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Author Topic: Praying for the dead.  (Read 1271 times) Average Rating: 0
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Saint Polycarp
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« on: April 10, 2005, 10:59:06 PM »

Why do the Orthdox pray for the souls of the departed?
« Last Edit: April 10, 2005, 10:59:34 PM by Saint Polycarp » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2005, 01:04:06 AM »

Why not? We always have.
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« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2005, 04:54:53 PM »

Follows a passage from http://www.pelagia.org/htm/b24.en.life_after_death.05.htm

"...Orthodox teaching speaks of the remission of sins and the value of memorial services. The Latins are not really able to grasp these two happenings. In what follows we shall refer briefly to the relevant teaching of the Church.

The remission of sins in the Orthodox Tradition is release from hell and punishment. And this remission takes place in three ways and at three different times. The first is at the time of Baptism, the second is after Baptism through conversion and mourning during the present life, and the third after death, through prayers and beneficences and whatever the Church of Christ performs.

Remission through Baptism is effortless and equal in value in all people. It is a work of grace and no work is required on the part of the person, but only faith. Remission after Baptism is arduous and requires repentance and contrition on the person's part. Remission after death too is arduous, because it is closely connected with repentance "and a conscience that is contrite and suffers from insufficiency of good", but it is free of punishment, since it is not possible for remission and punishment to exist at the same time.

In the first and third remission the grace of God prevails, and prayers contribute, but very little is brought in by us". The intermediate remission is by the grace of God, but more of it is from our own action: "the middle, on the contrary, has little from grace, while the greater part is owing to our labour". Likewise, the first remission, through Holy Baptism, differs from the last, after death, because the first remission is forgiveness of all sins, but the last is remission only of those that are not mortal, and certainly of those over which the person has repented in life.

This is the teaching of the Orthodox Church, as St. Mark says, and therefore it prays for forgiveness for those who have fallen asleep. It asks God to forgive the sins of the penitent Christians who died in the faith, without appointing any punishment because it is aware that in such sins the divine goodness "far outweighs the word of justice". Thus in the Orthodox Church we speak of the goodness of God and not of the satisfaction of divine justice62.

Also connected with the remission of sins is the subject of memorial services. The Orthodox Church has memorial services for Christians who have fallen asleep, and prays to God for them, but in a different way and for a different reason from the Latins. In other words, it is not possible for the purifying fire of the Latins to be linked with the memorial service in the Orthodox Church. The former presupposes purification by punishment, the latter presupposes a completion for the person's unfinished journey towards theosis. St. Mark gives interesting information on this subject.

The memorial services in the Orthodox Church are for all the people who have died in the hope of resurrection and with faith in Jesus Christ. And therefore the memorial services and prayers of the Church benefit all those who have died, righteous and unrighteous, saints and sinners. Of course the prayers said are different for each Christian. Even for the saints we have memorial services and offer wheat in their memory, but because we have signs of their holiness and since they have been counted in the list and company of the saints, the prayers differ. We do not ask God to have mercy on them, but we pray "in order to honour and commemorate them"and we ask them to pray for us.

Concerning the benefit of the prayers and memorial services St. Mark writes: "Likewise we pray for all those who have fallen asleep in the faith and we say that these prayers achieve something for all and the power and benefit pass over to all from them"63. So the prayers are made for all those who have died in the orthodox faith.

The Church prays at first for the sinners, who have been imprisoned in hades, "that they may gain some small comfort, even if not complete release". Prayers are said mainly for those who have died in faith "even if they are very sinful". Indeed there are also cases of saints who have even prayed for the ungodly, but "the church of God by no means prays for such"64. The sinners and those imprisoned after death in hades benefit from these prayers on the one hand because they have not been definitively condemned and do not yet have the final decision of the tribunal, on the other hand because they have not yet fallen into hell, which will happen after the Second Coming of Christ. If this is effective for sinners, much more do the memorial services and prayers benefit those who have repented but did not have time to be purified completely and for their nous to be illuminated. If these have very small or light sins, they are restored to the inheritance of the righteous or remain where they are, that is to say in hades, and "their troubles are lightened and they return towards more honourable hopes"65.

But the memorial services and prayers of the Church also benefit the righteous and those who have lived a saintly life. This is a central teaching of our Church. St. Mark affirms that the prayers of the Divine Liturgy show that "the power of these prayers and especially of the mystical sacrifice goes through to those enjoying blessedness from God". This appears in the prayer in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom: "Also we offer to thee this reasonable worship on behalf of those forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs confessors, ascetics and every righteous spirit who has died in faith". Even if, having prayed for the saints, we do not seek blessings for them, we give thanks for them and "do this for their glory, nevertheless in some way the sacrifice is on their behalf and passes over to them"66.

In another passage St. Mark analyses more thoroughly what is the benefit of saints being subjected to the fire which is everywhere with God and is His uncreated energy. He writes: "For such a fire shows the saints brighter, like gold tried in the furnace, since they bring no evil deed and mark..."67. It is plain in this passage, as also in other connections in the holy Fathers, that the saints are illumined more and have a greater capacity for participating in the glory of God.

St. Mark also takes a passage from St. Dionysius the Areopagite, in which it seems that the bishop prays even for those being perfected in the divine life. By citing this passage the saint says that the power of the prayers, and particularly of the mystical sacrifice, also goes "to those who have lived a righteous and holy life". And this is explained because as far as perfection is concerned, even the saints are imperfect and so their capacity for divine glory can increase. He writes: The power of prayers and of the Divine Liturgy also reaches those who have lived a righteous and holy life "since they too are imperfect and always receptive to what contributes towards the good, as they do not yet enjoy perfect blessedness"68.

