Short answer: They’re not dead. (Mark 12:27; Luke 20:38)
Longer answer: What happens when we depart this life? The Orthodox Church believes that some will find themselves in the paradise of which our Lord Jesus spoke when He said to the repentant thief on the cross, “Today you shall be with me in paradise.” These are not in need of our prayers; but other than those who have been recognized by the Church as saints, we do not know who they are, and so we offer prayers for them. As for the rest of the departed, they find themselves in a state of suffering as they await the time when the Lord will “come again to judge both the living and the dead” (as we recite in the “Symbol of Faith,” as the Nicaean Creed is called). On that great and terrible Day of Judgment, the final disposition of every human soul will take place: some (those on the Lord’s right hand) will enter into the Kingdom, while others (those on His left hand) will depart into torment without end. Some of those entering the Kingdom at that time will be those who are now enjoying paradise; but some will be from the group of those now undergoing torment: and these are the people for whom we offer prayers, both privately and as the Church. Part of the reason for this arises from visions which several saints were given, showing that the prayers offered in this life are effective on behalf of those who departed this life, either in reducing the level of suffering, or its duration, with some even being set free to enter paradise from hades (the name generally given to the temporary place of torment).
Another part of the reason for this practice rests on the biblical statements such as the ones cited above, and the understanding that “God desires not the death of a sinner, but that he turn from his ways, and live.” (Ezekiel 33:11, as quoted in the Prayer of Absolution at the end of one’s confession.) Just as we pray for one another in this, the land of the living, trusting that such prayers are often helpful for those mentioned in these prayers (such as for healing, or for deliverance from difficult circumstances), so we believe that our prayers can also be helpful to those who have departed this life who are not yet in “a place of light, a place of green pasture, a place of repose, from which all sickness, sorrow, and sighing are fled away,” as we pray in the Funeral Service and in the memorial services offered for the departed.
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What is the church’s position on music for the services? Is it ok to hear the piano or orfan during hymns?
The Orthodox Church does not have a tradition of instrumental accompaniment because the Church fathers were afraid that secular trends would enter the Church along with the musical instruments, which were used at theatrical plays in the Roman Empire. Besides, according to the book of Revelation (please, see chapters 4 and 5), the saints and the angels worship God with their mouth only. The Orthodox Church Service seeks to follow that example. That is why an Orthodox choir performs all the chants “a capella.”
For Saints we do not pray, for those entered into Paradise we do not pray, but for all others we pray? So when an Orthodox loved one falls asleep, we pray for them because we don’t know if they are in Paradise or in torment? Why do some priests say, “Don’t worry, your loved one is with the Lord”?
So basically it seems Orthodoxy states that until the Final Judgement there is hope for even those that are in torment for their sins. If your loved one is in Paradise but you don’t know that and are praying for them, what happens to our prayers for them since they dont need them?
What about those who have no one down here praying for them or giving alms for their souls, they will have little hope then of being released from hades? It seems that in the end, we have to pray for all Orthodox departed because we have to assume they are in torment. This all seems depressing and sad to me. Maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way.
Dear Ida, yes, we pray for our departed loved ones because we love them and want to remember them, to commemorate them. In pray we spiritually unite with them and that somehow console us. We do not know the spiritual state of their souls and that is why we ask our Lord to forgive their sins, IF they commited them and we believe that mercyful Jesus forgive them even before our prayers.
Yes, before Final Judgement there is hope for everybody. If we pray for those who are already in the Paradise, it is okay: the Lord knows how to turn our parayers for the benefit of all. Moreover, these prayers are by no means useless, because they soften our hearts and bring grace to us as well.
If there is nobody here on earth to pray for someone departed, remember that Our Lord Jesus Christ knows all his sons and daughters, knows all his creatures and He Himself remember them. There is Our common Mother Virgin Mary, the Saints and Angels, who are praying for such people. There is the Mystery of Eucharist, which is celebrated and brings aboundant grace and comfort for all departed, known and unknown. Priest commemorate during the intercession part of the Liturgy all people: “Remember, O God, all those whom we have not remembered through ignorance, forgetfulness or because of their multitude since You know the name and age of each, even from their mother’s womb” (The Liturgy of Saint Basil).
May our Lord, save us all and bring us all to His Kingdom for He is Love.
Thank you so much for your response. It brought me further understanding and comfort. God bless you.
Curious as someone looking into Orthodoxy, why would the visions of some saints be sufficient to offer prayers for the departed, if this practice is also not shown in scripture or cited by any apostle as a prefered or encouraged practice? I’m confused. Visions of Saints are on par with Holy Scripture? I guess such and tradition of the Fathers of the Faith are considered as valid as /on par with Holy Scripture?
We tried to answer your questions in our article Holy Tradition of the Church VS Holy Scripture of the Church:
St. Paul in scripture prayed for the dead, 2 Timothy 1:16-20, Paul asks that The Lord give mercy to his household, without saying him AND his household, speaks of him entirely in the past tense, then asks that The Lord have mercy on him “in that Day” which is the same general format as the prayers for the dead who sinned by having pagan talismans on them in the macabbean war they were prayed for that God have mercy on them in the day of judgement.
so there is Scriptural precedent for prayer for the dead. and this in using the same format as in maccabbees shows the former was accepted if not canon at least legitimate history, and represented a mosaic custom accepted by the Apostles and therefore the early church also.
That last part of the first paragraph precisely describes what the Roman Catholic Church recognises as “Purgatory”. If the Orthodox Church actually believes in that too all along, why the fuss all this time?