Praying for the Departed
In the Orthodox Christian tradition it is understood that the Church, as the Body of Christ, exists undivided within two realms: the heavenly and the earthly. This includes those righteous ones who glorified God by their blameless earthly lives and continue to do so before the resplendent throne of God.
The right-believing Christian does not understand the departed to be dead in the pagan sense of the word, but rather as one who has reposed in the Lord. For once a Christian has passed in spirit from this side of the grave to the other he does not cease to exist, even though he has temporarily discarded his corruptible outer container; rather, he lives on as an heir of God within that mystery which is the Church eternal, the New Jerusalem, the heavenly kingdom, life everlasting, salvation.
“I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and of Jacob.” “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” It is both from this knowledge of on-going life and out of love for those who have departed into it that our Lord through His Church has revealed to us the effectual blessings of prayer afford the faithful, both the departed who are prayed for and the living who pray. For this reason the Holy Church has from earliest times instituted and prayed services of supplication for our faithful brethren fallen asleep in the Lord.
When a fellow Christian dies a bodily death, we are obliged out of Christian charity to pray to God on behalf of that person that He will grant his soul mercy and forgiveness, making him worthy to enter into rest eternal amid the choirs of the saints, since his time for repentance in this life has ended. This is no doubt what we shall desire for ourselves at the time of our physical deaths: that is, for the Church, the body of Christ, to acknowledge us as living members and to entreat the Savior of all that He receive even us, sinners though we be.
To pray for the departed is to acknowledge the connection in Christ our Lord between those here and those in the hereafter. It is not a denial God’s power to save us according to His own will, any more than having others pray for us is when we are sick or in trouble. After all, we know that it is ultimately God who accomplishes all things. Besides this, the Lord has commanded us to pray for one another. Therefore, such is not a denial of God’s ability to save us apart from the prayers of others, but the faithful making use of the power of prayer which is effectual for the souls of those both on this side of the grace and the other, for the living and the departed alike.
Grant rest, O Lord, to the souls of Thy servants who are fallen asleep, and make their memory to be eternal!