So the prayers of the Church reach all, both sinners and righteous, but they work differently, according to the spiritual condition which each has reached in this life. The saint ends by saying: Since the prayers of the Church reach all, we do not need to receive the purifying fire. Purification and salvation are brought about by the goodness and philanthropy of God69.

This teaching of St. Mark is orthodox and is found in many patristic texts. We will not go into this in detail here. What must be underlined is that, according to orthodox teaching, there are three stages of spiritual perfection: purification of the heart, illumination of the nous, and theosis. A man's perfecting is incomplete. Man is always susceptible of improvement in his spiritual condition. This movement will continue even in the age to come. Therefore when through repentance a person enters the stage of purification but because of death cannot complete the purification and reach illumination, this can be done through the prayers and memorial services of the Church. That is, there will be an endless increase of participation in the purifying, illuminating and divinising energy of God. This is how we are to understand many occurrences in the lives of saints in which their prayer justified their spiritual children. If we think that justification is illumination of the nous - and of course it is primarily the remission of sins - then we can explain these occurrences. ..."

« Last Edit: April 11, 2005, 04:55:24 PM by lpap » Logged

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« Reply #3 on: April 12, 2005, 11:10:28 PM »

Thanks for the reply lpap. I read it but I still have a couple of questions if you don't mind. Do the souls of the dead who are not condemned go through some kind of final purification before they enter Heaven? The article you posted even mentioned the possibility that some may be released from Hades which I take it is not actually Hell but some intermediate state. I guess what I'm asking is it seems that you believe as we do that our prayers can be of some aid to our departed brothers and sisters and this happens before they enter Heaven. I understand it's not a punishment but a finnishing of their sanctification.
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« Reply #4 on: April 13, 2005, 03:49:27 AM »

Poly,

Good to see you on this board! We don't believe in a final purification as is found in the Roman Catholic concept of purgatory, and I wouldn't personally understand Hades as a third place either. I hope that if anything I say is incorrect some other Orthodox poster will chime in and correct me.

Hades, in this context, is merely the resting place of the soul after the particular judgement. Those of us who were faithful in life gain a foretaste of our future salvation, those of us who weren't of our future damnation. As we see salvation as a process rather than an event, it is possible to progress even after death, through the prayers of the saints and those still living.

I admit that the difference between this idea and purgatory is a fine one, but I feel it is very important. The prayers of the living for those in purgatory seem to be aimed at reducing the duration of God's righteously imposed punishments whereas Orthodox prayers for the dead seem more positive in that they ask for God, in His mercy, to draw those who haven't yet reached salvation nearer to Him. I hope you understand what I mean.

James
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« Reply #5 on: April 13, 2005, 01:07:58 PM »

Brother "Saint Polycarp",

Your original question was "Why does the Orthodox pray for the souls of the departed?" but it underlies a more generic question: "Why do we pray for the for the salvation of living humans in the first place ?".

This question has the same answer like your original question.

In order to simplify things and to be brief I will use an example that we are all familiar with.

Let’s say that there is a very good and loving father that has two children, a boy and a girl. This boy/child of his is asking several things for his own benefit from his caring father. Please, daddy give me this toy, please give me this delicious ice cream, please give me a big hug, please let my sister Mary come with us in our picnic and so forth. This daddy that we talk about is a very-very good father that knows the needs of his children and he is ready to satisfy them. Actually this imaginary father has a special supernatural power to foreknow his son's needs before he even expresses them. He knows that his son wants the toy, that he wants that delicious ice cream, that he wants a warm hug, that he likes his sister to be with them in the picnic and everything else regarding the son's will and needs. Also as a loving father he is ready to do exactly as his son like to. The son is expressing himself by asking things for him and for others. He is asking for things that he as a child is not capable of doing or get. But as a son he can participate in his father wonderful world of grown ups that his father is very eager to offer to him.

Something like that is happening with us when we pray to God. There is no need for humans to pray to God because He foreknows not only our needs and our thoughts but the deepest of our souls before we even come to realize them.

But praying to Him is our way to participate in His Love. We already know that we will receive everything from Him without even asking for them. We are not expressing ourselves as children in need but we are expressing ourselves as children of a munificent/generous Father. We are praying for his wealth while being His declared heirs. So there is a strange thing happening in case of Orthodox prayer: we pray for what is our heritage, we pray for what is ours already. There is no need to ask for anything because nothing has been refused to us. Now this is the answer to your question: we pray for the souls of the departed and for the salvation of living fellow humans because by this way we participate in God’s Love.

Let's think why Christ was praying to His Father (and our Father too). Did he know not what his Father’s intentions were on these matters? Was He trying to persuade His Father about something? Was there something that the Son needed and the Father was unaware of? He prayed about Himself and about us. Why then did he ask all those things on behalf off us, as long as He has the absolute power to give to us anything He likes by Himself alone? Was there a need that driven Him to pray in order to achieve His goals?

Prayer is a way to relate with someone in a Personal way. It is not a status of beggary manifested in front of a wealthy person.

Finally to pray for the dead is a way to participate in the love of God in an unselfish manner. We pray not because we want the departed to be with us in Heaven, neither because Lord waits for our prayers to let them in “into” Paradise but because we live their lives as our own life. And because in our life we have known the Love of God, we share His Love with them. A mother that prays for her child with faith in Christ’s Love is ready to give her “place” in paradise for her child to take it. That’s the true prayer for the departed: to live the life of others and to let them taste the Love of God instead of you - not as a way of achieving their aims but as a declaration of unification with them through a personal relation.

Usually we suppose that praying is to ask for something like as to seek a place in Heaven for ourselves or someone else. But the true prayer is always a denial of a personal goal for the shake of a personal relation.
 
« Last Edit: April 13, 2005, 01:38:29 PM by lpap » Logged

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