People who care about their deceased relatives often order commemoration service at several churches and monasteries. But one who orders a service can be present only at one place. So, does it make sense?
A Soul Does Not Die with a Body
Let’s clarify what is commemoration, why do they order commemoration service, and how is it treated in our Church. The Christian faith states that a human soul is immortal: Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die (John 11:26), — it does not die with a body. Our earthly life is a preparation for eternal life. As we know from Holy Tradition and the revelations of the holy fathers (in particular, Saint Macarius of Alexandria), an immortal soul after the death of a body stays on earth for some time – about two days. I note right away that three, nine and forty days are rather arbitrary concepts. They are needed to make it easier for us to understand what time period is meant. That is, two days may not be exactly forty-eight hours, as we used to think.
So, the first days a soul dwells on the earth, on the third it is taken to the throne of God by angels. After worshiping the Lord, it receives a blessing to see heaven. Then it again ascends to God and is blessed to see hell, what it does until the fortieth day. On the fortieth day, the Lord determines where a soul will wait for the Second Coming – either in the threshold of heaven, or in the threshold of hell. Until the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, the fate of a soul is not completely decided.
On each of the days we have mentioned – and these are the days of zealous commemoration of the deceased – the Church blesses to pray intensely for a soul, ask God to forgive it all sins and prepare a place in the abodes of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Commemoration Is Not a Favour, Church Is Not a Shop
An important point should be noted: often people perceive prayer and alms as a kind of ritual, they take it for granted. A man comes to church, orders Liturgy or forty days prayers, donates some money – and leaves. It doesn’t matter what and how will happen next, he believes that he has done everything necessary. This is a completely wrong attitude to commemoration of a soul. It is important that the person himself is directly involved in prayer. Unfortunately, many come to church as to a shop or a service establishment. One can’t treat prayer for the dead like this. His soul can no longer change its fate – to repent, to do a good deed. However, it remains a member of the Church – just like all of us, so we must certainly pray for it.
Order a Commemoration, but Do Not Fail Yourself
Does one need to order commemoration in several churches? – definitely! The more prayers for a soul, the better. But once again I would like to emphasize the main point: if the relatives themselves do not pray for the deceased, hoping that someone else will pray for him, they deprive his soul of their prayer support. It is not right. You yourself should also pray.
Many saints often testified that in a dream or in reality the souls of the departed came to them and asked to pray for them. This happened not only on the third, ninth and fortieth day, but at different times after death. The Lord gave the Church the power to help a person with a prayer. If a large number of people pray for a soul, if in commemoration of it they perform alms and do good deeds, then the Lord can forgive its sins and transfer it from one abode to another – from hell to the Kingdom of Heaven. It is very important to pray for the deceased not only on the days and parental Saturdays that we have mentioned, but all the time, unceasingly. We do not know about the fate of his or her soul, we do not know where it awaits the Last Judgment.
Prayer Is a Deed of Love
If a relative is dear to us, we are obliged to pray for him, to constantly commemorate him at the Liturgy – while we live and while we have the opportunity to visit the church and participate in divine services. It is necessary to order Liturgy and commemoration services for the departed, try to attend them. Yes, the Church constantly prays for all Christians, but for an Orthodox person it is imperative both at church of God and during his home prayer to commemorate personally his departed relatives. It is a big mistake to think that after the fortieth day the fate of your deceased loved one is not your business. It is your business! We have been given an amazing opportunity – we can really help a person with a prayer, so let’s do it.
Prayer – both at home and at church – is a manifestation of our love. Each of us will one day stand at the Throne of God, regardless of whether we believe it or not. We will have to give an answer for all the deeds that we have done while living on earth. At that moment, we will really need the support of the Church and our relatives. Now it’s our turn to help. How? – by prayer, good deeds, alms. The Lord sees everything we do with love. While there is an opportunity, let us perform deeds of love for those who are waiting for them – our deceased relatives and friends.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds