SATURDAY OF SOULS
(Memory of the Holy Ascetics)
Christ Offers Himself
Part II: Department of Religious Education (DRE)
Even before Christianity was established, it was common practice for various cultures in the Mediterranean world to hold commemorations for the dead, where sacrifices were offered, family get-togethers were organized, and petitions in favor of the spirits of those who had perished were made.
For the Orthodox Christian faith, the most important aspect of our continued relationship with those who have fallen asleep takes place not at the cemetery but at Church, during the Divine Liturgy. When we conduct the Liturgy, and enter into the foretaste of the Kingdom of God, everyone and everything takes their rightful place. No one is forgotten. No one remains nameless. No one is left behind. When we receive Holy Communion, the visible and the invisible world is mystically united in Christ.
The Divine Liturgy is the ultimate place of encounter and communion with all of God’s creation, with all those present and those not present, including all those who have fallen asleep. The soul of every human being is immortal. And every member of the Church who falls asleep in the Lord remains part of the Church — they remain alive in Christ. In every Liturgy, the faithful offer bread and wine, and Christ offers Himself — His Body and Blood — for life eternal.
At the end of the Liturgy, we commemorate our reposed family members and pray for their souls and their memory to be eternal. The Church, established by Christ Himself and the Holy Spirit, has an eschatological dimension. This means that everything we pray for or liturgically carry out in the Church is related to the Second Coming of Christ and the final establishment of His Kingdom. When we pray for their memory to be eternal, we refer to our belief that even if we buried the bodies of the departed in the earth, their souls remain eternal. And at the Final Judgment, they will be resurrected as new incorrupt bodies and souls and live eternally united with Christ in His Kingdom. In addition, the Church’s memory is eternal and everlasting. The Church never forgets those who have fallen asleep and always maintains them in liturgical and eucharistic memory. We ask God to remember them in His Kingdom, and we, as the Church, repeatedly confirm that we do not forget them.
In addition to bread (prosphora) and wine, the faithful offer olive oil for the vigil lamps of the Church, which are lit as a reminder of God’s benevolence. The faithful also offer kollyva (next week, we will write more about this).
May the holy ascetics intercede for us, and may the memories of our beloved departed be eternal!
NOTE: This is Part 2 of an article authored by Bishop Athenagoras of Nazianzos, PhD (Director, DRE) and published in DOXA, Orthodox Times, and Doxalogia Infonews. The DRE expanded the original article to provide additional information for the purposes of religious education.
See you next week for the final part.
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