The Day of Resurrection—People, let us be illumined!
Christ’s Resurrection is extolled in a great multitude of the hymns of the Church, both solemn and joyful. Some of these were written by holy Christian men in deep antiquity. The Russian people love to express their prayerful feelings in akathist singing, and they have united their own “akathists” to the ancient Church hymnology about Christ’s Resurrection. In accordance with the example of the ancient Christians, they honor the very day of resurrection as more festal than the other days of the week. Already in apostolic times, Christians especially loved to gather for corporate prayer, to partake of the Holy Mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood (Acts 20: 7-11), and to help the needy (I Cor. 16:1-2) “on the first day of the week” (Matt. 28:1) or “on the day of the Resurrection” (Acts 1:10). Not only Christian writers testify about the celebration of the day of Resurrection by the whole ancient Church, but also pagan writers, for example, Pliny the Younger, who lived in the first century A.D. Some sectarians assert that, instead of Sunday , one should celebrate Saturday in accordance with the Fourth Commandment. But already in the Laodicean Church (A. D. 364) it had been established: “It is not befitting Christians to Judaize and celebrate the Sabbath.”
Christ is risen — “and, having risen from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has dominion over Him” (Rom. 6:9). He is risen and has received power to resurrect all who died in Adam. He is risen and now is raising in spirit those who come to Him with faith and obedience. He is risen and by this He has borne witness that the message preached by Him for our salvation is completely true, that the sacrifice offered by Him for the sins of the whole world was accepted, that the rights to the Kingdom of Heaven given to us through His death have been confirmed, and that His will, for us to be there where He is (John 12:26) and see His glory, will be fulfilled.
Verily, “. . . this is the day that the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!” Without any exaggeration one may say, that the glory of our Saviour’s Resurrection is more significant for us than it is for Him. Even without the Resurrection he would have remained the Beloved Son of the Father and would have enjoyed His glory, which He “had before the beginning of the world” (John 17:5); but for many of us, it may be that, without the Resurrection, many of us probably would not have known that He was not a deceiver, for which the malice of the Jews gave Him out to be (Matt. 27:63). After this, how could we not celebrate and sing to the honor and glory of the risen Lord?
And so you who in your thoughts love to comprehend the fate of all mankind and wish to find the remedy for its deliverance from all evils—rejoice and be glad! This remedy is found in Heaven: a Saviour sent by God Himself is there, who one day will “wipe every tear from the eyes” (Rev. 21:4) of the sufferer. After this it remains only to follow His plan, spread His light, and pour out His life. You who sigh under the burden of a nature inclined towards sin and who know not how to overthrow the yoke of the passions—take heart and be comforted! The key to the mystery of spiritual regeneration was found on Golgotha: the One sent to loose sinful bonds is God Himself. After this it remains for you only to employ the remedies of grace give by Him, to be grafted to Him with faith and love, to walk in His steps. You who seeks true immortality and unfading glory—seek them nowhere but Christ’s tomb. Here is the source of imperishable life. The Risen One will make you immortal, not just in name, as the world and history do, but He will give eternal life to your whole being.
O Brethren, how blessed and comforting our faith is! What happiness it is to be a Christian! Where is there so much light and life as in the Gospel? Where is there so much hope and comfort as before the Cross? Where is there a Saviour like unto ours? We Christians alone bear the cross, and we alone celebrate the Resurrection. What is more unavoidable than the former, and what is more necessary than the latter? Where earthly wisdom is lost and knows not what to do, and either falls silent or murmurs—there the Christian faith all the more performs its divine action, illuminating, comforting, and enlivening.
Let us acknowledge, brethren, our treasure and study to value it as we ought, “that we should no longer be lightminded, tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Eph. 4:14). Many can promise salvation, but only One can give it—He who ascended the Cross for this purpose and rose from the grave. People do not speak untruth from a cross when they have ascended it voluntarily. They do not rise from the grave to tell lies. Let us be faithful both in deeds and life to the resurrected One, as He was and is faithful to us.
Monday: The Holy Angels
Monday has been dedicated by the Holy Church for entreaty to and praise of the holy Angels, who, as those first created in the “Church of the firstborn” (Heb. 12:23) and those closest to the throne of the Most High (Rev. 8:3-4), occupy the first place in the assembly of the saints after the Theotokos, who is “more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim.”
The name “angel” means “messenger.” It follows, then, that an Archangel is the head messenger. The Angels are so named because, in relation to humans, they are the proclaimers of the will of God.
By their nature Angels are spiritual creatures, rationally free, bodiless and therefore invisible; being gifted with a high degree of strength and power, they enjoy a most blessed existence.
Are there many Angels? Their number is known to God alone. From the Word of God only this is apparent—that it is extremely great. The Prophet Daniel (Dan. 8:10) and the holy Apostle John (Rev. 5:11) saw “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” around the throne of God.
Is there any primacy or subordination among the Angels? Yes, for in the Sacred Scriptures not only Angels are mentioned, but also Archangels. Some of the Angels are also called “Powers”, no doubt according to their power over other Angels. Saint Dionsysius the Aeropagite, an apostolic Father, on the basis of the Word of God, enumerates in his book “Concerning the Heavenly Hierarchy” nine ranks in the Angelic world: Cherubim, Seraphim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. Those desiring it may read in this book what distinguishes one Angelic rank from another.
When were the Angels created? They were created before man, as the Lord says in the book of Job: “When the stars were created” (on the fourth day of creation), “all My Angels praised Me with a great voice” (on the fourth day)(Job 38:7). They were created before the visible world, because Moses, when speaking of the first three days in the creation of the world, does not mention the Angels.
Where do the Angels live? Everywhere, but especially in Heaven about the throne of God—that is, in that place where God most of all reveals His glory for them, and through them reveals His will.
Is the knowledge of the Angels great? It is, indeed, great in comparision with human knowledge. In and of themselves by their own nature and situation, they know much that we are not able to know. But besides this, they take part in the Mysteries of God and receive immediate illumination from the Most-holy Trinity. Besides that, Angels are not omniscient—that perfection belongs to God alone.
How, then, are the Angels able to know our prayers and petitions if they are not omniscient? Through God the omniscient One. According to the word of the Saviour, Angels “always behold the face of My Heavenly Father” (Matt. 18:10), and in that face, as in a mirror, everything is reflected.
Is the power of the Angels great? It is ineffably higher than human might. Accordingly, they are able to effect such deeds as exceed the powers of nature and appear miraculous to us. Thus, for example, an Angel smote 185,000 Assyrians in one night for insulting the Name of God (2 Chron. 19:35).
Of what does the activity of the Angels consist? It consists of glorifying God’s perfections and fulfilling the Creator’s will, especially as it concerns human salvation.
Are Angels capable of sinning? In the beginning as free creatures, like man, they were able to abuse their freedom and fall into sin, as some of them did fall. But those who remained faithful to their Creator became so established in good as time went on that sin has now became impossible for them—not because they would not be able to violate God’s will, but because they do not want to do it.
Did all the Angels remain faithful to their duty and maintain their dignity? No, not all. Satan with the assembly of Angels subject to him gave himself over to pride, fell away from God, and for this fell forever from the Angelic world into the nether world.
What attitude do Angels have toward people? They have the most beneficial attitude towards people: all of them, according to the assurance of God’s Word, are ministering spirits, “sent to minister” to us for our salvation (Heb. 1:14).
Is not the dignity of the Angels lowered by their serving people? Not at all, because their service is according to love and follows the example of the Lord Himself, who came to earth to serve and to give his soul for the deliverance of us all. The Angels serve people as elders serve minors, the healthy the sick, the free those in bondage, those with sight the blind.
Are there any known experiences of Angelic service for human salvation? All of sacred History is full of them. Angels were the leaders of the Patriarchs; through them the law was given to Israel on Sinai; by Angels, the Conception was announced, the Nativity was hymned, the Resurrection proclaimed, and the Ascension of the Saviour was preached. The Angles helped the Apostles in spreading the Christian Faith. Angels, as seen from the Apocalypse, are sent by the Lord for the fulfillment of judgment on kings and peoples. At the end of the world, Angels will gather all people for the Universal Judgment.
