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The Requiem Office for the Dead (Panikhidi)

The origin of the Service of the Dead (Panikhidi) is as follows: St. Macarius of Alexandria once inquired from the Angels who accompanied him an explanation of the Church's custom to celebrate the third, ninth, and fortieth days after a death by religious services. And the Angel told him: "When, on the third day, the body is brought to the Temple, the Soul of the dead man receiveth from his Guardian Angel relief from the grief which he feeleth at parting from his body. This he receiveth because of the oblation and praise which are offered for him in God's Church, whence there ariseth in him a blessed hope. For during the space of two days the Soul is permitted to wander at will over the earth, with the Angels which accompany it. Therefore the Soul, since it loveth its body, sometimes hovereth around the house in which it parted from the body; sometimes around the coffin wherein its body hath been placed: and thus it passeth those days like a bird which seeketh for itself a nesting-place. But the beneficent Soul wandereth through those places where it was wont to perform deeds of righteousness.

"On the third day He who rose again from the dead commandeth that every Soul, in imitation of his own Resurrection, shall be brought to heaven, that it may do reverence to the God of all. Wherefore the Church hath the blessed custom of celebrating oblation and prayers on the third day for the Soul.

"After the Soul hath done reverence to God, He ordereth that it shall be shown the varied and fair abodes of the Saints and the beauty of Paradise. All these things the Soul vieweth during six days, marvelling and glorifying God, the Creator of all. And when the Soul hath beheld all these things, it is changed, and forgetteth all the sorrow which it felt in the body. But if it be guilty of sins, then, at the sight of the delights of the Saints, it beginneth to wail, and to reproach itself, saying: 'Woe is me! How vainly did I pass my time in the world! Engrossed in the satisfaction of my desires, I passed the greater part of my life in heedlessness, and obeyed not God as I ought, that I, also, might be vouchsafed these graces and glories. Woe is me, poor wretch!' After having thus viewed all the joys of the Just for the space of six days, the Angels lead the Soul again to do reverence to God. Therefore the Church doth well, in that she celebrateth service and oblation for the Soul on the ninth day.

"After its second reverence to God, the Master of all commandeth that the Soul be conducted to Hell, and there shown the places of torment, the different divisions of Hell; and the divers torments of the ungodly, which cause the souls of sinners that find themselves therein to groan continually, and to gnash their teeth. Through these various places of torment the Soul is borne during thirty days, trembling lest it also be condemned to imprisonment therein.

"On the fortieth day the Soul is again taken to do reverence to God: and then the judge determineth the fitting place of its incarceration, according to its deeds. Thus the Church doth rightly in making mention, upon the fortieth day, of the baptized dead."

It is also customary to have the Requiem Office celebrated on the anniversaries of the birth-day, name-day, and death-day of the departed.

It is customary, at the Requiem Office (Panikhidi), to place upon a small table in the church a dish of kutiya' or koliva: that is, boiled wheat, mixed with honey, to which raisins are sometimes added. The koliva serves to remind us of the resurrection of the dead. As grain, in order that it may form ears and give fruit, must be buried in the earth, and moulder there; so, also, the body of the dead must be committed to the earth, in order that it may rise to life eternal. The honey typifies the sweetness of bliss of the future life. In the grain is set upright a lighted taper, which symbolizes the light wherewith the Christian is illumined in baptism; and also the light of the world to come, which knows no setting.

From the Service Book, Isabel Hapgood, Engelwood, NJ, pp. 612-613.