The Church's Prayer for the Dead
The Holy Orthodox Church, like a concerned mother, daily, at every divine service,
offers up prayers for all her children who have departed for the land of eternity. Thus,
at the midnight service troparia and prayers for the departed are read, and they are
commemorated at its concluding ektenia. This is so also at compline. At matins and vespers
the departed are remembered by name at the Augmented Ektenia, "Have mercy on us, O
God ..." They are commemorated three times during the Liturgy: at the Proskomedia, at
the ektenia following the Gospel, and after the consecration of the Precious Gifts when
"Meet it is in truth . . ." is sung. Furthermore, one day of the week is set
aside for prayers for the dead -Saturday, on which it is customary to have a service for
the dead, unless it coincides with a feast, if such is to be served on that day.
The Third Day
We commemorate the dead on the third day firstly, because those who have departed had
been baptized in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the One God in three
Persons, and had kept the Orthodox faith they received at holy baptism; secondly, because
they preserved the three virtues which form the foundation of our salvation, namely:
faith, hope and love; thirdly, because man's being possesses three internal
powersreason, emotion and desireby which we all have transgressed. And since
man's actions manifest themselves in three waysby deed, word, and thoughtby
our commemoration on the third day we entreat the Holy Trinity to forgive the departed all
transgressions committed by the three above-mentioned powers and actions. When St. Macarius
of Alexandria besought the angel who accompanied him in the desert to explain to him the
meaning of the Church's commemoration on the third day, the angel replied to him:
"When an offering is made in church on the third day, the soul of the departed
receives from its guardian angel relief from the sorrow it feels as a result of the
separation from the body. This it receives because
glorification and offering is made in the Church of God which gives rise in it to blessed
hope, for in the course of the two days the soul is permitted to roam the earth, wherever
it wills, in the company of the angels that are with it. Therefore, the soul, loving the
body, sometimes wanders about the house in which his body had been laid out, and thus
spends two days like a bird seeking its nest. But the virtuous soul goes about those
places in which it was wont to do good deeds. On the third day, He Who Himself rose from
the dead on the third day commands the Christian soul, in imitation of His resurrection,
to ascend to the Heavens to worship the God of all."
The Ninth Day
On the ninth day, the Holy Church offers prayers and the Bloodless Sacrifice for the
departed, that his soul be accounted worthy to be numbered among the choirs of the saints
through the prayers and intercession of the nine ranks of angels. St. Macarius of
Alexandria, in accordance with the angel's revelation, says that after worshipping God on
the third day, it is commanded to show the soul the various pleasant habitations of the
saints and the beauty of Paradise. The soul considers all of this for six days, lost in
wonder and glorifying the Creator of all. Contemplating all of this, it is transformed and
forgets the sorrow it felt in the body. But if it is guilty of sins, at the sight of the
delights of the saints it begins to grieve and reproach itself, saying: "Woe is me!
How much I busied myself in vanity in that world! Enamored of the gratification of lust, I
spent the greater portion of my life in carelessness and did not serve God as I should,
that I too might be accounted worthy of this grace and glory. Woe is me! Poor me!"
After considering all the joys of the righteous in the course of six days, it again is
borne aloft by the angels to worship God.
The Fortieth Day 
From earliest antiquity the Holy Church has correctly and devoutly made it a rule to
commemorate the departed in the course of forty days, and on the fortieth day in
particular. As Christ was victorious over the devil, having spent forty days in fasting
and prayer, so the Holy Church likewise, offering for the departed prayers, acts of
charity and the Bloodless Sacrifice throughout the forty days, asks the Lord's grace for
him to conquer the enemy, the dark prince of the air, and that he receive the Heavenly
Kingdom as his inheritance. St. Macarius of Alexandria, discussing the state of man's soul
after the death of the body, says: "After the second adoration, the Master of all
commands that the soul be led to hell and that it be shown the places of torment there,
the various parts of hell, and the diverse tortures of the wicked, in which the souls of
sinners ceaselessly wail and gnash their teeth. The soul is borne about these various
places of torment for thirty days, trembling lest it itself be imprisoned therein. On the
fortieth day it is once again borne aloft to adore the Lord God, and it is at this time
that the Judge determines the place of confinement proper to it in accordance with its
deeds. This is a great day for the deceased, for it determines his portion until the Dread
judgment of God, and therefore, the Holy Church correctly commands that fervent prayer be
made for the dead on this day."