Do not Angels have any kind of special bond with people? Yes. There is the bond of the Guardian Angel with the person being preserved. Our spirit, soul, and body; our mind, will, and conscience—these, the whole man, serve as the concern of the Guardian Angel’s preserving actions from all that is bad and evil and of his direction of his charge towards all that is good.
Is it possible to give oneself over to danger when trusting in one’s Guardian Angel? By no means. “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” One must always respond to such thoughts according to the example of the Saviour (Matt. 4:6-7). On one thing we always may and should firmly be resolved in the hope of the aid of our Guardian Angel or (what amounts to the same thing) God’s help: this is the battle with our sinful nature. Here victory is always possible, because it is always necessary.
Is it possible to become convinced through personal experience that each of us has a Guardian Angel? Not only is it possible, it is necessary. It is possible, for our protection by our Guardian Angel as a constant action is powerful and diverse and cannot be but very perceptible and noticeable to anyone who is attentive. It is needful, for having no sense of Angelic protection over us presupposes in us inattention to him and the weakness of our bond with our Guardian Angel.
It is possible to lose one’s Guardian Angel? It is possible through the conduct of a sinful life and unrepentance. Then the Angel withdraws from the person and immediate access to the sinner becomes open for an angel of darkness.
Can a sinner recover his Guardian Angel for himself? The greatest sinner may do this and be reconciled with his Guardian Angel by means of sincere repentance from his sins and departure from them forever. In such a case, great joy is experienced by the Guardian Angel on earth and by all the other Angels in Heaven.
Will each of us ever see his Guardian Angel? Each will see him in the hour of his death, for the Guardian Angel remains the one companion of the soul at its separation from the body. At that time every soul will know who preserved it from every ill. But this meeting with the Guardian Angel is not the same for all. For good souls, it will be the source of mutual joy and thanksgiving, but for the souls of unrepentant sinners, it will be a source of shame, sorrow, and eternal pangs of conscience.
Ought one to honor Angels? One ought to, for how could one not show them honor, who are creatures superior to us and our helpers and preservers!
Can one worship Angels as one worships God and our Saviour? No, Angels do not receive such worship because it, as fitting for God alone, is repugnant to their zeal for God’s glory. When St. John, who saw hidden things, worshipped an Angel, taking him for the Saviour, the Angel said, “Do not do that, for I am your fellow servant . . . Worship God” (Rev. 22:9).
What sort of worship, then, is appropriate to Angels? That which consists of acknowledging and praising their perfections to the degree that the glory of the Trinity is reflected in them; in calling upon them for help with showing signs of love before them; in imitating their Angelic ways and actions.
Let us then appeal in prayer to the Angels for help in accomplishing good deeds, in exploits of Christian selflessness, humility, and love, in conquering temptations, and in the eradication of bad habits and passions in ourselves. The Angels themselves will teach those who pray diligently.
Tuesday: John The Forerunner
After the angels, the Holy Church in Her prayers glorifies the prophets as the most ancient servants in the Divine garden of Christ’s Kingdom (Mt. 21: 33-42) and calls upon them in Her prayers, and among the prophets, primarily on the Forerunner and Baptizer of the Lord John as the most glorious of them. Most important privileges were united in the life of John the Forerunner: from his mother’s womb he was filled with the Holy Spirit, he lived in holy chastity, and ended his life as a holy martyr.
John’s conception was announced by the Archangel Gabriel to his father, the priest Zacharias (Luke 1). The Orthodox Church long ago established a feast day in remembrance of the Forerunner’s conception, but even more solemnly She glorifies his birth, over which, it is said in the Gospel, “many will rejoice” (Luke 1:14).
Being the Forerunner of the Saviour by conception and birth, John was also His Forerunner in the preaching of the Gospel. This high service of his—foretelling the Saviour of the world—was foretold by the ancient prophets (Isa. 40:3; Malachi 3:1; 4:5). John fulfilled the task of his service so that, in the words of the Lord, “he was the burning and shining light” (Jn. 5:35). Everyone esteemed him a great prophet, and some were even inclined to ponder whether he was the Christ.
