be completely delivered from the sufferings of Hades, not through their own action, but through the prayers of the Church.” (from The Oecumenical Synods of the Church of Christ, by Met. Nektarios [Kephalas], p. 222).

There are two types of prayer for the dead: public and private.

          1. Public prayer for the dead consists primarily in the offering of the Divine Liturgy and the Memorial Service.
            The Divine Liturgy: At every Divine Liturgy, the Church offers the one Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which takes away our sins and gives us eternal life. This is an infinite and priceless gift, which Christ has bestowed on us by suffering His terrible passion and death, and rising from the dead on the third day. We can and should frequently give the priest lists of names of our departed faithful to remember at the Proskomidia, when particles of the prosphoron are taken out for the living and the dead. This should always accompany a prosphoron we bake and offer, but we can send lists of the names of the departed into the altar any time (before the Great Entrance).
            The Memorial Service is a series of hymns and prayers for the forgiveness and eternal rest of the departed. It may be offered in conjunction with the Divine Liturgy or alone. The “Kollyva” is boiled wheat which we bring to the church or cemetery in conjunction with the Divine Liturgy and/or Memorial Service. It is blessed at the service and shared by the faithful afterwards. The wheat is a pledge of the future resurrection of those who have died, recalling the words of Christ recorded in the Gospel according to St. John: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” (John 12:24)
          2. Private prayer for the dead consists primarily in reading the Psalms, as well as “saying prayer ropes” and making prostrations with various short prayers.
            Reading from the Book of Psalms (the “Psalterion”) is a most ancient and praiseworthy way to pray for the dead. Before we start reading, we simply say, “Remember, O Lord, the soul(s) of Thy departed servants (name or names),” and then we open the book and read. Any of the psalms in any order are fine when reading privately, but Psalms 50, 90, and 118 are especially appropriate in reading for the departed (if you are reading from a Protestant Bible like the King James, these are numbered as Psalms 51, 91, and 119).
            Short prayers like the Jesus Prayer or Theotokos and Virgin Rejoice with or without prostrations can be said for the departed. We usually count these on prayer ropes in groups of 100. For example, one can promise that every day for a certain amount of time (like 40 days) one will say 100 Jesus Prayers for the repose of a departed friend or relative.

At each Divine Liturgy at Most Holy Theotokos Rescuer of the Perishing, a list of reposed loved ones are commemorated during the proskimedia service.  In Christian charity, we have a duty to pray for the reposed.