The commemoration of the departed at the first opportunity after death is important and
essential because it alleviates the passage of the soul of the departed through the
so-called toll-booths.  St. Cyril of Alexandria says: "At Our soul's separation
from the body, there will stand before us on one side warriors and powers of Heaven, and
on the other side the powers of darkness, the princes of this world, the aerial publicans,
the torturers, the prosecutors of our deeds... Seeing them, the soul is dismayed, it
shudders, and in consternation and horror will seek protection from the angels of God; but
being received by the holy angels and passing through the aerial space, lifted on high
under their protection, it encounters the toll-booths, as it were, certain gates or toll
houses in which taxes are exacted which will bar its way into the Kingdom, will halt and
hold back its progress towards it. At each of these toll-booths an account is demanded for
The Venerable Theodora, as she passed through the toll-booths, was greatly aided by the
intercession of her elder St. Basil the New, which served to outweigh the torments for
those sins not covered by repentance. Thus does commemoration benefit departed sinners.
A commemoration has been established by the Orthodox Church on the twentieth and
fortieth days after death, and also on the halfyear and yearly anniversaries of the death.
Grain (i.e., koliva or kutiya)  is brought by the relatives for the commemoration,
presenting an image of the Resurrection itself. In general, the custom of observing days
for the commemoration of the dead has been continuously observed in the Orthodox Church
from the beginning of its establishment until our own times, being handed down from
generation to generation, from century to century. The Divine Liturgy has always been
celebrated in memory of the dead, the great propitiatory sacrifice is offered up for them,
psalms are read, and on these days many have increased and continue to increase their
offerings in the church, assisting the poor and needy brethren out of love for their
departed brethren. 
Aside from personal days set aside for commemorating our departed friends and
relatives, the Orthodox Church, like a mother that loves her children, has set aside
certain days on which all Orthodox Christians that have departed in hope of resurrection
and eternal life must be commemorated in general. Such days are termed
"universal," or simply "ancestral" days. They are as follows:
The first universal, ancestral Saturday is on Meatfare Saturday. It falls during
Meatfare Week and before the last day on which one may eat meat before the Great Fast
begins. The following day, Sunday, commemorates the Dread judgment of Christ, and the
Church prays for all that have departed in faith and hope of resurrection, beseeching the
righteous judge to show forth His mercy upon them on the very day of impartial retribution
at the universal judgment. The establishment of this Saturday dates from the first years
of Christianity. Among the prayers during the divine services on this Saturday, we hear
one for all "that from Adam until today have reposed in piety and correct
faith," of every calling and every age; "for all that have drowned, that battle
hath mown down, that earthquake hath swallowed up, that have been slain by murderers, that
fire hath consumed, that have been food for the wild beasts, birds and serpents, that have
been struck by lightning and have perished in freezing cold, that have fallen by the
sword, that the horse hath trampled, the rock struck or the earth covered up, that have
been slain by deadly potion or poison, or have choked on bones ... ", i.e. all that
have met untimely deaths and have been left without a proper funeral.
Thus does the Church care for all our fathers, brethren and relatives.
This falls on the eve of Pentecost, hence the appellation "Trinity Saturday."
On the day of Pentecost (or Trinity Day), the Holy Spirit descended upon the earth to
teach, sanctify and lead all people to eternal salvation. Therefore, the holy Church calls
upon us to make a commemoration on this Saturday, that the saving grace of the Holy Spirit
wash away the sins from the souls of all our forefathers, fathers and brethren, that have
reposed throughout the ages and, asking that they all be united in the Kingdom of Christ
and praying for the redemption of the living and for the return of their souls from
captivity, she begs the Lord to "give rest to the souls ... that have fallen asleep,
in ... a place of refreshment; ... . for the dead shall not praise Thee, O Lord, neither
shall they that are in hell make bold to offer unto Thee confession. But we that are
living will bless Thee, and will pray, and offer unto Thee propitiatory prayers and
sacrifices for their souls."