An inhabitant of the desert, a great faster, dressed in a hair shirt made of camel’s hide, John stood on the banks of the Jordan calling everyone to repent and to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. He fearlessly spoke the truth to the proud and vindictive Pharisees and Sadduccees, the mercenary publicans, offending soldiers, and King Herod himself. He taught a lesson of correction which might be fulfilled by each. This lesson was for each person to act in good conscience as the Law of God and the civil law demanded—not to violate conscience in any matter small or great, but to walk uprightly. If you are a servant, serve as you ought; if you are a craftsman, labor according to your conscience; if you engage in trade, trade honestly; if you are an official, fulfill your duties as directed, and so on—in everything having in mind the good of your neighbour and the glory of God.
The Forerunner of the Lord also foreshadowed the voluntary suffering of the Saviour, His death, and His descent into hell to preach the Gospel to all those waiting with faith in the Saviour of the world for deliverance from hell. John’s death as a martyr warns each against indulging the passions in similar fashion to Herod and Herodias The Holy Church explains concerning the example of Herod’s foolish oath that it is better to break such a vow that to commit a new sin by fulfilling it.
Wednesday: Cross & Betrayal
On Wednesday, our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed by Judas Iscariot to suffering and death (Matt. 26:14-16), and from apostolic times, the Church has dedicated this day to the reverential remembrance of the Lord’s betrayal to suffering and death. According to the testimony of ancient writers (for example, Tertullian, who lived in the second century), Christians fasted on Wednesday and gathered in their churches for public services, but, in deep grief over their sins which subjected the Lord to voluntary suffering and death for us, they did not approach to partake of the Holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ. The Orthodox Church’s custom of fasting on Wednesdays (the same as on Fridays) derives from this, and, during Great Lent, only the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is performed on these days. The lamentations of a sinful soul to its Saviour are particularly fitting on these days: “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me!”
The word of the Saviour, that His disciples, the true Christians, when He was taken from them, would remember this time with fasting as a sign of their sorrow (Mt. 9:15), was realized.
Thursday: Holy Apostles & St. Nicholas
Thursday is dedicated by the Church to the Holy Apostles and to Saint Nicholas, the Archbishop of Myra. In the Divine garden of Christ’s Church after the prophets, His first agents, come the Apostles and their successors, the Holy Hierarchs. Upon His resurrection, the Lord entrusted the Apostles with cultivating the vineyard of God’s Church (Matt. 21:33-41). Moreover, on Thursday, He joined them in the Upper Room and instituted among them the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist. It was also on Thursday on the Mount of Olives that the Apostles received the final confirmation of their calling as world-wide preachers and teachers (Acts 1:8).
Of the all saints, the Church primarily honors Saint Nicholas, as a saint of God, and a saint to the people, who, in all matters of faith and piety, in all our troubles and sorrows, hurries with his assistance. Only the Protestants do not honor the holy Saint Nicholas; even the Muslims and pagans turn to him in prayer for help in sorrows and manifestly receive it. The holy soul of the pastor of Myra is a whole paradise of virtues. Beautiful and praiseworthy is the holy zeal for faith and piety with which the Saint burned as a new Elias, who stood against the false teaching of the heretic. O, how many exploits this holy zeal would welcome in our time, when the spirit of the age breathes with lack of faith and unbelief, when various false teachers catch simple souls with flattery in the fatal nets of error! Glorious and worthy of respect are the gentleness and mildness of Saint Nicholas, his deep humility, great endurance, lofty non-aquisitiveness; but most marvellous of all, his love of man, charity, and compassion for the unfortunate, the very thought of whom is joined with the name of Nicholas the God-pleaser, the father of orphans, helper of the helpless, comforter of the suffering, defender of the oppressed.
Friday: The Cross
Friday has been dedicated to the memory of the death of the Saviour of the world on the cross. While He was dying, the Lord taught us the great science of life in his seven words before death. According to those words, the science of life is the science of suffering, comfort, love, forgiveness, perfection—in one word, the science of death.
