The Saturday of the Departed

By your own blood, O Saviour, you have ransomed mortal men, and by your death you have delivered us from bitter death granting us eternal life by your resurrection. Give rest then O Lord to all those who have fallen asleep in Godliness, whether in wilderness or city, on the sea or land, in every place, both princes, priests, bishops, monks and married people, of every age and line and count them worthy of your heavenly Kingdom.
Vespers of Friday Evening. Tone 8

In the Orthodox Church we affirm a belief in the Resurrection of the Body and in the Life of the World to come ( 1st and 2nd Ecumenical Councils 381AD) but we must never become complacent, which is why when we recite the Creed, the emphasis – “I believe” – is an individual statement.

Of course, we are a Christian family bound together by rules, rights and regulations as well as different ethnic practices but we all have the same Triune God to whom we are further bound in love. We are not Orthodox – or Right Believing Christians – out of accident or pomposity. We are custodians of the unaltered Christian Faith.

So, on this Saturday of the Departed we pray for the souls of the departed that they will be forgiven their offences in whatever shape or form they took. We cannot judge others – ever – but we know that from the writings of the Desert Fathers to today’s Daily Telegraph there is no end to our sin. We are quite an inventive lot in terms of depravity and our ability to do harm to others; it seems, as a race, that we have continued to choose a love of sin over a love of God.

But no matter the sin, we petition Christ through the prayers of the Saints who have also lived with sin, that He will bestow mercy on those we pray for. So although the sin is what we are asking to be forgiven we are really affirming our position as members of the Christian Family. Death only physically separates the living from the departed. Together in soul and spirit we remain one wholesome unit. The Christian Family does not decline as people die: it grows as more people are baptised into Christ.

We hope that our faith and our works in Christ will stand us in good stead before the Last Judgement. After all, we are baptised Christians (so was Stalin), we go to church regularly (as did Henry viii) and we help the needy (hello-Grigory Rasputin). We can not say with any certainty that we are any better or worse than either the good thief or the bad thief – we must each wait for our own judgement.

There is a growing conviction that nothing in our worship and petitioning is excluded from God’s love for mankind. At Pentecost we pray “for those who are fast in hell” and we ask that God will “grant us great hope that there will be sent down to them repose and comfort from all pain which holds them”.

Saint Silouan of Mount Athos is here in conversation with a hermit who declares,
“God will punish all atheists. They will burn in everlasting fire”
The upset Silouan said “ Tell me, supposing you went to Paradise, and looked down and saw someone burning in hell-fire – would you feel happy?”
“It can’t be helped. It would be their own fault”
  said the hermit.
Staretz Silouan answered with sorrow:
“Love could not bear that: we must pray for All” [1]

May God have mercy and give succour to those whom we have known in our lives and who have departed this world.

May God Bless us all.

Father Christopher 2015

[1] Father Andrew Louth: Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology.