Recently our church offered prayers for the departed. A long time member of our parish passed away, and on the evening before his funeral, we held a a panikhida.
Our small parish more or less split down the middle on this evening. On one side, the attending members of the church sang prayers for the departed. On the other, the family of the deceased stood politely. Most of them were not Orthodox, and I could see the curiosity in their faces as they watched this ritual take place.
In the center of the temple between these two groups lay the body of our departed brother. A folded American flag sat on his simple, unadorned casket, signifying his veteran status.
I know it’s a cliché, but he truly did look peaceful. This was a man who was truly prepared to be with the Lord.
Orthodox Prayers for the Departed
Offering prayers for the departed was a difficult concept for me to grasp as I began my journey to Orthodoxy. My Baptist upbringing taught me that once a Christian died, that was it. The dead would sleep until Judgement Day, when they would be raised by Christ.
The Protestant opposition to prayers for the dead is generally a resistance to the Roman Catholic idea of Purgatory. This is not an Orthodox concept, as Fr. Stephen Freeman explains:
The Orthodox Church has very little to say in a definitive manner about prayers for the departed. The doctrine of purgatory is a development with Western Catholicism and plays no part in Orthodoxy. Officially, the Church says that our prayers for the departed are “of benefit.” They help.
As believers in Christ, we pray for each other. We believe that death does not sever the bond between believers. Just as we continue to love our friends and family after their death, we continue to pray for their salvation.
On a regular basis, our parish holds a prayer service for our departed loved ones. It is of great comfort to my family to pray for our child by name, and for all those in our families who have gone to be with the Lord.
Our parish will now add the name of our recently departed brother to our regular Panikhida service. We will pray for God’s mercy on him, and on our other deceased friends and family.
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