Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sunday of the Departed Faithful

Preparation for Great Lent: Remembering the Departed Faithful of the Holy Church

The Church has set apart two Sundays after the Nineveh Lent to remember the departed priests and the departed faithful of the Holy Church. Following this the Great Lent begins.

The significance of remembering our parents and forefathers before the great lent was discussed last week.

An excerpt from the memorial service of the faithful departed:

"Glory be to Him, Who is the hope of the living and the Raiser of the dead, in Whose hands are the souls of the just and the righteous, Who restores the bodies of His creation and brings them up from the dark chambers of the Sheol and sends them to the paradise which overflows with felicity and delight. To him be glory, honor, and adoration at this time.. and at all festivals, times, hours, seasons and through all the days of our life forever and ever."

Are not the Departed Asleep?

One of the questions we are constantly being peppered with his why do we pray for the departed or seek their blessings? Are they not "asleep" to the point they are unaware of anything happening around and what good is to pray for them anyway?
While it is true that we have not visited them after they departed from us, nor have we seen the state of their soul, scripture leaves no room for any misinterpretation. The Church is the Church of the living and the departed. Even the church architecture reminds us of this, we have designated space for the departed in the church, and it reminds us that they are ever present with us while we worship the living God!.

A simple answer to the question would be that our faith and beliefs were not invented/interpreted in the 16th century, but handed down to us from antiquity by our forefathers. Our Church is Apostolic, as we profess in the Nicene creed formulated in 325 AD, meaning we follow the teachings of the apostles and the early Church.

If we turn to the scripture, there are numerous scriptural references about the state of the departed. Let us take a close look at few of them here:
1. Luke 20:27-38: ".......34 Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37 And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive. 

Do we need any other verses from the bible that tells the state of the departed more than what Jesus Himself has stated? Let us take a look at one more:
2. Luke 9:28-34 "....29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem..."
Transfiguration: Jesus with Moses and Elijah [source:wikipedia]
It is clear from old testament what happened to Moses and Elijah. Moses died, Israelites mourned for him and he was buried. Elijah ascended into the heavens in a chariot. Now, one had clearly died and the other was taken alive to the heavens. How did they both, the one who died and the one who ascended into the heavens show up at the same place talking to the living one, the Jesus, and the whole encounter witnessed by apostle Peter?. So what Jesus said above in Luke 20:38 is truly true: "He is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive".
Finally, a word on praying for the departed. Can praying for the departed do anything for them? We believe in a merciful Lord.  In the post communion song we sing

"If by the blood of beasts - the law absolved
Reuben who did sin
Much more - shall be absolved - the faithful dead
For whom a living sacrifice was made"

St. Paul in 2 Timothy 1 prays for Onesiphorus:"16 May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chain; 17 when he arrived in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me 18 may the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day!." Here St. Paul is referring to the judgment day. Similarly, we also pray for our departed that they will find mercy from the Lord on the day of judgment.

For a comprehensive list of scriptural references on praying for the departed, refer to Fr. Dr. Jacob Kurian's (Principal, Orthodox Theological Seminary) article on this topic.

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