Second, Third and Fourth Saturdays of the Great Fast
Since throughout the Great Fast such commemorations as are performed at every other
time during the year do not occur during the celebration of the Presanctified Liturgy, it
is the accepted practice in our Orthodox Church to commemorate the departed on these three
Saturdays, that the dead be not deprived of the Church's saving intercession. (The
remaining Saturdays of the Great Fast are consecrated to special celebrations: Saturday of
the first week to St. Theodore the Recruit; Saturday of the fifth week to the praise of
the Theotokos; the sixth Saturday commemorates the resurrection of the Righteous Lazarus.)
Tuesday of St. Thomas Week
On this day, in accordance with accepted custom, a commemoration of the dead is made by
the faithful, with the pious intent that, having celebrated a radiant festival to the
glory of Christ's Resurrection they share the great joy of this paschal feast with those
that have departed in the hope of their own blessed resurrection, the joy of Which our
Lord Himself announced to the dead when He descended into hell to proclaim His victory
over death and to lead forth the souls of the righteous of the Old Testament. Because of
this great spiritual joy, the day of this commemoration bears the name "day of
rejoicing."  There is indication of the commemoration of the dead on St. Thomas
Monday or Tuesday in the writings of the Fathers of the Church. 
Day Commemorating Orthodox Soldiers
Aside from days designated for the general commemoration of all the departed, the Holy
Orthodox Church has instituted two days for the commemoration of Orthodox soldiers and all
that have laid down their lives in battle for faith and fatherland. These are:
On this day, the Church remembers the Beheading of St. John the Forerunner. Those that
lay down their lives for faith and fatherland and all that die on the field of battle are
like unto this righteous man who suffered for the truth. Thus, the Holy Church considers
it proper to pray on this day, August 29th, for all Orthodox soldiers. This commemoration
was instituted in 1769, during the reign of Empress Catherine II, at the time of the war
with the Turks and Poles.
The Saturday of St. Dimitry (the Saturday before October 26th)
On this day, the Holy Church commemorates all Orthodox Christians killed in battle; it
was established by Great Prince Dimitry Ivanovich Donskoi  on his patron saint's day,
in 1380. When he had gained his famous and glorious victory over the wicked Tartar prince
Mamai on the field of Kulikovo (beyond the River Nepryadva in the present-day province of
Tula), he made a pilgrimage to the Lavra of the Holy Trinity and St. Sergius from which he
had gone forth to that battle at which two warrior monks of that monastery (the former
boyars Oslyabya and Peresvyet) fell. Having commemorated all that fell in the war, he
decided later to make this commemoration annually on the Saturday before October 26th, St.
Demetrius' day. Subsequently, Orthodox Christians began to commemorate on this Saturday
not only those Orthodox warriors that laid down their lives on the field of battle for
faith and fatherland, but also all Orthodox Christians that have died in the faith.
Examples of the Efficacy of Prayers Offered for the Dead at the Liturgy and of the Church's Prayers for the Dead
St. Gregory the Dialogist, Pope of Rome , sets before us a remarkable example of
the effectiveness of prayer and the bringing of offerings for the departed, which took
place in his monastery.
"One brother," he says, "for breaking the vow of poverty, was deprived
of a church funeral and prayers after his death for a period of thirty days, in order to
strike fear in the hearts of the others. But later, out of compassion for his soul, the
Bloodless Sacrifice and prayers were offered up for him for the space of thirty days. On
the last of these days, the deceased appeared in a vision to his brother, whom he had left
among the living, and said: 'Until now it has gone badly for me, but now I am at peace,
for today I received communion.'"
This same holy Father, in his dialogues with the Deacon Peter, tells of the apparition
of a dead man who begged a priest to help him by praying for him to God. "From this
it is obvious," he concludes, "how profitable the Sacred Sacrifice is for souls;
for the souls themselves ask it of the living, and indicate the means by which they are
cleansed of sins."
