Excerpts from The Soul After Death
PRAYER FOR THE DEAD
How important commemoration at the Liturgy is may be seen in the following occurrence:
Before the uncovering of the relics of St. Theodosius of Chernigov (1896), the priest-monk
(the renowned Starets Alexis of Goloseyevsky Hermitage, of the Kiev-Caves Lavra, who died
in 1916) who was conducting the re-vesting of the relics, becoming weary while sitting by
the relics, dozed off and saw before him the Saint, who told him: "I thank you for
laboring me. I beg you also, when you will serve the Liturgy, to commemorate my
parents"and be gave their names (Priest Nikita and Maria).* "How can you,
O Saint, ask my prayers, when you yourself stand at the heavenly Throne and grant to
people God's mercy?" the priest-monk asked. "Yes, that is true," replied
St. Theodosius, "but the offering at the Liturgy is more powerful than my
Therefore, panikhidas and prayer a home for the dead are beneficial for them, as are
good deeds done in their memory, such as alms or contributions to the church. But
especially beneficial for them is commemoration at the Divine Liturgy. There have been
many appearances of the dead and other occurrences which confirm how beneficial is the
commemoration of the dead. Many who died in repentance, but who were unable to manifest
this while they were alive, have been freed from tortures and have obtained repose. In the
Church prayers are ever offered for the repose of the dead, and on the day of the Descent
of the Holy Spirit, in the kneeling prayers at vespers, there is even a special petition
"for those in hell."
St. Gregory the Great, in answering in his Dialogues the question, "Is there
anything at all that can possibly benefit souls after death?" teaches: "The Holy
Sacrifice of Christ, our saving Victim, brings great benefits to souls even after death,
provided their sins (are such as) can be pardoned in the life to come. For this reason the
souls of the dead sometimes beg to have Liturgies offered for them ... The safer course,
naturally, is to do for ourselves during life what we hope others will do for us after
death. It is better to make one's exit a free man than to seek liberty after one is in
chains. We should, therefore, despise this world with all our hearts as though its glory
were already spent, and offer our sacrifice of tears to God each day as we immolate His
sacred Flesh and Blood. This Sacrifice alone has the power of saving the soul from eternal
death, for it presents to us mystically the death of the Only-begotten Son" (Dialogues
IV: 57, 60, pp. 266, 272-3).
St. Gregory gives several examples of the dead appearing to the living and asking for
or thanking them for the celebration of the Liturgy for their repose; once, also, a
captive whom his wife believed dead and for whom she had the Liturgy celebrated on certain
days, returned from captivity and told her how he had been released from his chains on
some daysthe very days when the Liturgy had been offered for him. (Dialogues IV:
57, 59, pp. 267, 270).
Protestants generally find the Church's prayer for the dead to be somehow incompatible
with the necessity of finding salvation first of all in this life: "If you can be
saved by the Church after death, then why bother to struggle or find faith in this Life?
Let us eat, drink, and be merry..." Of course, no one holding such a philosophy has
ever attained salvation by the Church's prayer, and it is evident that such an argument is
quite artificial and even hypocritical. The Church's prayer cannot save anyone who does
not wish salvation, or who never offered any struggle for it himself during his lifetime.
In a sense, one might say that the prayer of the Church or of individual Christians for a
dead person is but another result of that person's life: he would not be prayed for unless
he had done something during his lifetime to inspire such prayer after his death.
St. Mark of Ephesus also discusses this question of the Church's prayer for the dead
and the improvement it brings in their state, citing the example of the prayer of St.
Gregory the Dialogist for the Roman Emperor Trajana prayer inspired by a good deed
of this pagan Emperor.
*These names had been unknown before this vision. Several years after the canonization,
St. Theodosius' own Book of Commemoration was found in the monastery where he had once
been abbot, which confirmed these names and corroborated the vision. See the Life of Elder
Alexis in Pravoslavny Blagovestnik, San Francisco, 1967, no.I (in Russian).
WHAT WE CAN DO FOR THE DEAD
Every one of us who desires to manifest his love for the dead and give them real help,
can do this best of all through prayer for them, and in particular by commemorating them
at the Liturgy, when the particles which are cut out for the living and the dead are let
fall into the Blood of the Lord with the words: "Wash away, O Lord, the sins of those
here commemorated by Thy Precious Blood, by the prayers of Thy saints." We can do
nothing better or greater for the dead than to pray for them, offering commemoration for
them at the Liturgy, Of this they are always in need, and especially during those forty
days when the soul of the deceased is proceeding on its path to the eternal habitations.
