My road to Orthodoxy has led me through territory I didn’t really want to visit. It has forced me to deal with the fact that Orthodox Christians ask for intercessory prayer not just from the living but from the dead.
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I worked for Tim a lifetime ago, and learned a lot in the decade we were coworkers. Tim was a gentle soul with a natural tendency to fade into the background. I watched him fight his fears with public speaking and by networking at corporate functions. His courage was inspiring. He was not cut out to be a business leader or a captain of industry, but he craved personal growth.
We had friendly arguments about everything from politics to religion and beyond. Tim was a bleeding heart liberal, and I was a zealous young conservative. Tim was Episcopalian, and I was some sort of Pentecostal. Our shared love of obscure trivia and old movies leavened our debates, but I was always convinced I would eventually drag him from his Catholic-lite tendencies and get him to embrace praise music.
When Tim’s constant cough finally bothered him enough to schedule a doctor’s appointment it was too late. Despite never having touched a cigarette, Tim had lung cancer that had spread throughout his body.
Tim went through rounds of chemotherapy which ravaged his body and forced him to come to work late and then seldom and then not at all. His increasingly rare appearances at work were cause for brave faces and hushed tones as we paid our respects.
Through it all Tim continued to be brave and even joyful. He wrote entries in a blog he began after his diagnosis, giving thanks for the small blessings in his increasingly difficult life. That blog is still online, and I called it up while writing this piece. Seeing his photo in the bio was tough, but the snarl he is affecting in the picture brought a smile to my face.
Near the end he came to the office to visit and to see about what work he could still perform. My own life was in a state of chaos and I felt unmoored from everything that gave me solace. I pulled him aside and told him he needed a break from everyone praying for him. I asked Tim to pray for me.
Not long after I attended his funeral.
In the years since his death I find that on many things I have moved far closer to his positions than he ever moved toward mine. I once mocked him for praying to a saint for help in selling his house. Now I find myself asking St. Anthony to help me resist the snares of the devil at every turn.
As I investigated Orthodoxy I was forced to deal with death. Did I believe in life after death or not? If so, what did I think happened to those people? Were they in some state of suspended animation waiting for a trumpet to sound? Or were they truly alive in Christ?
Protestants believe wholeheartedly in asking their circle of friends and family to pray for them. The prayer of a righteous man avails much, after all. Orthodox Christians extend this circle to include the departed in this life – that “great cloud of witnesses” encouraging us to a fuller life in Christ.
My nonbeliever friends write off all of this as crazy talk; that’s nothing new and it’s baked into the cake of our friendship. Those of you open to Christianity can read this and also this for the Orthodox position on prayers to and for the dead.
I’m convinced that this life we are now living goes on after our bodies cease to function. We live it in a more fully realized state than ever before, aware of our old lives and our brethren still walking this vale of tears. I believe those who have gone before us await a reunion, and pray that we are perfected in Christ so that we can celebrate that perfection forever.
If I believe those things then I have no choice but to act on those beliefs. I ask for the prayers of those among you who are my friends and family. I ask for prayers from you who read these words but have never met me. And I ask for the prayers of those who have gone before me. You prayed for me in life; pray for me in the life to come.
Pray for me, Tim.