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Death, The Threshold to Eternal Life

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Death constitutes the last chapter of the history of our human life. In many cases the understanding of death penetrates the whole life and is the red thread throughout the activities and volition of human beings. Death is a unique episode at the end of the life of man, and as such it is the object of important studies by the philosopher, the scientist, and the ordinary man. No other episode of human life as death equalizes the aspirations, demands, and ranks of men - as the prophet cries: "I meditate among the tombs ... and I say, who is a king, or rich, or poor, or just, or a sinner?"*

Death is a mystery, and only in the light of everlasting life, in the name of Jesus Christ, has its dreadful threat been transformed into a happy and victorious event for the believer. The Apostle Paul, in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, beginning with Chapter 15:50, gives an account of the Christian understanding of death, saying:
"When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.'" (1 Cor. 15:54)

The Christian should not neglect his earthly life. The Christian belief in everlasting life does not mean that our earthly life has no meaning and should be neglected. On the contrary, the truth is that the everlasting life of a Christian begins with his earthly life. This earthly life of ours has the merits, gifts, and purposes which the Creator has bestowed on it. Especially after the enlightenment brought about by the teaching of Jesus Christ and His Gospel, the earthly life of a Christian is the workshop of his future life. The main question is: Is the Christian working in the realm of his salvation? Is his moral stature growing? His task on earth is to progress from God's image to God's likeness.

The Christian should nourish his body, too. To attain this goal and fulfill this mission, the Christian must nourish his spirit as well as his body. It is an error and the outcome of heresy when the Christian does not maintain the theory of the co-existence of his body and soul. The Christian believes this theory because it tends to make the human body more acceptable, for the body is neglected, misunderstood, and misconstrued by individuals and groups. The human body is a direct creation of God according to the Bible, and is in such close cooperation with the human soul that their separation means the earthly departure of human beings. Without the body, the soul of the human being cannot fulfill the mission that God the Almighty has planned for it. The importance of the body is evident, moreover, by the fact that Jesus Christ's body rose after His death. The Apostle Paul stresses the point that without the Resurrection of the body of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of the bodies of the Christians, the Gospel and Faith are in vain, saying:

"But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain." (1 Cor. 15:13-14)

The human body was honored at the time of its creation and, after the Original Sin, was restored again at the time of the Incarnation of the everlasting Son of God who became the God-Man, "for us men and for our salvation." The Divine Message was brought to mankind through chosen personalities, that is, through men and women who devoted their body and soul, together and in one entity, for the mission of God's Will among men. In short, the Divine Message is Truth through personalities. God has greatly honored the human body and we as His creatures should respect His Will by protecting our own body and leading our steps to the fulfillment of our duty towards a better Christian Society.

A healthy body is an obligation to its Creator. The prolonging of human life is not only a law of our nature but also an obligation for the purpose of fulfilling the commandments that God who became man has asked us to do. Certainly a healthy body is an indispensable instrument for such a fulfillment. Therefore, good nourishment and the safe-guarding of our body are not only our wish or desire, but they are also an obligation to the Creator. The Christian is an active soldier all his life. He must be on guard, day and night, to maintain that which he needs - not only a healthy spirit but also a healthy body. His healthy life is considered as a gift from God and as such, must be used for His Will. This is the reason why it is prohibited for one to commit suicide, to the extent that the Church does not allow Church services in such cases.

Two directions are important in keeping our body in good condition. First, we must nourish it properly, not only with material things, but also with a spiritual direction because the physical well-being of our body depends on our spiritual well-being. Secondly, to safeguard our body from physical ills. The human body is a complicated mechanism, and it is important to consult, from time to time, the special ministers of the body - that is, the medical doctors. It is very erroneous to think that the physician has no place in our faith, and that the pains and ills of our body are merely a state of our mind. When we realize the role of the body in the fill of our ancestors and in our sins, we can understand the role of nature in physical living and our need for the physician to aid us throughout our life. Physicians are God's servants, and we accept their services as such - being, nevertheless, thankful to Almighty God for His providence.


The Everlasting Life

THIS BOOKLET deals particularly with the service for the burial of the dead, according to the Orthodox belief and practice. It is most profitable for all Orthodox persons to know, on the one hand, the teaching of the Church on the existence and the substance of the hereafter, and, on the other hand, the contents of the prayers for the departed one and the teaching for the comfort of those left behind.

It is proper to examine the question of everlasting life in the light of the unfailing sources from which we derive our information and establish our belief in this truth. The belief in God is a belief in the living God forever. A living God forever is the substance and the cause of everlasting life. Eternal life has no value without a living God. The human conscience so consistently and unfailingly believes in this truth, without further aid from the physical and spiritual worlds, that it can be stated that the belief in God, in the internal and external life of men, is an innate impulse of our nature, and only by distortions can it be diverted or uprooted. The fact that atheism is rather an exception under the pressure of stubborn presuppositions and the temptations of independent knowledge is proof in itself that the belief in the existence of God and eternal life cannot be destroyed or substituted by any other product of knowledge, art, or science.

The belief in the existence of God is fortified by the classical proof provided by the existence of the universe and its purpose. By obvious reasoning we believe in the existence of a watchmaker by examining the mechanism of a watch. We cannot understand the verse without its Creator; we do not understand the existence of the purpose of the world without a mind behind it. The law of cause and effect is most convincing to human understanding and reasoning, and by it the human mind arrives at very definite conclusions. The philosopher Kant, in the 18th century, stressed the ethical proof of the existence of God and asserted there is a Super Judge and an everlasting life to judge human events and activities and to reward each human being according to his deeds. To him the existence of God and an everlasting life and reward, along with the free will of man, were strong, self-evident demands of the human mind. As St. Paul states:

"Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse." (Romans 1:19-20).

The strongest affirmation of an everlasting life is drawn from the Bible and especially from the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. His preaching throughout His life was penetrated by the strong presupposition of the living God and an everlasting life as well as the way whereby men can share them forever. There are many references in the Bible to emphasize this, not only the words of Jesus Christ, but also the strong belief of the Apostles and the early Christian Church. The Apostle Paul is especially - the herald of an everlasting life as a hope and reward of our faith in the living God. The question of the young man, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life" (Lk.10:25), indicates not only a strong belief in it, but especially a stronger desire to inherit it. The answer is to be found in John 10:28, when Jesus Christ, the Author of life, said, "I give unto them eternal life". For a Christian, the beginning of eternal-life is the beginning of his belief in Jesus Christ. For him a promise has been given, a reward for eternity because, "Who soever liveth and believeth in Me, shall never die" (John 11:26). In John 17:3 it is stated that, "This is life-eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent." This kind of "knowledge" was not the cause of the ousting of Adam from Paradise but it is the cause for the evaluation of the Divine Gift, the faith in the True God. The Apostle Paul was bound to say to the Corinthians that, "this mortal must put on immortality." (1 Cor. 15:53)

The faith and belief in an everlasting life is so strong in the mind of the faithful that, on one hand, it makes no difference whether he is living on earth or is departed, and, on the other, there is an unfailing connection between this life and the hereafter. The Apostle Paul assures us on this point by declaring: "For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21). There is one Church, consisting of the people on earth and the souls of the ones who have departed from the earth. The Church is One because its Head is One, Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. A living God is not a God of the dead, but the God of the living, whether on earth or in Heaven. The human soul never dies. Once it becomes a member of the Church by believing in Jesus Christ, it will remain as such forever. By virtue of Jesus Christ, it is enlisted in the ranks of His Kingdom forever. The nature of the soul as pure spirit is to live forever and not disappear. The only question here is whether it will live eternally with Christ or eternally without Christ, that is "unto the resurrection of life" or "unto the resurrection of Damnation." (John 5:29). This will be decided on earth and will be determined by God's judgment at the very important time of the separation of soul and body - called death.


The Role of Repentance

THE THEME of the preaching of Jesus Christ is the interrelation of the Kingdom of God and the repentance of man. The proclamation of the emancipation from the bondage of sin, fear and superstition is uttered by Jesus Christ calling everyone throughout the centuries to, "Repent; for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt. 5:17) In his earthly life, man is able to use his moral abilities to choose between good and evil, and to effect a change from bad practices to Christian ones. The Kingdom of God, or of Heaven, is the realm of everlasting life in the presence of the countenance of God - the realm to which Jesus Christ is leading the lost sheep. Repentance is the exercise of the free will of man, without which there is no salvation. Repentance is not merely penance and regret for bad actions. Repentance is, rather, the human reaction to the appeal of Jesus Christ, and its result is joy over a new birth. It is a unique transformation from a vague belief to a firm faith in the true God and His Kingdom. By such a repentance the adherent attains a communion with God on earth which is destined to endure forever. His repentance is a constant working for the establishment of the Will of God among his fellow men. Love of God and love of neighbor in everyday life, without discrimination and distortion, are the nourishment of repentance in relation to the Kingdom of God. By fulfilling the Will of God, and with His inspiration and His help, the penitent learns the language of the future land and studies the map of that Kingdom.

Faith can change the appearance of death. With this understanding of repentance in relation to the Kingdom of God and in the name of Jesus Christ, the faithful can change the power and fear of death. It is true that death was the cause of fear in the past, because people did not believe in the hope of salvation. But faith can change the dreadful appearance of death, and to do this the individual believer must prepare himself for the glorious departure from this earth. To neglect such a preparation is either atheism or a giving up of all genuine, active faith in God. In both cases, the Christian is not worthy of his claims, and it would be better for him to deny his Christian heritage entirely. Lukewarm faith is not much better than no faith at all, "So then because thou art lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." (Rev. 3:16).


Memory and Remembrance

REMEMBRANCE of the dead is human. It is very human for a sincere relative to have a strong remembrance of a beloved person who has died. It is not easy, or natural, for a son to forget his father if he really had a filial love and gratitude for him, and the remembrance of his mother is undoubtedly even more tender and reverent. But is the remembrance of a believer sincere without invoking the grace of God? Without exercising his faith in Jesus Christ and His everliving Church? Without praying to Him for the soul of his beloved one, who is now a member of the triumphant Church, as he prayed for him when he was a member of the Church on earth? In the eyes of the Christian and his belief in Jesus Christ, Who is the Head of both, there is no difference between the Church on earth and that in Heaven. To cease praying for him, if he really prayed for him when his beloved one was on earth, is an unnatural way of thinking and a perversion of reason. Only by erroneous presupposition, or cynicism, will a person force himself to apathy. It is then in keeping with the nature of the faithful and his belief, as well as in keeping with the teaching of Jesus Christ and His Church, to pray to Almighty God for the souls of our beloved relatives and friends.

The Church has developed this human reaction and this divine teaching and has established first, the teaching of the truth of the everliving soul and its judgment and second, prayers and services pertaining to the burial of the dead and his life hereafter. It is an expression of gratitude for a Christian believer to remember the Apostle Paul, by whose efforts and martyrdom he receives his faith which is so dear and precious to him. To remember him, however, without referring to Almighty God in his prayers, the Christian believer misunderstands both the person and message of the Apostle Paul. For a Christian, the memory of a beloved person has a value only when he refers to God Almighty in a humble and faithful prayer; otherwise it is the ordinary expression of an unilluminated heart. In such cases, there is no difference between a "Christian" and an atheist. The Christian is called on to pray constantly and to give alms in the Name of the Lord at all times, but especially when he remembers his beloved departed persons; by doing so, he will hear the angel's voice as the centurion Cornelius heard that, "Thy prayers and thy alms are come up for a memorial before God." (Acts 10:4)


God's Judgement

JUDGMENT of the soul according to its faith and deeds on earth, is an unquestioned teaching of the Gospel. It is also a self-evident demand of human nature and reasoning. The Christian Church places this judgment at the very moment of the death of the individual for two reasons:

  1. Any moral progress of the soul is excluded after its separation from the body; and
  2. there is no hope of repentance or betterment after death.

