Pray for the Reposed!
by the New Hieromartyr John of Riga
The death of people who are close and dear to us is one of the most difficult trials
sent to us by the Lord God during this temporary life. There are no tears more bitter than
the tears of a mother for the beloved child of her heart who goes to the grave before his
time. What sorrow can we compare to the sorrow of widows and orphans? Nonetheless, our
Lord and Saviour turns to these people, the most unfortunate ones in the eyes of the
world, saying respectfully, "Do not weep!" The Apostle Paul commands these
sorrowing ones, saying, "Do not sorrow!"
What does all this mean? Of course, it does not mean that we should forget those dear
loved ones of ours who have departed, that we should cast them out of our hearts. No. We
should love them after their death just as we loved them in life. However, we should not
sorrow over their death. Death does not separate us who are Christians from communion in
love with those who are dear to us. The Lord Himself has given us the very grace-filled
means needed to have communion with them. The first among these means is prayer. Prayer is
the best means for spiritual communion among people who are still alive. The Apostle Paul
beseeched the believers to pray continually for him in order that the Lord would grant him
strength and power to preach. Likewise, St. Paul prayed for others that the Lord would
confirm them in the Faith and in a Christian life. There is no doubt that the prayers of
believers strengthened the Apostle and that his prayers strengthened them.
We find an amazing example of the power and action of mutual prayer in the Acts of the
Apostles. While St. Peter was in prison sleeping between two guards, prayer was made
without ceasing of the Church unto God for him (Acts 12:5). What was the result of
this prayer? During that very night, the Angel of the Lord appeared in the prison, awoke
the sleeping Apostle, and led him out of prison.
The power and action of prayer for the souls of the departed is even greater than
prayer for the living. There is no greater comfort than prayer and no greater joy than joy
in the Lord for those who are separated from their bodies. It is unjust, as some think, to
assume that the needs of our departed brethren are unknown to us. However, this is not
true. The spiritual needs of the dead are the same as the spiritual needs of the living.
The dead need the mercy and goodness of the Heavenly Father, forgiveness and remission of
sins, grace-filled help from God in the fulfillment of all good desires, and the peace and
ease of the heart and conscience. These things are most important both for the living and
the dead. Give rest, O Lord, to the souls of Thy departed servants is the continual
prayer and best intention of our Mother Church for the souls of Her departed. We should
also beseech the Lord with this intention for the departed souls of our own loved ones.
It could be that some soul bound himself with earthly attachments, with earthly cares,
and could not be free of them after death. Earthly thoughts about home and cares, about
acquiring things, might still tug at this soul, torture him, and not allow him the freedom
to strive with heart and soul towards God. We should pray that the Lord will grant rest to
such a soul in the quiet harbor of His Kingdom. We should pray that the Lord will destroy
and burn up in the fire of His Grace the memory of his earthly cares. We should pray that
the Lord will warm this soul with love and with the desire for eternal treasure, that the
Lord will give rest to this soul in the sweetest hope of eternal blessedness...
Perhaps, having confessed at the hour of death, some soul did so quickly, in a confused
manner. This soul might have forgotten something because of troubled feelings, and he now
grieves over this. Perhaps, this soul did not have time to offer God true repentance, to
fully cleanse his sins by tears of compunction. Perhaps, the awareness of unconfessed and
unforgiven sins tear and torture this soul. Pray for this soul who is suffering. Pray that
the Lord God might comfort him with the protection of His inextinguishable mercy Pray that
this soul might receive, albeit at this late hour, remission of sins because of his
Who can enumerate all those bonds with which our soul might bind itself in this
lifetime and by which it might remain bound for eternity. One might have been envious of
his neighbor in the depths of ones soul and bound himself thus. Another person might have
mocked the weakness of His neighbor and become according to the words of the Lord, worthy
of Hell. Another person might have lied and as a result became the son of the father of
lies. If Thou shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, O Lord, who shall stand? Therefore,
no matter how holy a man's life might be, no one can be sure that he will pass into the
next world completely reconciled with God. No man can say that the prayerful intercessions
of those brethren who are left alive are unnecessary for him.
Was not the repentance of St. Ephraim the Syrian sincere and deep? Even he, sensing
that his end was near, besought his brethren, "O Brothers, accompany me into the
world above with prayers, psalms, and offerings. Remember me on the fortieth day after my
death; because prayers and offerings made by the living help the departed."
Works of charity are another means of communion with the departed. "If you desire
to honor the dead, offer a gift for him. Honor him by good works, charitable offerings,
and services" (St. John Chrysostom). Send gifts for the reposed through the hands of
the poor and the hopeless. In the name of the reposed, do acts of charity to the best of
your ability and be assured that your gift will be received by God. Our Lord Jesus Christ
has assures us that our gifts will be received, saying, In as much as ye have done it
unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me (Matt. 25:40). Can
it be that He Who is all-powerful will remain in debt to us? If you give food and drink to
the hungry and the thirsty in His name, then the Lord will fill the soul of your departed
brother with the appearance of His light-bearing and joy-filling Image.
It could be that the soul of your relative is ashamed before the holy angels because of
his lack of good deeds and because of his wretched sins, and he hides in darkness and in
murky depths from the face of God. Clothe the naked; wash the feet of the tired; receive
and give rest to the traveler in the name of such a soul; and the merciful Lord will vest
this soul in the Garment of His Mercy, will adorn it in the Robe of His justification,
will wash its sinful filth in His Most Precious Blood...
It could be that the soul of your friend bound by sins languishes in a dungeon without
the vision of God's face. Hurry to a prison and assuage the heart of a suffering prisoner
in the name of your departed friend. The Lord will send His bright angels to comfort the
soul of your sorrowing friend, to strengthen him with hope, and make him rejoice in the
promise of God's mercy.
It could be that a soul has left this world for the spiritual world without having
drawn close to the holy inhabitants of that world through prayer; he may have appeared in
that higher sphere as one entering a strange and unfamiliar land and may not find any
spiritual 'relative' in this upper Sion. Take in the stranger; give rest to the beggar;
give him a place to rest his head, and the Lord will grant the soul, for whom you do this,
one of the bright dwellings in His Father's mansion. The souls of the righteous will
receive this soul in bright and joyful communion. St. John Chrysostom says, "If we
desire to relieve the sufferings of a sinner, let us do acts of mercy in his name. Though
he be unworthy, the Lord will comfort and pity him."
When we pray for the reposed and do charitable works in their name, it is necessary,
Brethren, to reflect on our own death while there is still time. We should prepare now so
that we will not pass into the future life of torture bound by bonds of sin. No matter how
short or how long the Lord has determined that we will live on earth, there is no doubt
that our entire present life is a road leading to death and to the threshold of eternity
There is nothing better or of more value for us to acquire than a peaceful, blameless,
repentant, and Christian end to our life. He who has lived piously will repose piously. He
who has lived with the Lord will die with the Lord. He who zealously serves the Lord
before death will be with the Lord after his repose. Where I am, there shall also My
servant be. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which
sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.
From Orthodox Life, Vol. 42, No. 6 (Nov.-Dec., 1992), pp. 29-32.
Translated from, Orthodox Russia, no. 13, 1990.