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February 28, 2022
Why do the Orthodox pray for the souls of the departed?

(As we will do every Saturday during this Great Fast) Just as we love and respect living family members, relatives and friends, so do we love and respect those of them who have departed this life. Our God is Love (1 Jn. 4, 8), to Whom all are alive (Lk. 20, 38) We express our love for our departed friends and relatives through prayer. Just as we pray for the living that the Grace of God may be upon them, so do we pray for the dead that they may become worthy of the grace of God. 

  Death and burial cannot sever the Christian love which united the living with those once living and now deceased. (1 Cor. 13, 8) We continue to love our parents even after death. We continue to express this Love for Them and it becomes real when we commemorate them in our prayers. We can communicate with the living members of the Church in both a visible, physical manner and a spiritual manner, i,e., we can talk to them and do things for them materially and spiritually. We can communicate with the faithful departed in a spiritual manner only-through prayer, in which we ask for the forgiveness of their sins and for their establishment in God’s Heavenly mansions. We pray for them in the spirit of love, knowing that no one will be saved otherwise than by the prayer of all the Church in which Christ lives, knowing and trusting that so long as the end of time has not arrived, all the members of the Church, both living and departed, are being continually perfected by mutual prayer. How can we but not pray for our deceased parents who brought us into this world, who cared for us in our childhood and looked after our upbringing, who fed us and clothed us? How can we not remember in our prayers our brothers and sisters and our friends, the companions of our life who have departed into eternity? How can our hearts not be possessed with the insatiable desire to pray for them as our expression of thanks, devotion and love? How else, if not by prayer, we express our feelings of unity and fellowship with our brethren and sisters in the Faith who have gone to their rest before us?

   When we pray for either the living or the dead we use the same prayer: “Lord have mercy”, to express our desires. We do not know what to pray for even for those with whom we live because only God knows what is best for our salvation, and so we say “Lord have mercy”. Likewise, we do not know the needs and concerns of the departed, but God does and trusting in His knowledge we say, “Lord have mercy” 

Some of the confusion might occur in that most Protestant confessions teach that the judgment after death determines the eternal state of the soul. Not so, according to the Tradition and teaching of the Orthodox Faith. The particular judgment immediately after death only determines the state and “residence” of the soul in the spiritual world and that judgment is based on who our spiritual “friends” are. Do we have more converse with angels or demons? Do we devote ourselves more to the saints or to sinners? Are we attached to the world or to the Kingdom of God? Do we act like Satan or Christ? Whatever we are like, there we are placed in the spiritual world. And the demons are diligent in attempting to demonstrate that we are tied to them and not to Christ and so any and every unconfessed sin, no matter how seemingly small and insignificant is brought out by them as accusations against us and the angels on the other hand counter this accusation by a description of our righteous deeds which indicate our change of heart and life. But do not confuse this particular judgment and temporary disposition with the eternal disposition of the soul to be determined at the Last Great Judgment. Then, the soul being reunited with the body thanks to the general resurrection, each person will be judged by God Who sees within either the spark of grace or none and those who have that spark will be brought into the Kingdom of God and those who do not will be cast into outer darkness – finally and eternally. When we pray for the departed, we do so knowing that the final judgment has not yet occurred and while we don’t know what the exact needs of the departed are, we can simply lift them up to God calling out for His mercy.

   We must remember that God is all powerful with unlimited goodness. He is surely able to rescind the eternal anguish of man.  He asks for our love and our love of each other.  When we pray for each other this is an act of love. We know the Theotokos and the angels and all the saints are always praying for us especially when we join with them in our services, such as a memorial for the dead or the Divine Liturgy.