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Help for a Departed Soul

Help for a Departed Soul

The Elder related: "As soon as I went to live at the skete, old Thanassis, who worked for Philotheou as a forester, found out about it and came to see me. He was a friend of mine, and he brought me some blessings, since it was early on then, and I did not have anything.

I thanked him, and I told him to write down the names of his departed relatives, so that I could commemorate them. Influenced by a Jehovah's Witness, he replied, 'When someone dies, there is nothing else - after death everything is lost.'

Soon after that, he himself died. When I found out, I went to Philotheou and saw his grave. Every day I prayed from the heart that God would give rest to his soul.

About thirty days afterward, I found out that someone from Philotheou was looking for me. He came to me all upset. It was one of the stewards of the monastery. 'Father,' he said to me, 'old Thanassis, the one who just died, came to me and complained that I have forgotten him and have not done anything for him, and that you are the only one who helps him with your prayers. And the truth is, I have not commemorated him in my prayers. I am in charge of things at the monastery now, and I have a lot of work. What can I do? I have had to put my prayer rule aside.'

'Well, now you will have to do even more.'

This event strengthened the Elder, so that he prayed even more for the souls of all the departed."

The souls of those who depart this life need our prayers because through them God is merciful to them, as the story from St. Paisios above indicates.

The intermediate state of the soul after death is not the final judgment. Interestingly enough someone recently showed me a sermon from Luther in 1544 where even the Reformer admitted that there is no certainty of final judgment upon death and therefore there is no sin in praying for the departed. Although Luther clearly seems to be conflicted a bit because he sees no clear passage in Scripture calling for such prayer, yet because of love he refuses to condemn the practice.

"Shall we pray for the dead; since here in the Gospel there is no intermediate state between Abraham's bosom and hell, and those in Abraham's bosom do not need it, and it does not help those in perdition.

We have no command from God to pray for the dead; therefore no one sins by not praying for them; for what God does not bid or forbid us to do, in that no one can sin.

Yet, on the other hand, since God has not permitted us to know, how it is with the souls of the departed and we must continue uninformed, as to how he deals with them, we will not and cannot restrain them, nor count it as sin, if they pray for the dead.

For we are ever certain from the Gospel, that many have been raised from the dead, who, we must confess, did not receive nor did they have their final sentence; and likewise we are not assured of any other, that he has his final sentence. Now since it is uncertain and no one knows, whether final judgment has been passed upon these souls, it is not sin if you pray for them; but in this way, that you let it rest in uncertainty and speak thus: Dear God, if the departed souls be in a state that they may yet be helped, then I pray that thou wouldst be gracious.

And when you have thus prayed once or twice, then let it be sufficient and commend them unto God. For God has promised that when we pray to him for anything he would hear us.

Therefore when you have prayed once or twice, you should believe that your prayer is answered, and there let it rest, lest you tempt God and mistrust him." - Martin Luther, First Sunday after Trinity, 1544, 28-29

That Luther is very different than the Lutheran catechism I was raised with that had a question and answer on this very question where it said that Christians are not to pray for the souls of the dead.

Thus you can see that even Luther concedes that there is no certainty of final judgment upon death and that it is permissible to pray for a departed one that God would be merciful to them and help them.

One of my favorite hymns is from the Memorial Service. It is called the "Evlogitaria of the Dead" and I love it because the words are tremendously comforting. We pray for our departed loved ones because the final judgment has not happened yet, we love them and they have need of our prayers. The story from the life of St. Paisios reminded me of the importance of not being neglectful of this act of love.

Blessed are You, O Lord, teach me Your statutes.

The choir of the saints has found the fountain of life and the door of Paradise. May I also find the way through repentance, the sheep that was lost am I, call me up to You, O Savior, and save me.

Blessed are You, O Lord, teach me Your statutes.

You who did fashion me of old out of nothingness, and with Your Image Divine did honor me; but because of the transgressions of Your commandments, did return me again to the earth from whence I was taken; lead me back to be refashioned into that ancient beauty of Your likeness.

Blessed are You, O Lord, teach me Your statutes.

I am the image of Your unutterable glory, though I bear the scars of my stumblings. Have compassion upon me, the works of Your hands, O sovereign Lord, and cleanse me through Your loving-kindness; and the homeland of my heart’s desire bestow on me, by making me a citizen of Paradise.

Blessed are You, O Lord, teach me Your statutes.

Give rest O God to the souls of Your servants, and appoint for them a place in Paradise; where the choirs of the saints, O Lord, and the just will shine forth like stars; to Your servants that are sleeping now give rest, overlooking all their offenses.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

The triune radiance of the One Godhead with reverent songs acclaiming, let us cry; Holy are You, O eternal Father, and Son also eternal, and Spirit Divine; shine with Your light on us who with faith adore You, and from the fire eternal rescue us.

Now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Hail, O gracious Lady, who in the flesh bears God for the salvation of all; and through whom the human race has found salvation; through You may we find Paradise, Theotokos, our Lady pure and blessed.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia; Glory to You, our God. (3x)


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