Saturday, January 30, 2016

Prayer, Fasting, Holy Qurbana and Almsgiving for the Departed - St. Dionysius Vattasseril


As we approach the Great Lent and are preparing for the spiritual warfare with the enemy, it is our tradition that we pray for the departed and seek their intercession as well. The God we worship is not just the God of Living, but the God of living and dead, as Jesus says in Luke 20:37-38 "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. Now He is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to Him all of them are alive."  

St. Dionysius Vattasseril
The text below is an excerpt from the English translation of the book Matopadesha Sarangal (Basic Doctrines of the Church) by Vattasseril Geevarghese Malpan, later St. Dionysius Vattasseril. References from the bible have been interspersed with the text.

About Prayers for the Departed

It was for the sake of human beings, from Adam onwards to the last, that our Lord was born as a human being, observed fasting, offered himself as a sacrifice, descended into hades and preached there, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, sat on the right hand side of His Father, and intercedes on our behalf. 

Adam : 
a) Roman 5:18 - Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.

b) 1 Peter 3:19-20 - He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

He did and continues to do it that there shall be graceful and just means to save them in the fullness of His love for his creations, the human beings; also to give all humans a faultless and perfect example. Therefore, as becomes perfect love, we too, following the example given to us by our Savior and teacher, should wish and pray for the salvation of all people from the time of Adam. Just as Christ, who is the head, reckons all humans from Adam to the last as His own body and cares for them, it is becoming that all from Adam to the last who are body parts of each other shall, as parts of each other, bear burdens mutually, and pray for each other. We pray for ourselves and for our brethren, who are alive, saying, "Lord, forgive our sins", not because there is the possibility that we shall continue to live on our body and grow in righteousness, and God shall forgive our sins. Besides, when we pray for those who are on their deathbed, for their remission of sins, we do not pray that they be made to continue to live in the body and do righteous deeds, and then forgive their sins. We only pray that, whether they live or die, God may forgive their sins in his mercy. God has decreed the time upto the last judgement as the period of mercy, not only for the living and those who are on the death bed, but also for those who died with hope in God.

but also for those who died with hope in God:
c) Ruth 2:20 - "Blessed be he by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!”
d) Psalm 88:10-12 - Do you work wonders for the dead?  Do the shades rise up to praise you? Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

Prayer and sacrifice for the dead was a practice in the Jewish Church, and what our Lord practiced and taught His disciples, what the Apostles too practiced, and what is practiced in the Church from very early times to this day. The hope of the departed regarding their salvation is augmented through our prayers; their sins are forgiven and they get consolation. Therefore, prayer for the dead is befitting, necessary and beneficial. However, if a worldly minded person, takes life for granted thinking that others will pray for him when hie is alive, and even after his death, it amounts to one of the deadly sins. And, even if all the saints, prophets and all the people of he world pray for him, he will not become eligible for grace. Since he follows the negative reasoning that says, "let us continue in sin, so that grace shall increase", he shall be devoid of grace. Those who receive grace while alive and even after death by prayers of others, are those who become eligible for grace with their firm faith in God, even though they have committed sins, but not deadly sins.

Jewish Church:
e) Deuteronomy 33:6 - "May Reuben live, and not die out, even though his numbers are few.
f) 2 Maccabees 12:42-43 - and they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result of the sin of those who had fallen. 43 He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection

Apostles too practiced:
g) 2 Timothy 1:16-18 - May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chain; when he arrived in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me —may the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! And you know very well how much service he rendered in Ephesus.
h) 1 Corinthians 15:29 - Otherwise, what will those people do who receive baptism on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?
i) Acts 20:10 - Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. 10 But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.”

he will not become eligible for grace:
j) Psalm 109:14 - May the iniquity of his father be remembered before the Lord, and do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out.
k) Jeremiah 15:1, 16:6-7, 17:1 - Then the Lord said to me: Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go!... Both great and small shall die in this land; they shall not be buried, and no one shall lament for them; there shall be no gashing, no shaving of the head for them. No one shall break bread for the mourner, to offer comfort for the dead; nor shall anyone give them the cup of consolation to drink for their fathers or their mothers… The sin of Judah is written with an iron pen; with a diamond point it is engraved on the tablet of their hearts, and on the horns of their altars

let us continue in sin, so that grace shall increase:
l) Romans 6:1 - What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?

About Fasting, Holy Qurbana, Giving Alms for the sake of the Departed

Besides, conducting prayers for parents and brethren who have slept int he Lord, fasting for their sake, offering Holy Qurbana on their memorial day, which recalls the sacrifice of our Lord, and entreats His mercy, giving alms which brings us mercy and grace from God, are good and pleasing before God. Whatever our Lord did, and also his sacrifice, are not only for the living, but also for the departed. According to the example he has showed us, we shall do everything we can, by word and deed, not only for those who are living, but also for our departed; offering Holy Qurbana daily, and spending all wealth for feeding the poor, shall bring absolutely no benefit, to those who die with no faith in Christ, and are not eligible for the grace of God. However, those who do these good works with good intention, shall reap benefit out of them.

fasting for their sake:
m). 1 Samuel 31:13 - Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days

offering Holy Qurbana:
n): Acts 10:4 - He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.

Note: Excerpts taken from the English translation of the book Matopadesha Srangal (Basic Doctrines of the Church) by Vattasseril Geevarghese Malpan, later St. Dionysius Vattasseril

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