The moral progress of the soul, either for better or for worse, ends at the very moment of the separation of the body and soul; at that very moment the definite destiny of the soul in the everlasting life is decided. (see Androutsos Dogmatics p. 409). It will be judged not according to its deeds one by one, but according to the entire total results of its deeds and thoughts. The Orthodox Church believes that at this moment the soul of the dead person begins to enjoy the consequences of its deeds and thoughts on earth - that is, to enjoy the life in Paradise or to undergo the life in Hell. There is no way of repentance, no way of escape, no reincarnation and no help from the outside world. Its place is decided forever by its Creator and judge.

The Orthodox Church does not believe in purgatory (a place of purging), that is the intermediate state after death in which the souls of the saved (those who have not received temporal punishment for their sins) are purified of all taint preparatory to entering into Heaven, where every soul is perfect and fit to see God. Also, the Orthodox Church does not believe in indulgences as remissions from purgatoral punishment. Both purgatory and indulgences are intercorrelated theories, unwitnessed in the Bible or in the Ancient Church, and when they were enforced and applied, they brought about evil practices at the expense of the prevailing Truths of the Church. If Almighty God in His merciful loving-kindness changes the dreadful situation of the sinner, it is unknown to the Church of Christ. The Church lived for fifteen hundred years without such a theory.

The Last Judgment is not an act of overthrowing, the judgment of the soul at the time of its separation from the body, but rather to effect a union with the transformed, risen body with which the soul will continue to live forever. After the separation, the soul is conscious and consequently, feels, understands, and in general exercises all the energies of the soul (Revelation 6:9-10, 7:15; 1 Peter 3: 19; Hebrews 12:23; Luke 16:27-28). The word "sleep", by which death is characterized, does not refer to the soul, but to the body. In Matthew 27:52, we read that many Saints who had fallen asleep, were raised. The Last Judgment will take place on the second coming of Jesus Christ, a strong belief of the Church recorded in THE CREED that "He (Jesus Christ) shall come again with glory to judge the quick and the dead". The time of the second coming of Jesus Christ is not known and, according to Revelation, cannot be conjectured by any means.

Christ the Author of Salvation, Judgement and Ever-lasting life. In short, in regards to death we are confronted with salvation, judgment, and everlasting life in the name of Jesus Christ. The Christian is assured of two things: that he will find the means of salvation in Christ and His true Church and that his future destiny depends upon his present life.


Burial Service

Outline of the Ritual Service

RITUAL SERVICE of the Eastern Orthodox Church does not exclude private prayers and readings from the Bible, particularly those parts which refer to the hope and the everlasting life we have in Jesus Christ. The service itself consists of hymns, prayers, and readings from the Scriptures. The order of the Service is as follows:

1. Trisagion and Selection of verses from the long Psalm 119, in three parts: with the refrain "Alleluia" in the first and third parts; and "Have mercy upon thy servant" in the second part. (I Part-Verses 1, 20, 28, 36, 53, 63; II Part-Verses 73, 83, 94, 102, 112, 126; III Part-Verses 132, 141, 149, 161 1 175, 176 (last) )

2. Blessings (Eulogetaria): "Blessed are Thou, O Lord; teach me Thy statutes!" (Psalm 19:12).

3. Hymns: chants in various tones.

4. Readings: (a.) from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and (b.) from John 5:24-30.

5. Small Ektenia: Prayers and Dismissal.

6. Similar chants during the viewing of the body.

Most of the material that the Church uses for the Service of the burial of the dead refers not only to the dead but to the living as well. It is therefore, profitable for the faithful to study the thoughts and prayers the Church has provided for him. By studying them we can orient ourselves now in the direction of our natural destiny. The intelligent traveler studies the map and knows what road to follow, he reads the signs and is careful not to lose the way. Let us then, study the map of our destiny carefully and learn the language and ideals of the future city which is on the other bank of the river we shall cross, "For here we have no, lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come" Heb. 13:14.

1. VERSES OF PSALM 119 (three Stasis)

"Blessed art Thou, O Lord; teach me Thy statutes, Alleluia."

