A Fragment of a Meeting of the Sisterhood: What is Eternal Memory Like?

Nun Juliania (Denisova): Many people who had been close to our Convent reposed in the Lord recently. It has got me thinking about eternal memory. When I explore my mother’s archives containing photos from our childhood years, my father’s documents, and much more, I have to deal with the fact that my children don’t care about those things and don’t need them as much as I do. I was surprised that young people today are so computer-oriented that they do not require physical memory, they have “all in their computer”.

My father died over twenty years ago. I did not have enough time to ask him about his life and about our ancestors. I want it so badly now but I don’t have anyone to answer my questions…

I keep telling my children, “Remember your ancestors so that your children and grandchildren could know who they were.” Unfortunately, they dismiss it, saying “We remember all things. We have the internet, where all our memory is stored.”

It got me thinking: is this computer-based way of making sense of things tantamount to eternal memory? Do we really need tangible physical memory about the deceased or does prayerful memory suffice? For instance, if you pay $500 for the so-called eternal commemoration, can you be relieved that they will always pray for you?

Alternatively, when you mourn every day for your loss, does it count as eternal memory? It doesn’t matter if you pray for that person or not: most importantly, you remember him. When you look at the things that your loved one left behind or at his photos, does it count? Does eternal memory exist regardless of our actions, in God’s domain?

Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: When you live a Liturgy-driven life, it is hard to tell who is dead and who is alive. We are trying to talk about eternity. We try to overcome human-ness. Christianity means that a person begins to measure his life with a different measure. My parents and your mother are among those who we pray for. We must be talking about whether their souls are saved and whether they have eternal life — and that’s what really matters.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the nineteenth, fifteenth, or the first century, humans are the same. When you read Apostle Paul, you can see the picture of today’s life: God be true, but every man a liar (Romans 3:4). Sure, we can idealistically recall our childhood years: an alternative way of doing things and different relationships among people, but you cannot subsist on it all the time. I don’t think it makes sense to keep something on your shelves to remember it. What really does make sense is when you rise up and pray. That’s what I think. Perhaps, I’m an emotionless person…

The border between the living and the dead disappears for me. You can see humans with empty eyes, with burnt-out consciences, and they are already dead. Nowadays, we are under constant pressure from too much information and too many problems; our lives become too fast-paced. People must struggle to remain in love with each other. True communion with God, prayer and actions inspired by God’s love, which unites us and defeats temporal differences, is more important for us than anything. Time differences simply wither away.

Nun Juliania: Then there’s a question: do we need biographies of saints?

Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: Yes we do. Lives of saints aren’t their autobiographies. They are written by the Church as a means of our edification. Some people say that the biographies of saints contain many exaggerations and fictitious facts. Of course, writing an account of a saint’s life puts its author in a different situation. The purpose of saints’ biographies is to make a person who touches the saint’s life by reading such a biography see Divine action, instead of focusing on dirty laundry, which everyone has plenty of, even saints.

Should we recall what St Cyril of Alexandria used to say about St John Chrysostom? It was their own business… Instead, we should be talking about the great wonders that the Lord has shown through these holy hierarchs. We never recall bad things about our deceased relatives or friends, even if there were some, do we? We prefer talking about the good things. This is the kind of memory that we must store.

Nun Juliania: We have enough information about many saints today, especially about the more recent 20th-century saints. Their biographies contain all facts, both favorable and not-so-favorable. On the contrary, the biographies of the early Christian saints contain just a couple of paragraphs and are almost entirely complimentary.

Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: Seeing shortcomings of these people and how they struggled with them is very beneficial for the readers.

Nun Juliania: When I tell someone about Holy Martyr Elisabeth, I always point out that she was a granddaughter of the British Queen and a German princess. She did not even speak Russian for a great portion of her life but she became a Russian saint. This is important for me. Isn’t it a miracle when one becomes a Russian? One becomes a Russian when he considers himself to be Russian and sees himself as part of the Russian culture.

For instance, I am afraid that my children will forget the names of our ancestors, which I managed to get to know, after I die (I had archives in Novocherkassk explored, and we managed to discover several new names). I do my best to commemorate all of them. When I die, who will commemorate them? Will the eternal memory of them not be eternal anymore? Or will the Lord Himself commemorate them?

Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: You commemorate them, and we can hope that they are in the Heavenly Kingdom already. So they will be praying for you and your relatives.

Nun Juliania: There is no time at all for God, is there? What if I prayed for twenty or thirty years of my earthly life and then my prayer stopped?

Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: The Church prays for the peace and well-being of the entire world. An elder was sitting on the sea shore, and young Father Sophrony asked him, “Pray for me, Father.” The elder did not pay any attention to him and just replied, “I pray for the whole world, and that includes you.”

Everyone has his own measure. Those who keep the memory of their ancestors, preserve archives and so forth, do good. Those who don’t, do good, too. They think of heavenly things; they no longer care about all this stuff. You can find some good everywhere.

Everyone will be remembered. When you are at your deathbed, you can pass your commemoration book on to someone, like your grandson (laughs).

You can often witness the following: there is a wonderful and affluent family but then, some time later, nothing remains of them. They apparently lived in mutual respect and it was pleasant to look at them, and then — behold, there’s no one of them left: they died in a car crash. The house that they were building and where so many family members could live happily, stays vacant. And there’s an old lady who stares at that house and asks, “Who did they build that house for? Why did it happen?” How can we accept the fact that God took the lives of the entire family? I think we shouldn’t be thinking too much.

How do people have conversations in the Kingdom of Heaven? It is hard for us to answer this question. Elder Silouan said that he prayed for all people but as soon as he would see God, he would not remember anyone because all things will dissolve in the Divine love.

We can experience certain glimpses of the everlasting life and discover something new and strange but, generally speaking, it’s a mystery that cannot be put into words. Even a man like Apostle Paul could not find proper words to describe what he saw in the paradise. Nevertheless, we are eager to describe the paradise as a “garden with birds and flowers…” Especially if someone has experienced clinical death…

Nun Juliania: Some people saw the hell, too…

Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: It is merely a symbol. For example, we often see Angels portrayed as young men with wings and curly hair. Do they really look like that? No, it’s just an image. One can only see what he is prepared to see.

A fragment of a Meeting of the Sisterhood in honor of St. Elisabeth

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  1. When I tell someone about Holy Martyr Elisabeth, I always point out that she was a granddaughter of the British Queen and a German princess. She did not even speak Russian for a great portion of her life but she became a Russian saint. This is important for me. Isn't it a miracle when one becomes a Russian? One becomes a Russian when he considers himself to be Russian and sees himself as part of the Russian culture.
    This sentiment is quite offensive as it implies that Russia is above all else in Christianity and not Orthodoxy. It IS a miracle when one becomes Orthodox as the Holy Martyr Elizabeth did when she herself converted. There is nothing sacred about "russian-ness" as such! Holy Elizabeth is an Orthodox Saint NOT simply RUSSIAN,

    1. Also….whether anyone can speak Russian for most of their lives is irrelevant as the services in the Russian Church are in an incomprehensible ( to most of the population) language known as Church Slavonic. Even the Holy Gospel is read in Old Slavonic and not to give the Gospel of Christ in a language which can be fully understood by the faithful must be regarded as sinful. That Abbess Elizabeth was caring for the poor and needy was witness indeed to an interpretation of the words of Christ – understood with or without words or language or Russian-ness.

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