Prayers for the Reposed Non-Orthodox
My father, who was not Orthodox, reposed last week. I recently read an
article by David Ritchie in Orthodox Life that says in essence that only Orthodox can be saved.
What, then, is the use of private prayers for non-Orthodox who have reposed? A Priest
explained to me that God gives the command, but that He also does what He pleases and that
no one but God knows who is going to Heaven and who is going to Hell. I would appreciate
your comments on this. (P.V., IA)
While the excellent article in Orthodox Life on the caution with which one must
approach contemporary near-death experiences is accurate and timely, the summation of
Orthodox teaching on the salvation of souls contained in it needs clarification:
"...Souls not saved by the Orthodox Christian Faith, repentance, Holy Baptism, a life
in the Church, and good works will be condemned, together with the devil and his angels,
to the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14) and to everlasting separation from God" (David
Ritchie, "The Near-Death Experience," Orthodox Life, Vol.
XLV, No. 4, pp. 16-31).
We habitually face the "temptation," as in the discussion of prayer for the
non-Orthodox and the final disposition of the souls of those outside the Orthodox Church,
to enter into the realm of a problematic alien to the liturgical and experiential
dimensions of the Orthodox Hesychastic tradition.
This temptation is twofold. First, it poses pre-packaged questions from the
realm of intellectual scholasticism and, in turn, offers pre-packaged answers to these
questions of a purely academic natureanswers which give quick solutions of the kind
sold in the "supermarkets" of Western religious institutionalism and their
"sectarian" annexes. Second, it affords an image of God as a dread and
impartial Judge, Who, after a terrifying trial, saves whomever He wishes and damns
whomever He wills, and this on the basis of a contrived list of virtues and sins, an index
of moral obligations.
Whenhaving succumbed to the twofold thrust of this temptationwe are drawn
into a discussion of prayer for non-Orthodox Christians, both the living and the dead, and
a debate over the possibility of their salvation, our pre-packaged answers are ready. But
one who loves in Christ does not yield to this temptation; he abides in the bright realm
of Grace and freedom, far from the tendency to ideologize theology. For such a man,
it is inconceivable that he should not pray spontaneously and sincerely for the whole of
creation, for men, birds, animals, reptiles, the enemies of Truth, and even for the
Love in Christ is lived experientially, as a charismatic state. In this state, the
Divine Comforter gives to man a "compassionate heart," with the immediate result
that he is now dominated by a boundless love "for all of created nature." This
charismatic love in Christ is most certainly not a sentimental love, that is, love within
the limits of createdness; rather, it is the uncreated energy of God, which enters into
our heart, making it merciful, "in the likeness of God." Insofar as our Lord is
all-merciful, so our hearts become all-merciful, by the action of Grace, and we assuredly
face no "dilemmas" with regard to those for whom we should pray.
Prayer is not only the expression of certain requests to our Lord, but is primarily the
"energy" of the Comforter in our hearts, a total embracing of the whole of
creation in the bosom of a heart which has been blessed and which has been granted mercy,
by the Holy Spirit, to be "merciful."
How is it possible, in this charismatic and deifying state, for "compassion"
and "just judgment" to co-exist in the heart? How is it possible for us to pose
questions and offer answers about who will be saved and who will be damned, about who is
worthy of our prayer and who is not? Just as our all-merciful Lord Himself does not hesitate
to pour out His Graceand this lovinglyeven on the evil spirits and on
those who reject Him, so also he who loves in Christ pours out his prayer lovingly,
unconstrainedly, and naturally on all men, being unable to "restrain" the
"abundance" of life, giving what he has been given.
And if the demons and unrepentant men should feel this love of God as a tormenting
"fire," our Lord is not to blame for this; for He Who is Love and only Love is
not able to "deny" Himself!
Two small references to the writings of Abba Isaac the Syrian may help us to gain a
more profound understanding of the question at hand. We commend them to our reader:
From the Saints eighty-first Discourse:
And what is a merciful heart? And he said: the burning of the heart
for all creation, for men, birds, animals, and demons, and for every creature. From the
memory and contemplation of them, his eyes pour forth tears. Out of the great and intense
mercy that grips his heart, and from great fortitude, his heart is humbled, and he cannot
bear to hear or to see any kind of harm or the least distress come over creation. And for
this reason, he offers tearful prayer at every hour, even for irrational creatures, for
the enemies of the Truth, and for those who injure him, that they might be kept safe and
receive mercy, and likewise for the genus of reptiles, out of the great mercy that is
aroused in his heart boundlessly, in the likeness of God.