The first word falling from His mouth was a word of forgiveness: “Father,” He said, already suspended on the cross, “forgive them (his tormenters), for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). What could be more agonizing than the suffering of an innocent man? But the Divine Sufferer did not make this just reproach to his enemies, “Why do you torture me?” He forgave them, and forgave fully. Say, my brother, you who suffer without guilt, say with Him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In Christ’s Kingdom there should be no revenge, no murders; there should be no swords pointed for the pacification of the human beast. What is necessary is to imitate Christ and not in any circumstance to close oneself to the feeling of forgiveness. Blessed be the Lord, who established the Kingdom of boundless mercy and forgiveness and elevated it to a duty!
“This day you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). This second word of the Saviour from the cross was for the repentant, crucified thief.
All of us are sinners, though in varying degrees. We have so many vices that often we are more guilty than confessed evildoers. Some kill the body, but others debauch the spirit and kill the soul. Of these two offenses, which is greater before God? . . . By no means shall we avoid death. Death watches over us; each of us in his own time will be confined to his deathbed and will have to release his last breath. What will we need in that frightful hour? Hope. For when drawing near to death, a man begins actively to acknowledge his shortcomings, and then a suddenly arising, tormenting fit of despair takes his mind and heart captive and often makes salvation impossible. But let no one despair, no matter who he was or how much he may have sinned. Despair not, fallen young women and men! Despair not, unfaithful wives! And you men, dispirited by the weight of all sorts of secret sins, despair not! Oathbreakers, oppressors of the weak, betrayers of justice and betrayers of faith, despair not! From this moment, as Christ told the thief, “This day you will be with Me in Paradise.” Despair is conquered. Sinner! Paradise is your hope, promised to you by Christ. Only repent, following the example of the thief, and with his faith say from the depths of your heart, “Forgive me, Lord, my blameworthy deeds, remember me in Thy Kingdom.” Only do not put off your repentance and the correction of your life until the last moment. Repent more often, repent and correct yourself after each sin; then it will be easier to repent on the threshhold of death.
At the foot of the Cross the gaze of the Divine Sufferer stopped on His Mother and the Beloved Disciple, who had drawn near to the Cross as if to mingle their grief with the sorrow of the Crucified. “Woman, behold your son,” He said to His Mother, and to the disciple “Son, behold your Mother” (John 19:26-27). Even in His sufferings He worried not about Himself but about others, about us. All simple souls, all Christians with living faith feel themselves from this hour sons of the Mother of God, who is full of tender mercy in Her intercessions for us before Her Son and God.
Women! Turn your attention to the wonderful law of Providence and measure the height to which it was Christ’s good will to raise you in Mary, the first of your sex, and who, after Christ, occupies the first place among the race of men.
The fourth word of Christ on the Cross was full of anguish: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34). In what did His suffering consist? It is possible to endure horrible bodily torments, as all the Christian martyrs endured for Christ; it is possible to suffer from all possible human insults; it is possible to see your friends powerless to assist in your sufferings and only increasing their sorrow by your own; but in such an instance comfort yet remains to us in that God sees our sufferings and innocence and will not deprive us of His love. But Christ did not have this comfort, for He offered the sacrifice to the righteous judgment of God for the sins of the whole world.
Abandoned by His Heavenly Father in unspeakable torments, Christ uttered a new word, “I thirst” (John 19:28). This thirst of His has deep meaning. By his cry “I thirst”, He not only betrayed His horrible torment, but He also expressed the internal thirst of His soul, the flame of His burning love. And this thirst was more burning hot, more persistent than physical thirst. What did Christ desire before His last breath? To what was His love directed with such fire? He wanted to inform all people of the Divine Life, of which He possessed all the fullness.
Christ’s sixth word was, “It is finished” (John 19:28). This meant, “I have bourne witness to the Truth, have shown the way, have revealed to you the source of the Spirit of God, have appeased the righteous judgment of God, and the angered Lord has become the Heavenly Father, while you among yourselves have become brothers. And from this day there is no place among you for quarrels and divisions; there is no place for attachment to the world and its temporal goods; from this day the previously closed Heaven is open to you; now strive towards it, your eternal Homeland.
