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Faith of the Church

A Biblical Perspective- Praying for and Commemorating the Departed

By Very. Rev. Dr. Kuriakose Chorepiscopa Moolayil

Why we remember the departed in our Prayers?

In the Christian tradition we remember the faithful departed in our liturgy, prayers, and on feast days. One Sunday is set apart to remember all our faithful departed. This Sunday is known in the Church Calendar as the Aaneede. We are to remember our parents, brethren and other beloved in our prayers and Holy Eucharist. What is the basic concept of the prayer for the departed? When we look into the text and content of all our prayers we can identify the following facts:

1. Prayer for the departed is based on the faith and conviction that we get from the model of our Lord Jesus Christ. Before the pre-Christian period there were no conclusive notions of where the souls of the faithful go after the bodily death. They believed that after bodily separation the soul 'go to the fathers in peace'. It is the way of speaking about death during those times. This phrase may include the promise of life after death. (Gen. 25:8, 35:29, 49:33, 1Sam.12:33).

2. Gen. 25:8 says, Abraham was 'gathered to his people'. This refers to the 'burial' and it also indicates to the life after death. About the burial of Moses Deut. 34:6 says that He (Lord) buried him, but 'no one knows his grave'. Here we are told about Lord himself burying his beloved. Enoch is said to be with God and Elijah was taken to His presence.

3. Generally speaking, the Old Testament fathers, saints and prophets had the assurance about heavenly bliss. In this line the faithful had a hope for the life after death but this was not an assurance like those who are living in the New Testament times.

Examples of the New Testament Assurances of Life after Death

Jesus Christ gave a new insight when He taught 'everyone who believes in Him may have everlasting life.' John 5:24.

In Luke 9: 30 we see Moses and Elijah talking to our Lord about "which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem".

Again in Luke 23:43 Jesus said "assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise".

In Matthew 22:30 our Lord says, "in resurrection, they are like the Angels of God in heaven." And in verse 32 it is said, "God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not the God of the dead, but of the living."

St. Paul confirms Cephas 'seeing Him after He rose again on the third day according to the scriptures' and Paul himself witnessed Him .He mentions about the twelve and other one hundred men seeing Him rose. 1Cor.15:4-6. St. Paul confirms in 1 Thes. 4:14 "For, if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so Him those who sleep in Jesus".

Rev.7:9-17 gives another vivid picture of the state of the departed. A multitude of all nations who are washed in the blood of the lamb serve him day and night holding palm branches and wearing white robes. They are singing praises to our Lord and shall neither hunger nor thirst.

What are we to understand from the above New Testament facts?

1. Our Lord is explaining the relation between the belief and the life eternal in the above quote from John. Adam and Eve were created without the taste of death till they were in fellowship with God. They were not even having a thought of the mortality of the creation. They had very fixed and unwavering faith and belief in God. When this belief in God was shattered by the Satanic influences their quality of life changed from immortality to mortality or they had to face the taste of death. Here it is very explicit that the death is the death of the spiritual relations and companionship with God. They were expelled from this God fellowship or Paradise. Paradise is the place of harmony and solace. Human beings lost this state and fell into death because of the lack of faith and belief in God's guidance.

2. Jesus is promising here to go back to the state of belief and confidence in God and to enjoy the everlasting life. Jesus himself shows us the way to go back to the old state of immortality by believing in Him (GOD) who sent His son to us. He showed us a way of perfect obedience to God and opened us the path to eternal life. He himself became very human, believed in Him (God the Father), suffered a lot, died, buried and rose again to show that life continues even after bodily death. He showed the communion of the dead with the living by showing himself to the believing and faithful company of the disciples. Thus Jesus says that the believing faithful shall enjoy everlasting life or there is life after death.

3. The quote above from Luke 9 is the incident of the transfiguration of our Lord. There the situation is important because of the presence of two Old Testament figures. Moses was there who was dead and was buried. Elijah was taken to heaven. We don't know the corporeal changes, if any, that might have happened to the earthly body of Elijah. We must leave that to the providence of God. But with the New Testament understanding, we can assume that there must have been 'a change' as St. Paul says in 1Cor.15:52, 'the corruptible put on incorruption'. Both Moses and Elijah were representatives of mortal humans who were dead in body and were taken to God's presence, centuries before the birth of Christ. The subject matter of the discussion there is also very important to our theme. They were talking about 'the things to happen in Jerusalem'. Moses and Elijah discussed with our Lord about the redemptive acts. See the privileges of the departed saints who stay in the presence of our Lord! Not only the faithful departed are with our Lord but are also privileged to discourse with HIM.

4. The Promise that was given to the believed thief is a pointer to the mercy and love that our Lord shows to the true penitent and the confessor. Here the confessed thief was promised the entry to paradise just at the time of his death. His belief was rewarded at the eleventh hour. The thief who confessed is the representative of all the human beings who are sinful by nature but at the same time has the opportunity to believe in the pardoning love of God and the open willingness to accept Jesus as the Savior. Any human being who is willing to confess with a contrite heart and is willing to confess the faith in Lord Jesus Christ will be rewarded this fellowship with Lord in Paradise after his/her death. The promise here is, 'today you will be with Me in Paradise. The word today used here is the reference to eternity. The eternity with God is an unending today. This also refers to the fact that the faithful soul is taken to paradise immediately after his/her bodily separation. The state of the souls of Moses, Elijah and the thief points to this fact that they are with Christ, the Lord in Paradise. This is the greatest promise that a Christian can wish for and achieve.

5. The Matthew verse, 22:30 quoted above shows that the departed are like angels in heaven. The Angels are seen always in the presence of the Almighty. This also confirms the state of the departed. Again it is said that 'God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and of Jacob, the God of the living' (Matt.22:32). Here it is shown that the OT Patriarchs are the living Fathers, they are not dead even after their bodily separation. Anyone following them in their paths of belief and trusts in God shall also inherit this blessing.

6. The resurrection of the dead is the basic faith of Christianity. The life after death is the assurance of the Lord. Jesus himself is the model and assurance. By the death and resurrection of Jesus the shadows of the promise about 'the life after death' in the Old Testament times is made a clear reality. The resurrection of Jesus is the experience and the witness of the New Testament church. St. Paul himself witness to this by sharing Peter's experience as well as his own along with the twelve. He continues the assurance that, "those who sleep in Jesus" shall also be raised by God.

Finally, Revelation 7:9-19 vividly clarifies that those who were baptized in the blood of Jesus are incessantly raising praises and glories to the Lord. The life with the Lord in Paradise is the bliss shared with the fellowship of the Church invisible.

Praying for the Departed

Why do we pray for the dead? Prayer is basically a dedication and communion with God. We pray in the fellowship of love. Prayer is also the expression of our faith and belief. It is an occasion to remember with thanks those who are indebted to us in spirit and body. We continue our prayers till the bond of love to them is strong within us. We are praying for the dead loved ones with the full hope that they are in Paradise and that they are in fellowship with our Lord. Prayer is also the communion of saints: the living and those in Paradise. Holy Eucharist is the ultimate expression of our faith, belief, fellowship, communion and the real enactment of the incarnation and redemptive work of our Lord. Remembering our departed in the Holy Eucharist makes us and them part of this supreme sacrament.

See Also:

Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for Aneede Sunday

Holy Bible - What Syrian Orthodox Believe (by Rev. Fr. Curian Kaniamparambil Cor Episcopa)

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