The body feels nothing then: it does not see its close ones who have assembled, does not
smell the fragrance of the flowers, does not hear the funeral orations. But the soul
senses the prayers offered for it and is grateful to those whe make them and is
spiritually close to them.
O relatives and close ones of the dead! Do for them what is needful for them and what
it within your power. Use your money not for outward adornment of the coffin and grave,
but in order to help those in need, in memory of your close ones who have died, for
churches, where prayers for them are offered. Show mercy to the dead, take care for their
souls. Before us all stands that same path, and how we shall then wish that we would he
remembered in prayer! Let us therefore be ourselves merciful to the dead.
As soon as someone has reposed, immediately call or inform a priest, so he can read the
"Prayers on the Departure of the Soul," which are appointed to be read over all
Orthodox Christians after death. Try, if it be possible, to have the funeral in church and
to have the Psalter read over the deceased until the funeral. The funeral need not be
performed elaborately, but most definitely it should be complete, without abbreviations;
think at this time not of yourself and your convenience, but of the deceased, with whom
you are parting forever. If there are several of the deceased in church at the same time,
don't refuse if it be proposed to serve the funeral for all together. It is better for a
funeral to be served for two or more of the deceased at the same time, when the prayer of
the close ones who have gathered will be all the more fervent, than for several funerals
to be served in succession and the services, owing to lack of time and energy,
abbreviated; because each word of prayer for the reposed is like a drop of water to a
thirsty man. Most definitely arrange at once for the serving of the forty-day memorial,
that is, daily commemoration at the Liturgy for the course of forty days. Usually, in
churches where there are daily services, the deceased whose funerals have been served
there are commemorated for forty days and longer. But if the funeral is in a church where
there are no daily services, the relatives themselves should take care to order the
forty-day memorial wherever there are daily services. It is likewise good to send
contributions for commemoration to monasteries, as well as to Jerusalem, where there is
constant prayer at the holy places. But the forty-day memorial must he begun immediately
after death, when the soul is especially in need of help in prayer, and therefore one
should begin commemoration in the nearest place where there are daily services.
Let us take care for those who have departed into the other world before as, in order
to do for them all that we can, remembering that "Blessed are the merciful, for they
shall obtain mercy."
THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY
One day this whole corruptible world will come to an end, and the everlasting Kingdom
of Heaven will dawn, where the souls of the redeemed, joined to their resurrected bodies,
will dwell forever with Christ, immortal and incorruptible. Then the partial joy and glory
which souls know even now in heaven will be replaced by the fullness of joy of the new
creation for which man was made; but those who did not accept the salvation which Christ
came to earth to offer mankind will be tormented forever-together with their resurrected
bodiesin hell. St. John Damascene, in the final chapter of his Exact Exposition
of the Orthodox Faith, well describes this final state of the soul after death:
"We also believe in the resurrection of the dead, for there really will be one,
there will be a resurrection of the dead. Now, when we say resurrection, we mean a
resurrection of bodies. For resurrection is a raising up again of one who has fallen. But,
since souls are immortal, how shall they rise again? Well, if death is defined as a
separation of soul from body, the resurrection is the perfect rejoining of soul and body,
and the raising up again of the dissolved and fallen living being. Therefore, the very
body which is corrupted and dissolved will itself rise up incorruptible. For He Who formed
it in the beginning from the dust of the earth is not incapable of raising it up again
after it has again been dissolved and returned to the earth whence it was taken by the
decision of its Creator ...
"Now, if the soul had engaged alone in the contest for virtue, then it would also
be crowned alone; and if It alone had indulged in pleasures, then it alone could be justly
punished. However, since the soul followed neither virtue nor vice without the body, it
will be just for them to receive their recompense together ...
"And so, with our souls again united to our bodies. which will have become
incorrupt and put off corruption, we shall rise again and stand before the terrible
judgment seat of Christ. And the devil and his demons, and his man, which is to say, the
Antichrist, and the impious and sinners will be given over to everlasting fire, which will
not be a material fire such as we are accustomed to, but a fire such as God might know.
And those who have done good will shine like the sun together with the angels unto eternal
life with our Lord Jesus Christ, ever seeing Him and being seen, enjoying the unending
bliss which is from Him, and praising Him together with the Father and the Holy Spirit
unto the endless ages of ages. Amen."*
*Exact Exposition, Book Four, ch. 27, in The Fathers of the Church vol. 37,
1958, pp. 401, 402, 406.
From Fr. Seraphim Rose, The Soul After Death (Platina, CA: St.
Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1980), pp. 197-203.