The last words of Christ were “Father! Into Thy hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). Having uttered these words, He bowed His head and died. Christ taught us to die. When the hour of death comes, one must awaken thoughts of the Heavenly Father in one’s consciousness. An awakened conscience in the light of death will clarify for itself everything that it has done for good or for ill; it renders thanksgiving to God and obtains forgiveness for itself. Even if you have only one second at your disposal to gaze in the face of death, remember Golgotha and Christ dying on it, and, while abandoning this world, say just this one word, “Father! Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.” After that you will depart in peace.
Saturday: The Martyrs & All the Righteous Departed
On Friday the Saviour was lifted up on the cross. Therefore, on Saturday, the Holy Church keeps in beatitude all the saints, whom the One lifted on the Cross drew unto Himself into habitations of blessed, eternal repose. In addition, the Church requests their intercession before Christ for all those fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection of eternal life and their rest in the Heavenly Kingdom. Indeed, the Church on earth, which was founded by the Lord for our salvation, is in the closest fellowship with the Heavenly Church. All those who through the centuries have believed and do believe in Christ as the Saviour of the world, the living and those who have died with this faith, and the holy Angels, compose the one Church, as one body, under one Head, the Lord Saviour Himself (Col. 1:18-23). Therefore the Apostle Paul writes to Christians, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of Angels, to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn who are registered in Heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the saints of just men made perfect. . .” (Heb. 12:22-23).
What kind of bond unites the Church on earth with that in Heaven? The bond uniting them is the prayer of faith, strengthened by the feeling of mutual love. This love “never ends”, according to the teaching of the Apostle (I Cor. 13:8).
From our side, love is expressed in the praise and prayers that we lift to the saints. From the side of the Heavenly Church, their love for us is expressed in assistance and intercession for us before God.
Whence is this perceived? It follows from the Holy Bible. In the book of Sirach it is said that already the ancient Hebrew Church was giving praise to the righteous ones (Sir. 44:14). Joshua gave such praise or honor to the Angel before the walls of Jericho, and the sons of the prophets glorified the holy prophet Elias in similar fashion with their worship (2 Kings 2:15).
In the New Testament, the Lord said of the Apostles, “And the glory which Thou gavest me, I have given to them” (John 17:22). Therefore Paul and Silas did not condemn the prison guard when he fell at their feet in religious agitation (Acts 16:29).
Why, then, did the Apostle Peter and the Angel forbid others to worship them, as is written in Acts and the Apocalypse? (Acts 10:25-26; Rev. 22:8-9).
This was because Cornelius’ veneration before the Angel was close to worship. The Apostle Peter and the Angel pointed this out in their prohibitions against worshipping them. The worship of creatures is opposed to the First Commandment. But when the holy martyrs gave only respectful, honoring veneration to Angels and God-pleasing men, the Word of God does not condemn them for this. Thus, Joshua bowed to the Angel before the walls of Jericho (Josh. 5:14-15), and the sons of the prophets fell before Elisha (2 Kings 2:15), and they were not condemned.
Why do the Orthodox particularly glorify the Theotokos, call Her the Heavenly Queen, and observe many feast days in Her honor? Because before us, the holy angel glorified Her when he said to Her on the day of Annunciation, “Rejoice Blessed One. . . blessed are You among women.” (Luke 1:28). And then the Theotokos prophetically proclaimed, “From this day all generations will bless me” (Luke 1:48). So, meditating on the benefactions provided by the Mother of God for the human race, Orthodox Christians glorify Her with moving solemnity in special festal services. And that we name the Mother of God “the Heavenly Queen”, it is because the holy King David prophetically spoke thus about Her, “At Thy right hand (Christ God’s) stands the Queen in gold from Ophir” (Psm. 44:10). Our Lord is now in Heaven as King. His mother is with Him—the Holy Virgin. This is why She is a Queen; by this “my name is remembered from generation to generation”; by this the peoples praise Her “unto the ages of ages.” (Psm. 44:10, 18).
Why do we call upon the Saints in prayer? It is because we constantly need their help, and we believe that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16). God Himself strengthens us in such faith. Once He gave a command to pray to saints. He told Job’s friends, “Go to my servant Job. . . and My servant Job will pray for you, for I shall accept only his person” (Job 42:8).
Is the command of God, given to people alive in the flesh, applicable to Christians when they pray to those who are dead according to the flesh? It is fully applicable. In Christ’s words, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. With Him, all are alive.” (Luke 20:38). This means that the righteous do not disappear without a trace before God at the death of the body. They are always alive in spirit and are glorifying Him (Rev. 5:9). Therefore, the righteous beyond the grave are able to pray, for themselves and for us who are on earth. The souls of those martyred for the Word of God prayed in such fashion, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou not judge and recompense those on earth for our blood?” (Rev. 6:9-10). “Wilt Thou not judge”, that is, wilt Thou not finally reveal Thy righteousness on earth, where Christians are still being saved?
Did the people of God call upon the Saints in their prayers after their bodily death? They did, though in the Bible, this practice is depicted in a veiled manner, in expressions requiring explanation. There are particular reasons for this, which are understandable to Christians. In the Old Testament before Christ, the righteous in Heaven were not yet glorified and were temporarily situated as if in prison (I Peter 3:19); the books of the New Testament were written by the very first builders of the Church—the Apostles. And so, naturally, all their attention was turned to Christ, though they treated the righteous ones of old with high regard (Heb. 11). Nevertheless, from the Bible we see that the prophet Moses, for example, prayed, “Remember, O Lord, You servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. . .” With these words Moses confesses the great significance of the patriarchs before God. By mentioning them during his prayers, he makes them in a sense his intercessors and helpers. In ancient times, believers were pervaded with the awareness that the saints, after their bodily death, do, in fact, pray for us. Devout Jews believed similiarly that Jeremiah, who had died in the flesh, prayed for the Hebrew people (2 Macc. 15:14).
In the New Testament, the souls of the righteous martyrs pray for Christians (Rev. 6:10).
Whence is it seen with particular clarity that, in the early Christian Church, those holy ones who had died were really called upon in prayer by believers? This manifestly comes from the original Christian liturgies, which take their origin from the Apostles James and Peter and the Evangelist Mark. In these liturgies, the saints are not only glorified in song, but are also called upon in prayer to help believers. Christians especially request intercession in prayer for themselves before God from the Holy Virgin Mary. Indeed, what was said of Her by the Psalmist would come true: “The daughter of Tyre will come with gifts, and the rich among the people will entreat Your favor” (Psm. 44:13). And that the Holy Virgin was always helping those seeking Her aid is apparent already from the Gospel and all the more—from the life of the Church.
How indeed, then, can the Saints and the Mother of God intercede in prayer for us before God, when Christians have one advocate—Christ (I Tim. 2:5)? Truly, only the one Lord intercedes for the sinful world with blood, but we have many intercessors in Christ’s name (John 14:12-16; 23-24) as the Apostle said, “By the intercession of many, many have given God thanks for us” (II Cor 1:11). Only in this sense do Orthodox Christians call the Mother of God their Intercessor and Only Hope.
In what fashion do the Saints hear our prayers? They hear us not in their own strength, but by God’s goodwill. With God, all things are possible for those who believe (Matt. 19:26). Examples from the life of the blind prophet Ahijah and the prophet Elisha confirm the truth hidden here. Ahijah the prophet was blind, but he knew that the woman who had come to him was Jeroboam’s wife by the illumination of the Spirit of God (I Kings 14:4-6). The prophet Elisha knew what his servant Gehazi and the Syrians were doing far away from him (2 Kings 5:25-27; 6:8-12).
Ought the Holy Church to maintain the bond with the souls of even her weak brethren who have died in the Lord? Certainly, She ought to.
What prompts us to support this bond? Faith that our brothers are always alive before God (Luke 20:38), and love, which we are obliged to nourish constantly in ourselves for the departed. This love, according to the Apostle, “never fails” (I Cor 13:8) and has no end.
In what manner may we show our love for departed Christians? We should show it by prayers for the repose of departed brethren with the saints. So teaches the Apostle, “Pray for one another” (James 5:16). We pray out of the duty of love, and love, as it is said, is without limit and eternal (I Cor. 13:8). Another Apostle has written for our edification, “If someone sees his brother committing a sin not unto death, then let him pray, and God will give him life” (I John 5:16). Here we pray for our brethren with the thought that they do not have mortal sins, and we hope by our prayers to help them to be purified in conscience and to receive life in God.
