Orthodox Church of the Mother of God

Joy of all the Sorrowful - Mays Landing, NJ (f. 1966)

Prayers for the Dead: Pannikhida

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Christian comfort for the sorrowing

When a person near and dear to us departs from us, how can we not sorrow? The Lord Jesus Christ Himself sorrowed and even shed tears when His friend Lazarus died. Yet a natural sorrow at someone's death should not cast a Christian into despondency or cause him to murmur against God. Death is not the destruction of a person, but only the temporary separation of the soul from the body. Since it is a temporary condition, the New Testament Holy Scriptures and the early Christian writings refer to death as "sleep" (Acts 13:36) or "dormition (falling asleep)," as in the name of the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God. Death is called sleep in relation to the body; the soul of the dead person continues its conscious life. Its mental and other spiritual faculties do not weaken after death; on the contrary, they receive greater lightness and mobility, not being constricted by the body.

In order not to sorrow excessively over the loss of a loved one, we should consider that physical death also has a positive aspect. It brings man relief from his daily labors and from all the sorrows, illnesses and fears which fill our earthly existence. It is a passage to a better world, where eternal light shines, where the truth of God reigns, where there is no grief, and where the souls of the faithful find everlasting joy and peace.

The main source of comfort for a Christian should be that all of us will rise from the dead, meet those dear to us and live eternally. The Son of God came to earth to restore to the human race the immortal life which it had lost because of sin. The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the beginning of our resurrection. We celebrate the feast of Pascha (Easter) with such joy because "we celebrate the annihilation of death, the destruction of Hell, the beginning of another life, which is eternal" (from the Paschal Canon).

The Apostle Paul comforts Christians who have lost their loved ones in these words: "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him" (1 Thes. 4:13-14). The Apostle further explains that we who remain among the living will not receive our reward before those who have died, because the fullness of the reward will come to all the righteous at the same time: "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [i.e., go before] them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:15-18).

Elsewhere, the Apostle sets forth the Christian view of life and death in these words: "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:1-8).

These and similar thoughts will be our comfort when we lose people dear to us. Their transfer to another world reminds us that our own end is approaching. Therefore, in praying for them let us pray for ourselves as well, that we may be counted worthy of a Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless and peaceful, and that we may receive a favorable verdict at the dread judgment seat of Christ.


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