St. John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria,  often celebrated the Divine
Liturgy for the dead, and stated that it is a great aid to their souls. To corroborate
this, he cites the following:
"There was a certain prisoner whose parents, considering him dead, had the Liturgy
served three times a year for himon Theophany, Pascha and Pentecost. After he had
been released from captivity, returning unexpectedly to his parents, he recalled that on
those very days a certain man of glorious appearance came to him in prison carrying a
torch. The fetters fell from his hands and he was freed; the rest of the days he was again
in chains as a prisoner."
St. Gregory the Dialogist also relates that during the lifetime of St. Benedict of
Nursia  there lived two women who had the unfortunate habit of judging their
neighbors, speaking evil and reproaching others. Learning of this, the Venerable Benedict
said to them: "Curb your tongues, or I will have to excommunicate you from the Holy
Mysteries." But, all the same, they did not cease their evil habits and even said
nothing in reply to the saint's paternal admonition. Several days later both women died in
their virginity and were buried together in the church. When the Divine Liturgy was served
and the deacon exclaimed: "Catechumens, depart!", many Christians beheld the two
virgins leaving their tombs and the church, for they were unable to remain there during
the Divine Liturgy. This occurred at each Divine Liturgy. When St. Benedict discovered
this, he took pity on them and, taking a prosphora, he commanded them to take it to the
church and to remove a particle from it for the repose of their souls. He also ordered
them commemorated during the performance of the Mysteries of Christ. After that, none of
the Christians saw them leaving the church. From this, all understood that, owing to the
Holy Church's prayer for the departed and the offerings, the departed virgins had received
forgiveness from God. 
The Greek Emperor Theophilus  lived carelessly and did not concern himself with the
salvation of his soul. Death found this sovereign in the midst of his sinful life. The
Empress St. Theodora, Theophilus' consort, was horrified at the heavy lot that would
befall her husband in eternity. At her behest, prayers were increased in the churches,
alms were distributed, good works were performed. And what was the result? The prayers of
the Church reached the Lord. Theophilus was forgiven, to the spiritual joy of his grieving
spouse and to the consolation of the Church, which has so merciful and mighty a Lord, Who
gives life to the dead and leads them forth from the abyss of hell, not only bodily, but
"But who can number," asks St. John of Damascus, "all of the testimonies
found in the biographies of holy men, in the accounts of the lives of the holy martyrs and
the divine revelations, which clearly indicate that even after death tremendous benefit is
rendered to the departed by prayers, Liturgies and the distribution of alms for them. For
nothing given to God perishes in return, but is rewarded by Him with the greatest
Examples of the Efficacy of Prayers for the Dead
St. John of Damascus relates: "A certain holy man had a disciple who was living
heedlessly. And what happened? Death found him in the midst of his carelessness. The
merciful Heavenly Father, roused by the tears and cries of the elder, revealed to him the
youth burning in flames up to his neck, like the merciless rich man mentioned in the
parable of Lazarus. And when the saint subjected his flesh to strict mortification,
fervently beseeching God for the forgiveness of his disciple, he beheld him enveloped in
flame up to his waist. Finally, when the holy man had increased his ascetic labors yet
more, God revealed him in a vision to the elder, removed from the flame and completely
The holy martyr Perpetua  relates: "One day, at the time of general prayer in
prison, I unexpectedly uttered the name of my dead brother Dinocrates. Struck by this
unusual occurrence, I began to pray and sigh for him before God. On the following night I
received a vision: I saw Dinocrates come forth, as though from a dark place. He was in
intense heat, tormented by thirst, filthy in appearance and pallid. On his face was the
wound from which he had died. Between us yawned a deep crevasse, and we were unable to
approach each other. Beside the place where Dinocrates stood there was a full cistern, the
lip of which stood much higher than my brother's stature, and Dinocrates stretched, trying
to reach the water. I was filled with pity, for the height of the rim prevented my brother
from drinking. Immediately after this I awoke and realized that my brother was in torment.
But believing that my prayer could help him in his suffering, I prayed all day and night
in the prison, with cries and lamentations, that Dinocrates be treated mercifully. And on
the day on which we were kept in chains, I received a new vision: the place which before I
had seen had been made bright, and Dinocrates, with a clean face and beautiful apparel,
was enjoying its coolness. Where he had had a wound, I saw only a trace of it. The rim of
the cistern was no higher than the waist of the young man, and he was able to draw water
from it without effort. On the rim of the cistern stood a golden cup full of water.
Dinocrates approached it and began to drink from it, but the water in it did not decrease.
Satisfied, he stepped away from it and began to rejoice. With this the vision ended. I
then understood that he had been released from punishment.
One day the Venerable Macarius of Egypt was walking about the desert and found a
dried-out human skull lying on the ground. Turning it over with his staff, the saint heard
a sound, as though from a distance. Then Macarius asked the skull: "What manner of
man wast thou?"
"I was the chief of the pagan priests that dwelt in this place," it replied.
"When thou, O Abba Macarius, who art full of the Spirit of God, pray for us, taking
pity on them that are in the torments of hell, we then receive a certain relief."
"And what manner of relief do ye receive?" asked Macarius. "And tell me,
what torments are ye subjected to?"
"As far as heaven is above the earth," replied the skull with a groan,
"so great is the fire in the midst of which we find ourselves, wrapped in flame from
head to toe. At this time we cannot see each others' faces, but when thou prayest for us,
we can see each other a little, and this affords us some consolation."
On hearing this reply, the venerable one wept and said: "Cursed is that day when
man broke the divine ordinance!" And once again he asked the skull: "Are there
any other tortures worse than yours?"
"Beneath us, much farther down, there are many others," it replied.
"And who are found in such unbearable torments?" asked Macarius.
"We who did not know God, yet experience the mercy of God a little," answered
the skull. "But they that knew the name of God, yet rejected Him and did not keep His
commandments, undergo much heavier and worse torments below."
After this St. Macarius took the skull, buried it in the ground and departed thence.
Examples of the Efficacy of Alms Distributed in Memory of the Dead
The Blessed Luke relates that he had a brother who, having, become a monk, concerned
himself little with his soul and died, not having prepared himself for death. The holy
elder wished to discover what his brother had been accounted worthy of, and he began to
entreat God to reveal his lot. One day, during his prayers, the elder beheld the soul of
his brother in the hands of demons. Meanwhile, money and costly things had been found in
the cell of the deceased, from which the elder understood that the soul of his brother was
suffering, among other reasons, for breaking the vow of poverty. All the money that had
been found the elder gave to the poor. After that, he again began to pray, and beheld the
judgment seat of God and the radiant angels contending with the demons for the soul of his
brother. The demons cried out to God: "Thou art just! Judge Thou! This soul belongs
to us, for it hath done our deeds!" But the angels said that the soul of the dead man
had been freed by the alms which had been distributed for it. To this the evil spirits
objected, saving: "Did the deceased distribute the alms, or did this elder distribute
them?", indicating the Blessed Luke.
The elder was terrified by this vision, but nonetheless summoned up the courage to say:
"It is true that I distributed the alms, but not for myself, but for this soul."
The outraged spirits, hearing the elder's reply, straightway vanished, and the elder,
consoled by this vision, ceased to doubt and grieve over the fate of his brother.
The holy Abbess Athanasia of Aegina  stipulated in her testament that the sisters
of her convent prepare meals for the poor in her memory throughout the forty days
following her demise. But the nuns carried out this command only until the ninth day, and
afterwards ceased. Then the saint appeared to them with two angels and said: "Why
have ye forgotten my bequest? Know ye not that alms given for the soul until the fortieth
day and the feeding of the poor move God to mercy as well as the prayers of the priests?
If the souls of the departed were sinful, God granteth them remission of sins; and if they
were righteous, the charity performed on their behalf serves for the salvation of them
that perform the charitable works." Having said this, the Venerable Athanasia drove
her staff into the ground and vanished. The next day the sisters saw that her staff had
sprouted. Then they gave glory to God, the Creator of all things. 
1. Throughout the forty days it is essential for each Orthodox Christian to commemorate
his departed (newly-reposed) relatives. This consists of commemorating the departed during
forty daily liturgies at Proskomedia and in the ektenias of offering to the Church
prosphoras, wine, incense and candles, and of distribution of alms for the repose of the
2. Toll-booths (Gr. telonion)a term borrowed from the history of the
Hebrew nation and used metaphorically to describe the barriers souls encounter in the
ascent to Heaven. In Roman Palestine, the publicans stood at special tax-collection booths
at which they extorted money from the populace. The Fathers of the Church, notably St.
Cyril of Alexandria in his "Homily on the Departure of the Soul" (PG
77.981), applied this term to the aerial places of torment the soul meets after death.
Further evidence of the toll-booths, or aerial customs, may be found implied in Homily
XXII of St. Macarius of Egypt (Spiritual Homilies, p. 171), the Ladder of St. John
Climachus (Step VII:50, p. 120), and in many of the divine services and the lives of
3. cf. the Life of St. Basil the New, March 26.
4. Koliva or kutiya is grain or rice cooked with honey or sugar and
sometimes mixed with plums, raisins and other sweets. The grain and fruit brought to the
commemoration of the dead signifies that the dead will truly rise again from the grave,
for both grain which is sown in the earth and the fruit which is laid on the earth, decays
first, and afterwards brings forth abundant ripe, whole fruit. The honey or sugar used in
the kutiya signifies that after the resurrection of the Orthodox and the righteous,
there awaits a joyous and blessed life in the Heavenly Kingdom, not a bitter or sorrowful
one. The koliva or kutiya prepared from grain expresses the faith of the
living in the resurrection of the dead to a better life, just as that seed, having fallen
upon the ground, although undergoing corruption, yet grows to attain a better ap- [Webmaster
note: the original text breaks off here unexpectedly.]
5. They also remember the departed on the days of their birth and of their patron
6. "Prayer at Pentecost Vespers," Service Book of the Holy
Catholic-Apostolic Church, trans. Isabel F. Hapgood (3rd ed. rev.; Brooklyn,
N.Y.: Syrian Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, 1956), p. 256.
7. The origin of the commemoration of the dead on the second, third and fourth
Saturdays of the Great Fast dates back to the compilation of the Church's typicon, but
when and by whom it was instituted is unknown.
8. "Radunitsa" or "radonitsa".
9. St. John Chrysostom very clearly mentions the commemoration of the dead performed on
Tuesday of St. Thomas week in his "Homily on the Cemetery and the Cross": "
For what cause," asks the hierarch, "did our fathers, leaving their houses of
prayer in the city, establish the practice of assembling outside the city on this day and
in this very place? In as much," answers Chrysostom, "as here rests a multitude
of the departed; today Jesus Christ went down to the dead; thus we also gather here. Why,
this very place is called a place of sleep (cemetery), that you might know that they [who]
have died and lie here have not died, but rest and sleep" ("Sermon on the
Cemetery and the Cross," Works of our Holy Father John Chrysostom,
Archbishop of Constantinople, in Russian Translation, Vol. II, Book I, p. 431. St.
Petersburg: St. Petersburg theological Academy, 1896).
10. Reigned 1363-1399.
11. Commemorated March 12.
12. Commemorated November 12.
13. Commemorated March 14.
14. St. Gregory the Dialogist, The Life and Miracles of St. Benedict, ch. 28
(Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, n.d.), pp. 52-54.
15. Reigned 829-842.
16. Cf. Synaxarion, Meatfare Saturday, Lenten Triodion, p. 21 (Moscow, 1897).
17. Commemorated February 1.
18 Cf. the "Life of St. Macarius the Great" in the Lives of the Saints, compiled
by St. Dimitry of Rostov, January volume, pp. 610-611.
19. Commemorated April 12.
20. Ibid., St. Dimitry of Rostov, April volume, pp. 175-176.
From Orthodox Life, Vol. 78, No. 1, pp. 15-26. Translated from a
pamphlet, published by the Russian Orthodox Convent of Our Lady of Vladimir in San