Whence is it seen, that the Church of God prays for those who have died? It is seen from many places in the Bible. The prophet Baruch prayed, “Almighty Lord, remember not the sins of our fathers” (Bar. 3:5-8).
A still clearer pious custom of prayers for the dead is laid out in the book of Maccabees (2 Mac. 12:42-45). This custom is described in the book of the Prophet Jeremiah, whence it is obvious that the Hebrews had a habit “in consolation for the dead . . . of breaking bread for them” (Jer. 16:7). With the words “breaking bread for them”, the Prophet bears witness that the remember the dead by the partaking of bread, and all the more by prayers, is useful for those fallen asleep.
What is the basis of prayers for the dead among Orthodox Christians? It is based first of all on our habit of imitating the Apostolic Church. But apart from this, even in the New Testament writings it is said, “Pray for one another” (James 5:16). After bodily death, the brethren who have died are alive before the Lord (Luke 20:38). They pray for us (Rev. 6:9-10). We are obligated to pray for the repose of their souls, all the more since we all die with transgressions (James 3:2). And the forgiveness of sins after the bodily death of a man is possible for God until the Dread Judgment (Matt. 12:32).
Apart from these general foundations, which we have borrowed from the Holy Bible, what in particular convinces us to pray for deceased brethren? As it has been said, the imitation of the example of the Apostolic Church. In the Apostolic Age, Christians, who were particularly filled with the enlightening grace of God, prayed for their deceased brethren. This is evident, for example, from the Liturgy of the Apostle James. In one of its prayers for the dead we read, “Lord God of spirits and all flesh, have mercy on those whom we remember as Orthodox from the righteous Abel to this day. Comfort them Thyself in the abode of the living in Thy Kingdom.”
Besides the Apostle James, testimony concerning the prayers of early Christians for the deceased has been preserved in the works of Saint Dionysios the Areopagite (“Concerning the Hierarchy of the Church”, ch. 7, ¶4), Tertullian, Origen—the most educated man of his day—and also Saint Cyprian of Carthage. In general, it may be said, that faith in the necessity of prayers for the dead was general in the Early Christian Church.
In what manner do the words of Christ’s parable agree with this belief: “Between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, so that those desiring to cross over from there to us cannot” (Luke 16:19-31)?
The adduced words of Christ’s parable, which should not be understood in their literal sense and which, in any case, do not invalidate the Orthodox Faith, relate to the Old Testament, when Moses’ law and the prophets reigned on earth (Luke 16:29). Then hell had not been conquered by Christ’s sufferings. Now, however, by Christ’s death on the Cross, free passage from hell to Paradise has been opened (1 Pet. 3:18-19). Those departed who desire it cannot by themselves use this passage. They are no longer in the condition to manifest good deeds of love and compassion to their neighbors (Matt. 7:21). That is why we must facilitate their salvation with our brotherly prayers (John 15:7).
What in particular strengthens the meaning of our prayers for the dead? Faith that, as of now, there has not yet been the final judgment of the dead. Until the awesome Coming of Christ even the righteous are in bliss only in part (Rev. 6:10-11). The full judgment of the dead will be revealed after the Second Coming of Christ, when “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the heavenly powers will be shaken” (Matt. 24:29).
This “awesome” Coming of Christ has not yet occurred, and that is why sinners for now await the final determination of their fate. Now it is useful and necessary to pray for them, as all the ascetic heroes and holy fathers of the Orthodox Church prayed in ancient times.
Knowing this, the prelate John Chrysostom teaches that we shall understand what consolations we can obtain for those fallen asleep: instead of tears, instead of weeping, instead of gravemarkers—alms, prayers, remembrances for the departed, particularly during the Liturgy; we shall both perform this consolation for them and not remain without benefit for our own souls (Sermon 21 on Acts).
Translation by Fr. Justin Frederick from a Russian book of Akathists for each day of the week.