And from his fifty-eighth Discourse:
Mercy and just judgment existing in a single soul is like a man worshipping God and
idols in the same house. Mercy is opposed to just judgment. Just judgment is the equality
of the balanced scale. For it gives to each as is meet, and does not incline to one side
or show partiality in recompense. But mercy is pity aroused by Grace and inclines a man
compassionately to all; and just as it does not requite the man who deserves harsh
treatment, it fills him to overflowing, the man who deserves what is good. And if mercy is
on the side of righteousness, then just judgment inclines towards evil; and just as grass
and fire cannot abide in the same house, so neither do just judgment and mercy abide in
the same soul. Just as a grain of sand cannot counterbalance a large quantity of gold, so
Gods necessary justice cannot, in like manner, counterbalance His mercy.
From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XIII, No. 1, pp. 38-40.
+ + +
It is already possible here, however, to give a preliminary
evaluation of the "heaven" experience so commonly reported today: most, perhaps
indeed all, of these experiences have little in common with the Christian vision of
heaven. These visions are not spiritual but worldly. They are so quick, so easily
attained, so common, so earthly in their imagery, that there can be no serious comparison
of them with the true Christian visions of heaven in the past
. Even the most
"spiritual" thing about some of themthe feeling of the
"presence" of Christpersuades one more of the spiritual immaturity of
those who experience it than of anything else. Rather than producing the profound awe,
fear of God, and repentance which the authentic experience of Gods presence has
evoked in Christian saints (of which St. Pauls experience on the road to Damascus
may be taken as a modelActs 9:3-9), the present-day experiences produce something
much more akin to the "comfort" and "peace" of the modern spiritistic
and pentecostal movements....
In conclusion, Bishop Ignatius
teaches: "The only correct entrance into the world of spirits is the doctrine and
practice of Christian struggle. The only correct entrance into the sensuous perception of
spirits is Christian advancement and perfection" (p. 53).
"When the time comes which is assigned by the one God
and is known to Him alone, we will unfailingly enter the world of spirits ourselves. This
time is not far from each of us! May the all-good God grant us to spend earthly life in
such a way that during it we might break off communion with fallen spirits, and might
enter into communion with holy spirits so that, on this foundation, having put off the
body, we might be numbered with the holy spirits and not the fallen spirits!" (p.
This teaching of Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, written
over a hundred years ago, could well have been written today, so accurately does it
describe the spiritual temptations of our own times, when the "doors of
perception" (to use the phrase popularized by one experimenter in this realm, Aldous
Huxley) have been opened to men to a degree undreamed of in Bishop Ignatius day.
These words scarcely need any commentary. The perceptive
reader may already have begun to apply them to the "after-death" experiences we
have been describing in these pages and thereby have begun to realize the frightful danger
for the human soul which these experiences represent. One who is aware of this Orthodox
teaching cannot but look in amazement and horror at the ease with which contemporary
"Christians" trust the visions and apparitions which are now becoming so common.
The reason for this credulity is clear: Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, cut off for
centuries now from the Orthodox doctrine and practice of spiritual life, have lost all
capability for clear discernment in the realm of spirits. The absolutely essential
Christian quality of distrust of ones "good" ideas and feelings has become
totally foreign to them. As a result, "spiritual" experiences and apparitions of
spirits have become perhaps more common today than at any other time in the Christian era,
and a gullible mankind is prepared to accept a theory of a "new age" of
spiritual wonders, or a "new outpouring of the Holy Spirit," in order to explain
this fact. So spiritually impoverished has mankind become, imagining itself to be
"Christian" even while preparing for the age of demonic "miracles"
that is a sign of the last times (Apocalypse 16:14).
Orthodox Christians themselves, it should be added, while
theoretically being in possession of the true Christian teaching, are seldom aware of it,
and often are as easily deceived as the non-Orthodox. It is time for this teaching to be
recovered by those whose birthright it is!
Those who are now describing their "after-death" experiences reveal
themselves to be as trusting of their experiences as any who have been led astray in the
past; in all the contemporary literature on this subject, there are extremely few cases
where a person seriously stops to question whether at least part of the experience might
be from the devil. The Orthodox reader, of course, will ask this question and try to
understand these experiences in the light of the spiritual teaching of the Orthodox
Fathers and Saints.
Fr. Seraphim Rose in The Soul After Death (Platina, CA:
St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1995), p. 50, 62-63.