Protect the Graves of Your Loved Ones
"Know that Not One Crime Will Be Hid from God." (The Spiritual Meadow, by John Moschus ch. 77)
Protect the graves of your loved ones. Preserve from disarray
God's vineyard from which the angels will gather the great harvest into God's storehouses.
Do not destroy the tombstones which were erected by loving hands. Do not disturb the peace
and tranquility of those who have reposed from earthly cares.
We direct these words to all Orthodox Christians when the summer arrives, when almost
all of us will visit the remains of a close one.
Do you know where the custom of meticulously protecting graves from crude vandalism
comes from? From very early in the Christian era, from apostolic times. If we were to
descend into the catacombs, where the first Christians buried their deceased brethren, we
would see with what love they treated the tombs! What heartfelt, gentle, and deeply
touching messages and images are engraved there! What light-filled faith breathes therein!
Death itself is never called a misfortune, but the passing on to a better life; the
deceased one rests in peace, his body is only temporarily given over to the earth, the
cemetery itself is referred to as a place of rest. With what supplications did the
Christians turn to peoplenot to disturb the sweet dreams of the departed, not to
disturb their serenity! On the contrary they warned of damnation if the graves were
At times there were harsh lessons from above to those who paid no heed to the request
of their brethren. Losing all shame and conscience, they dared to insult the remains of a
Here are two accounts from the book The Spiritual Meadow.
Close to Antioch there once stood a monastery, called the Monastery of the Giants. The
humble abbot of this monastic community recounted the following to two famous visitors,
St. Sophronius and his blessed teacher, John Moschus:
"Not long before your arrival, a young man came to see me.
'For the love of God, accept me into your monastery,' said the youth. He looked
extremely distraught. Sobbing loudly, he cried torrents of tears.
'Tell me, what is the cause of your grief?'
'O father, I am an awful sinner .....
The youth again began to sob, and crying aloud, beat his breast. From his great turmoil
and extreme grief, he had no strength to relate his calamity.
'My child, listen to me. Collect yourself a little bit and tell me what is wrong, and
Christ will bring peace to your soul. By His fathomless mercy He did not turn away
repentant sinners and endured death on the Cross for our salvation. He will accept you
with joy into His embrace, seeing your repentance.'
Then, making a great effort, the youth began to speak.
'Father, I am not worthy of heaven and earth. What have I done! Not long ago, a lavish
funeral was held in the city. A wealthy father was burying his only daughter. He spared
nothing. All of the jewels which he had given her were placed in the tomb. The deceased
one, as in life, shone with jewels and gold. The father, mortified with sorrow and in
tears, walked behind the casket. At that time I came up with the satanic idea of robbing
the departed one. For two days I deliberated my intent and set out at night to the lonely
tomb outside the city. The silence was inexplicable, as if everything was holding its
breath. Only the crescent moon hung down its sharp sickle, lighting up the environs and
the marble sepulchre. Breaking the locks, I entered the inner chamber. A weak light
slipped over the dead one. She lay as if alive, a sleeping beauty. Suddenly, I was
frightened. A quiet pain entered my heart. Nonetheless I threw myself on the dead girl and
in exasperation began to undress her. I took everything off... I did not even spare the
last underclothes, and took those too... I left her naked, as her mother had borne her. I
was collecting everything and about to leave. Suddenly, fear gripped me again. My hands
shook. My heart beat loudly in my chest. I glanced at the deceased and froze ill fright.
She arose from her deathbed and grabbing me by the arm, she spoke:
"So foul one, you had to go so far as to undress me? Had you no fear of God? No
fear of the final recompense at the Dread Judgment? Have you no compassion for me, who
died in the spring of my life? Did you have no natural shame common to all of us? You are
a Christian! Is this the way, I am to stand before Christ? Did my gender not shame you?
Did not a woman give birth to you? Did you not desecrate your own mother along with me?
Oh, what answer, what excuse, wretched one, will you bring to Christ's judgment seat? In
life not a single stranger's eye beheld my countenance, and you, following my death and
burial, disrobed me and saw my nakedness. Oh, Mankind! To what depths have you fallen!
With what feelings, and hands will you approach the holiest Mysteries of the Body and
Blood of our Jesus Christ?"
Gasping from terror, I cried out with great effort:
"Let me go!... I will never do any such thing again
"Yes, you came here of your own will, but it is not up to you to leave this place!
This sepulchre will become our common abodeyours and mine... You will not die now,
but right here, after countless sufferings, you will give up your wicked soul in an awful
I do not remember much of what else I told her... I besought by Almighty God that she
release me, I repented, asked forgiveness...
She then said, "If you wish to rid yourself of this fate, give me your word that
you will reject the world and will serve God alone...."
"Not only to what you have said," I swore, "no, even more, I shall not
even return to my own home."
"Dress me as I was before!"
As soon as I arrayed her, she fell breathless on her deathbed. Once again the eyes and
mouth were closed, and the hand which had clutched me so firmly lay motionless. And 1, the
wretched one, ran from the tomb, and came to you...'
Having heard this, I comforted the youth. Clothing him in a monk's garb, I enclosed him
in a mountain cave. Look in on him, if you wish, and see: he is now toiling for the
salvation of his soul."
