Orthodox Christians have a Tradition of praying for the dead that goes back centuries. Some may ask why pray for the dead? And as with most questions about Orthodoxy the reasons why has infinite layers of explanation the depth of which can touch the soul of the serious seeker. This article gives the reader a place to begin their journey.
Fr. Christophe lays the foundation for why we pray for the dead by first explaining Eternal Memory. Eternal Memory resides in the soul of the human being, according to the Father’s of the church, because we were created by God in His image so mankind would always have the ability and opportunity to commune with God. God created us to live in perfect purity and love accepting His love for us while receiving our love for Him. But in disobedience mankind allowed sin and death to afflict the human condition. Sin creates a form of slavery imprisoning the soul in darkness and obscuring the presence of God in our lives. The Holy Spirit seeks to remove sin and obstacles so we are able to continuously experience God’s love. The Fathers remind us that God desires each and everyone of us to be aware of His presence continuously and acknowledge Him in all things. Saint Paul reminds us of this in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 when he says, “pray without ceasing”.
The second thing we should understand is the concept of spiritual medicine. Spiritual medicine or Orthodox psychotherapy is Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos’s life work and provides us with insights for healing the soul from the darkness of sin and its separation from God. One of the root causes of client’s chronic depression, addictions and other forms of mental illnesses are destructive patterns of behavior based in resentments, jealousies and pridefulness passed down our family tree generationally. Scripture tells us that what is bound on earth is bound in heaven. Therefore we must heal the wounds that separate us from one another and close the gap that separates us from accepting the love of God.
Fr. Christophe helps and encourages his patients to create a genealogy with as much information as possible on family members who may still be in need of healing. He has found from clinical experience that there is a direct relationship between those that have gone before us who are still in need of healing and their ongoing effects on their living relatives who are still unable to acquire a level of freedom from self destructive tendencies or patterns because of unhealthy relationships in their past and present lives. Remembering these people and praying for them brings Grace and the Grace of the Holy Spirit transforms darkness into light.
Praying for the souls of the reposed is a gift of the Church and has been preserved at every Liturgy when priests and deacons re-enact the passion of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ in the proskomede. They pray for the living and the dead by name as they place pieces of prosphora on the paten.
Praying for the dead has a two fold purpose for persons with addictions: First, prayer acts to root out resentments, fears and behavioral patterns that fuel addictions and bitter memories blocking forgiveness. On some level there is a sense of forgiveness but they still may carry a certain level of resentment towards those who have gone before them. This must be exposed and rooted out because it continues to create bondage preventing complete healing for both the living and the dead because we are all interconnected.
The second purpose for praying for the dead is that we are called to imitate our Lord and Savior who with the shedding of His own precious blood prayed for the salvation of each and everyone of us dispensing forgiveness to all mankind.
Ikos 4: Thou art merciful to us without measure. Thou art the only deliverer. What shall we do to the great feat of thy saving love? But as Simon of Cyrenia helped thee, the all-powerful, to bear thy Cross, so now it is pleasing to thy goodness to accomplish the salvation of our close ones with our participation.
Jesus Christ is our example and as He forgave mankind we, too, are called to forgive the transgressions of others. He wants our participation in the salvation and healing of others through prayer. Fr. Christophe’s organization, The Fellowship of the Inexhaustible Cup, is fundamentally a fellowship of intercessory prayer for this purpose. An Akathist prayer for the departed reads: Jesus, grant that there not be bitter memories of (names) on earth. Jesus, for the sake of this, have mercy on those who were grieved and offended by them. And we must also acknowledge and acquire, by Grace, freedom from the grievances of our own sinful acts which offend and hurt others. May we all be committed to the removal of sin in our lives and to a life of repentance.
Ikos 2: Jesus, return to their souls the grace filled powers of the first created purity.
In summary, we believe, as Orthodox Christians, that to pray for the reposed has a direct affect on our own need for healing, and that our own freedom from affliction can be acquired by this most precious vehicle of love, that is, praying for others. Fr. Christophe implores us to develop a continuous daily dedication of prayerful recitation for the reposed so that we can subvert our own selfishness and focus on the need for healing others.
Kontakion 6: They sleep the eternal slumber of the grave, but their souls are awake, awaiting thee, O Lord, thirsting for thee, the Eternal Bridegroom. May thy words be fulfilled for the departed: Whosoever eatest my flesh and drinkest my blood has eternal life. Great to them to eat of the mystical manna and to sing at thy throne: Alleluia!
May their memory be eternal.