The blessed Lord, His teachable statutes and His praisable Name by man both in words and deeds, in spirit and truth, are the task of a devoted adherent of God. Psalm 119 begins: "Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who, walk in the law of the Lord ... Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart." This Psalm consists of 176 verses praising the divine law in an instructive manner. The Psalm is divided into ten sections, each of which is introduced by a word characteristic of its contents, for instance, commandment, statute, truth, law, etc., reminding us of the Ten Commandments. The following are a few characteristic excerpts:

"Blessed are the undefiled in the way"; but who can achieve it? "My soul melteth away for very heaviness." (v. 28). "Incline my heart unto thy testimonies." (v. 36). "Thy hands have made me," (v. 73), but "I became like a bottle in the frost." (v. 83). "Save me, O Lord, for I have sought thy commandments." (v. 94). "O look thou upon me." (v. 132). "Hear my voice, O Lord." (v. 149). "I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost, O seek thy servant." (v. 176). "My soul shall live, and it shall praise thee, and thy judgments shall help me." (v. 175 ). These excerpts from Psalm 119 are the cry of a soul which is struggling its way out of the darkness of life with the light of its Lord. It is the soul of the deceased person crying with its relatives and friends.

2. "BLESSINGS" FOR THE DEAD (Eulogetaria)

After this confession and unconditional surrender to the Lord, the soul of the deceased person cries: "I am the lost sheep; call me again, O Savior." (p. 15k). "do Thou lead me back to Thy likeness." It faithfully insists that "though I bear the marks of sin, I am the image of Thine ineffable glory; grant to me the Land of my long desire." The members of the Church, relatives and friends of the soul of the deceased person, now plead to the Lord for its rest: "Give rest, O God, to Thy servant pass by all his offenses." The soul of the faithful will be saved because of its "faith working through love." (Gal. 5:6). "Holy art Thou, O Eternal Father; enlighten us, who, in faith, worship Thee." But who has shown us' the true God? Jesus Christ Who took flesh and became man; therefore we honor the Mother of God. When the transfer of the soul from earth to heaven takes place, the whole Church, Angels, Saints, and believers unceasingly praise the Lord by exclaiming, "Alleluia," for the mercy of the departed soul.

3. HYMNS AND CHANTS

"Thou alone art immortal, the maker and fashioner of man; for we mortals were formed from the earth and unto the earth we shall go, as Thou who fashionedst me didst command and say to me: Earth thou art and unto earth thou shalt return, whither all we mortals shall go, and make of the funeral dirge the song: Alleluia." Man knows that he is mortal; he has seen many a relative and friend of his turned back to earth. The hymnologist again reminds us: "Earth thou art and unto earth thou shalt return."

Wealth, health, position, glory-all these earthly things are vanity. "All things are more fleeting than a shadow and succeeded by Death." Only one thing endures, that which makes one " in the light of Thy countenance and in the sweetness of Thy beauty", one's faith in Christ. Otherwise, alas! the soul is helpless; neither angels nor men can aid it. O brethren, do you realize "the shortness of our life?" What are you striving to gather on Earth? You know that "all mortal things are vanity since after death they are not." "Wealth remaineth not, Glory goeth not with us. Death cometh suddenly, And all these things vanish utterly." What then remains? Only this: you in Christ, your Creator and your Redeemer. Nothing of what you have can or shall follow you but everything which has constituted your being, your personality, your kindness, or your unkindness, your virtues and vices, will follow you.

You can prove this for yourself. Here is an example before your very eyes. Your beloved relative or friend is gone. His things are left, but "Where is the yearning for the world? Where is the pomp of things temporal? Where is the gold and the silver? Where is the tumult and rush of servers? All are dust. All are ashes ... a shadow." Are they not? Go out to the city of those who have slept away; knock on the doors of mausoleums; look at the stones on the graves; listen to the murmur of the leaves; read the names; remind yourself of their positions, titles, wealth, and fame, and, finally, measure the earthly space in three dimensions that they ended up with. Then you will say: "Who, then, is a king, or a warrior, or rich, or poor, or just, or a sinner?"