The respected abba concluded his amazing account. Those who heard it immediately wrote
it down for the benefit of all.
The second account is as follows:
Alexandria longed remained the center of Greek scholasticism-up to the time when the
Islamic yoke brought its dark clouds to the Orthodox East. Then, it is said, Omar
commanded that the Alexandrian library be burned down. Before the conquest of Egypt by the
Arabs, not one curious traveler ever passed Alexandria by. With its museums, palaces,
libraries, it was still considered the highest center of learning for philosophy,
philology, literature, astronomy, and mathematics, as well as alchemy, astrology, magic,
and other metaphysical studies for which ancient Egyptians were famous. There were also
humble and self-sacrificing ascetics of Christian thought. Dedicating their lives to
study, they did not seek rewards, fame, richesno. Their studies served as a pathway
to an incomparably higher goalmoral perfection. Such a one was Cosmas the
Scholastic, who was described briefly but distinctly by an eyewitness, St. John Moschus.
Blessed John Moschus and his pupil Sophronius (who later became more famous than his
teacher), in undertaking their great journey, could not pass Alexandria by. Besides
visiting Cosmas, they stopped to see other scholars of that time who lived in Alexandria.
It was hot at noon when they headed for the living quarters of the scholar Stephen. He
lived close to the church of the Mother of God. For a long time they knocked at the door.
Finally, the scholar's daughter looked out of the window and said:
"Wait a while. My father, wearied by his studies last night, has not yet
"What shall we do, Master Sophronius? Let us go to the Tetrapil."
The Tetrapil was a huge portico, surrounded by columns, in four rows. One could always
rest there. At the noon hour even the Tetrapil was empty. On the steps between the columns
sat three beggars, all of them blind. What can one learn from blind men? However, the
travelers quietly came towards them and, placing their books on the marble floor, sat down
next to the blind men. They were engaged in a lively conversation.
"How did you lose your eyesight?" one asked another.
"I was a sailor in my youth. During a journey from Egypt to Constantinople my eyes
began to hurt. It was impossible to treat them aboard the ship, and there was no doctor.
The disease progressed too far. White patches grew over my eyes and I am now blind."
"How were you stricken with blindness?" the same beggar asked the other one.
"The tragedy was almost instantaneous. I was a glass blower. A flame jumped from
the forge covering me with sparks, and burned my eyes."
Saying this, the blind man heaved a great sigh.
"Now you tell us of your misfortune," said both the blind men to their
"Oh, my misfortune is my own fault! I will tell you the truth: as a youth I was
very lazy. No matter how my parents tried, they could do nothing to develop a love of work
in me. After their death I spent my fortune in a short time. I knew no trade, and did not
like to work. What could I do? I became a thief. Once I had a particularly lucky day. I
stole several times successfully, proceeded to finish off an excellent lunch, and then
went to look around the town square. Right then I encountered a lavish funeral procession:
a well-known rich man was being buried. Instantly, a demonic thought took hold of me: why
not rob the deceased one? I followed the procession, which made its way to the church of
St. John. Beside the church was a family crypt. When the man was interred, the crowd
gradually dispersed. Evening was falling... Looking around, I decided that no one was
watching me. I always carried a chisel and other instruments of my trade. Breaking the
lock, I entered the crypt. I remember even now-the damp cold of the tomb encompassed me...
The bier stood in the center. Without pausing, I came up to the dead one and took
everything from him, then headed home. This will last a long time. Wait, the shroud! It is
made from fine cloth and is expensive. Might as well... And I began to undress the dead
man. ThenO, terror! He arose, fixed his lifeless gaze upon meI froze on the
spot like a stone. Cold sweat ran down my face. I felt the cold touch of his fingers. He
passed them over my face and, stopping at the eyes, plucked them out. Recovering from
fright, I threw everything down and ran from the tomb. I cannot describe to you the sorrow
which overcame me. I cried unceasingly and considered myself to be lost forever. This is
Glancing at Sophronius, the teacher noted that he was motioning for them to leave.
Sophronius was visibly upset.
Thank you, abba. Today we shall not attend the lecture: we have already received our
While visiting a cemetery, who has not noticed how some tombstones are broken by some
daring hand, how crosses and holy images are defiled. What sorrow this brings to the
heart! Is it possible that they do not know what a great sin this is? The wrath of the
righteous Judge does not always descend immediately, as in the account above, but God's
punishment will sooner or later come upon those vultures who have lost their conscience
and sense of shame. Be wary of such a heavy sin. Do not disturb the peace and tranquillity
of those who have reposed from earthly cares. Cemeteries are God's vineyards from which
the angels will harvest the great crop into God's storehouses.
Ed. note. Although grave robbing such as described in these accounts is not so
prevalent in America, on the other hand desecration of graves by occultists is widespread.
For this reason one should carefully guard the sanctity of graves. Church tradition as
recorded in the lives of the saints teaches that the soul of the departed is present in a
special spiritual way at the place of its burial. Therefore graves should be protected
from desecration by occultists and properly maintained. Prayerful commemoration should be
observed at the place of burial.
From Orthodox Life, Vol. 42, No. 3 (May-June, 1991), pp. 19-24. Translated by
Matushka Maria Naumenko from Orthodox Russia, no. 17, 1990.