In the eyes of God differences of this kind do not exist. Death is unbribable; it is impartial; there is no exception whatever. "How are we given up to corruption and yoked together with Death?" What a marvel death is! It is like the metamorphosis of the wheat that the Scripture refers to: "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it dies, it bringeth forth much fruit." In the name of God, and His Gospel, death is a blessing, for it is the threshold and the gate leading to the place of rest.

With these prayers and meditations at the very moment of the death of our relative or friend, we beseech Almighty God to save his soul. Let us, then, say with the sacred writer: "Blessed is the way in which today thou goest, for a place of rest hath been prepared for thee."

4. BIBLE READINGS

A. From the Apostle. The first part of the Scripture reading is from the Apostle Paul's First Epistle to the Thessalonians (4:13-18). The question arose among the faithful in those days how the dead could live in glory with Christ. All their "farewell inscriptions on the tombstones were expressed in "sorrow without hope". The Old Testament as well as the heathens cried with Theocritus (Idyls 5:12): "There is hope among the living, but hopeless are the dead." The thought of death without any conviction of hope results in phobia or despair. Why work or even live if sooner or later one would disappear? His life would have no meaning for a life which is not illuminated by immutable convictions and faith in its Supreme Author, from Whom it comes and to Whom it goes, is an arrogant or inferior life; it is not normal and natural. A normal life conforms itself in full obedience to its Creator. The Christian is thus fortunate, for the true God is shown to him. The true God is the hope. It is on this theme of hope that the Apostle Paul writes to the Thessalonians: "But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope." (1 Thes. 4:13). The reason is obvious: Jesus died and rose again; since we believe this, God will take back to Him those who have fallen asleep (cp. v. 15). As it is written in Proverbs (14:32), "The righteous hath hope in his death."

B. From the Gospel. The Gospel reading is from St. John (5:24-30). The opposite of death is eternal life. The Lord said to the Jews, "he that heareth my word, and believeth in Him that sent me, hath everlasting life" and "has passed from death unto life." (5:24). As death draws all to it, so eternal life is open to all. Eternal life, or the Kingdom of God, is not to be measured only in matter of indefinite time. It is rather a state of mind of obedience and love which open the Gates of the compassion and mercy of God. It is a full communion, a koinonia, of God and His moral creature, man. Eternal life begins here and now and has no end. If we fail here and now, we have no chance to attain it after death. "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23).

Judgment is an indispensable act of God. In view of the fact that we are endowed with reason, memory, discrimination between good and bad, appreciation of art, scientific skills, and the various attributes of life, certainly we have the ability to learn God's will and to obey it; certainly our responsibility toward His will is no less great than our responsibility toward the endowments which He has bestowed upon us, and certainly there should be a Supreme Author and Judge to hold this responsibility. Intelligence, responsibility, and judgement are interwoven and inseparable. Judgement means award or punishment for both the soul and the body. Therefore, resurrection is for both good and the bad; "they that have done good, into the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation." (John 5:28). Apparently this is the theme of this part of the Gospel which the Church reads in the Service of the Burial of the Dead. Again, it is intended not for the dead but for the living.

5. RITUAL PRAYERS

We now turn from the instructive part of the service to the ritual prayer, which is brief but challenging. The priest prays to the Almighty God "for the rest of the soul of the servant of God (the deceased person) and for the remission of all his sins." He reads: "Let us plead for the mercies of God...and the forgiveness of his sins." "O Lord, give rest...and of Thy goodness and mercy remit, O God, all the sins committed by him (the deceased person)." "For Thou, O Christ our God, art the resurrection, the life, and the repose of Thy servant."

The rest of the soul and the remission of sins by the merciful and compassionate Almighty are the theme of this prayer. It is the remission of sins which brings about the rest of the soul; the remission of sins is, therefore, the innate craving of every Christian, "for there is no man who liveth and sinneth not; Thou only are without sin." But how can we reconcile the beliefs of the Church

  1. that there is no repentance after death with
  2. its prayers for the remission of the sins of the deceased?

First of all, repentance and remission of sins are not the same thing, though not related to one another. Repentance - that is, the change of mind of the faithful towards God's will and the return to obedience to His will - is a human reaction and motivation, whereas the remission of sins is God's arbitrary volition and will.

The Church prays not to change the decision of God or the place of the soul, but rather to thank the Almighty and to express its human compassion on the departure of its members. It is very human for the faithful to remember his relative or friend who has died, yet there is no other way than by praying to God for him and asking for the rest of his soul - which means the remission of his sins. We pray for him now, and we will continue to pray for him, as we did when he was with us here on earth. In the eyes of the Church, there is no difference. A Christian mother cannot forget her son who died in the war, but she can remember him in a Christian way only in the name of God. Such a mother is a true member of the Church. The whole Church prays to the Almighty for each and all of its members.

6. CHANTS DURING VIEWING OF THE BODY

At the end of the funeral service in the Church, the cantor calls the people to "give the last kiss to him who hath died." "Come, O brethren, let us thank God," he chants. "What is thy grief, O brethren?" "Now hath all the evil riot and vanity of life passed away; for the spirit hath left its dwelling-place; the clay is blackened, and the vessel is shattered; speechless, senseless, dead, motionless."

The hymnologist mourns in these words at the grave for the motionless body. The body was for years the companion for the soul of the departed; it was the soul's fellow-combatant, and it gave witness to the divine Message. The Apostle Paul compares the body to a sacred Temple, for it brought forth the new Tidings. St. Paul adds: "We have this treasure (that is, the Gospel) in earthen vessels (bodies)." (2 Cor. 4:7). It will be the same body, though in another form, which will be raised on the day of the last judgement, the second coming of Jesus Christ. God Almighty, who created man from dust, will re-create again the same body which will live in eternity along with the same soul. This is the mystery of death which in Christianity is the beginning of hope for everlasting peace and beatitude.

7. COMMEMORATION SERVICE

At the end of the Divine Liturgy a special commemoration service is held after the death of a beloved person as an expression of gratitude to Almighty God for His Merciful Will to accept in His "mansions" and save the soul of the departed person. The same ritual prayers are read as in the burial service (cf. page?). Commemorations are held approximately forty days after the death of a person and after one year. It is also a custom of some people to hold commemoration services after six months, the second year and the third year. All commemoration services have the same meaning as stated above without any particular significance as far as the time element is concerned. The main commemoration service for the deceased person, though, takes place during the Divine Liturgy when the Priest mentions the name of the person.

 


Hope, the Conqueror Over Death

HOPE is the cardinal virtue and attitude of an enlightened Christian which gives a divine scope and purpose to his life. Hope is not a wishful and uncertain sentiment as it is in regards to the worldly things of life. In the Message of Jesus Christ, hope possesses the golden link which connects the human aspiration with the Divine Truths. It is a hope for salvation; a hope that Almighty God is looking upon us with fatherly love; a hope which strengthens the human will to accept anything and everything in life as God's Will.

The source of deep comfort is the hope of God's Will in our everyday life and especially in times of death. The divine comfort is a gift, it is the only way to pacify our mind and heart. The Christian should be prepared to face the events of life which includes that of the death of our beloved person. The source of comfort is the Christian hope. The Apostle Peter calls it "a lively hope"
(1 Peter 1:13), "The hope that is in you" (Ibid., 3:15).

How can a Christian nourish his hope? How can he renew the courage he needs for life and death? The Apostle Paul placed hope, along with love and faith; love, as a faithful service to our fellowman, and faith, as a loving devotion to God. The unshakable ground on which the hope of a Christian depends is the faith in a living God which is expressed on constant prayers, a Christian life and philanthropic attitudes towards society at large. With such a hope the Christian should withstand sadness as well as happiness, because "the hope we have (is) as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast" (Heb. 6:19).

*The quotations in the text without any references are taken from the rich hymnology of the Orthodox Church, or are obvious Bible quotations.


 

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