Canadian Orthodox All-saints monastery

Reality is not the enemy of truth; truth is never harmed by reality. Reality can be despised and what is untrue can be embraced, by depising the one cannot make it false, and embracing the other cannot make it true.
-Archbishop Lazar

Starets Varlaam delivering a sermon at the Monastery - Orthodox Canada
Starets Varlaam delivering a sermon at the Monastery

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Point of Faith, Nr. 14



The memorial services for the departed are not of Christian origin, and certainly not peculiar to Christianity.

Among most of the civilisations and tribes that have been studied by anthropologists, some form of "stepping away from grief" rituals are observed. A final ritual — almost always observed a year from the death — is a "closure" to the period of grieving. After it, a surviving spouse is free to remarry.

We know from Scripture (Gn. 50:2-3) that the Jews borrowed the forty day mourning period from the pagan Egyptians. Forty days was the length of time that a common embalming process took place, and there was a period of mourning during the embalming period (which was seventy days for a pharaoh). As is well known, the pagan Egyptians believed that the soul of the deceased wandered for the whole forty days of the embalming period, and that it did not rest until after the body was placed in its tomb. The Jews certainly did not accept the pagan notion of a wandering soul, but they did borrow the mourning period, at least for Joseph and, later, for Moses.

In spite of the efforts of some in the Orthodox Church to ascribe magical, legalistic or pagan meanings to the third, ninth and fortieth day memorial services, they are essentially "stepping away from grief" rituals for the survivors of one who has died. They are part of the healing process for those "left behind," grieving and sorrowing.

A certain Gnostic forgery, purporting to be a story told by St Makarios of Egypt, introduced pagan Egyptian ideas as an explanation for the memorial services. Popular with peasants and rustic folk, this strange and heretical tale somehow worked its way into popular literature. Although well know to be fraud, and clearly containing very serious heresies, this tale became accepted by many, especially with those who have little time for the holy fathers. We will examine and refute this tale a little later, exposing the heretical nature of it.

It is not at all certain that the days (3, 9, 40) selected for these memorials are of Christian origin, but the Orthodox Church did adopt them, and give them clearly Christian meanings. In this booklet, you will read about these meanings in the words of our holy and God-bearing father, Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki, but let us look at them briefly now, in terms of the Orthodox Christian teaching.

The third day memorial commemorates the Resurrection of Christ on the third day, by which we are promised resurrection and everlasting life. We serve a memorial on the ninth day because, since souls can be neither judged nor receive their reward without their bodies (as you will read in the words of St. Mark of Ephesus in in chapter 3), they are kept by the nine orders of angels until the general resurrection. Then, united with their bodies, and once more "complete persons," they are judged and receive their reward. The fortieth day service commemorates the Ascension of Christ into heaven, body and soul, by which we are promised that we will likewise ascend at the second coming.

It is notable that in the oldest explanation of the memorial services that we have, the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, we read, "And let the ninth day be celebrated in remembrance of the living, and of the departed." The symbolism of the 40 day service, th in the Apostolic Constitutions makes no mention of the Ascension, but says that it is celebrated "according to the ancient pattern: for so did the people lament Moses."

There is no special symbolism given to the one year memorial service. The Constitutions say that we should celebrate a service on the "anniversary day of the departed and give alms to the poor from his goods for a memorial of him. The first year service, however, is that "closure" after which a remaining spouse can marry, free of any of those feelings of betrayal or guilt which so many people experience at this time when they think of remarriage.

While Neophytos of Rhodes also comments on the meaning of these services, and his comments are similar to those of St. Symeon of Thessaloniki, I have been unable to find them. It is notable that the reasons given by authentic sources in the Orthodox Church do differ in the symbolism and meaning assigned to the services, which tells us that the memorial services are not by any means "doctrinal" or "dogmatic," no one of the authentic sources has even the vaguest hint of "wandering souls," "aerial toll houses" or any other such Gnostic heresies.

All these services are for the healing of the grieving and the sorrowing of those "left behind" by the departure of the deceased person. They offer comfort, reassurance of the promises of Christ and finally, a "closure" and healing to the grief. They have no magical, mystical or legalistic meaning or ramifications.

In this booklet, we will also expose and debunk the popular fraudulent Gnostic forgery, attributed to Saint Makarios, about "wandering souls."

More Orthodox Truth from Archbisop Lazar


"For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rm.8:38-39.)

Death, the Apostle says, cannot separate us from the love of our Saviour. And another time he says, "To live is Christ and to die is gain...for I am torn between the two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better" (Phil.1:21-23). How, then, if the soul which has fallen asleep is with Christ, could it not be also with His Body, the Church? For, if the Apostle says that none of these things, not even death, can separate us from Christ, he says as well that they cannot separate us from the Church. It is manifest, therefore, that those who do not commemorate and offer prayers on behalf of the reposed do not recognize Christ's victory over death, that death is set at nought, that the mutual love of those who live in and by Christ is in no wise severed or broken by this defeated and shattered enemy, for, "Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's" (Rm.14: 8).

These things, then, are abundantly clear: that we are bound by bonds of undefeatable love that is of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and that we pray for one another, not as though at death we passed into annihilation and non-existence, but as knowing that those who have fallen asleep are among the living and are still "members in particular of the body of Christ" (1Cor. 12: 27). And the very fact that we pray for the reposed is an active confession of our faith in the victory of Christ and our sure hope in the resurrection.

Although the reasons for our prayers and commemorations of those who have fallen asleep are so simple and have been set forth so clearly from the earliest times, through vain curiosity and speculation, a great cloud of misunderstanding and confusion has arisen around this subject. The speculations of men have come to be considered as some kind of holy tradition. And although these traditions of men contradict the pure, simple doctrine of the fathers, because of the prejudice of habit, they have come to be defended as dogmas. It must be said that, for the most part, these customs (they ought not to be called traditions at all) have come to us from the Latin West, whether through Jesuit preachers and translators who corrupted much of our spiritual literature, through Uniatism, or through the sheer carelessness of our own apologists who, during the dark days of the Westernizers, brought so many of the corrupt Latin and sectarian teachings into Eastern languages. [1]

If we compare these two — the precise, theological teachings of the fathers, and the Scholastic corruptions in school book theology — we are struck by the immensity of the difference. While the Western corruptions are complex, labyrinthine, morbid and tediously legalistic, exalting the power of demons and rendering God cold, remote and almost indifferent, the patristic theological teachings are pure, joyous and simple, completely characteristic of the Scripture and firmly based in the love of God. And this is of the greatest significance: that the Scholastic teachings are based on the fear of demons and a certain remoteness of God, while the patristic theological teachings are clearly rooted in the sure knowledge of the closeness, love and mercy of God, and that contempt for the wretched demons which we are repeatedly taught by the fathers.

Before setting forth the patristic theological teachings on the prayers and commemoration of those fallen asleep, let us present an outline of the points we wish to make:

  1. The prayers and commemorations for the reposed are acts of love and confessions of faith, not bribes to God, means of satisfying His "need for vengeance" nor appeasements to demons.
  2. While the reposed benefit greatly from our prayers and commemorations, this benefit is in the form of a spiritual increase, an increase in their joy and in the mutual exchange of co-suffering love. It is not true that our prayers are offered as appeasements to Satan, to teach God how to be merciful, to obtain repose for the soul, to bribe the soul's way through some demonic turnpike, to "pay off the demons" or any other such thing.
  3. The prayers for the reposed do not change the condition, the "inheritance" of the reposed, or obtain for them anything which God will not give them even without our poor prayers. For, when we ask anything on behalf of the reposed, we ask only what God has already promised. Our prayers are not bailiffs which force God to pay His promises, or instructors which shame Him into mercy. They are expressions of our faith in God's promises and expressions of our mutual love.
  4. The prayers and commemorations for the reposed, while they fulfil the calling of love, serve primarily to instruct the living. For, in the prayers, we often mention not only the hope of the faithful, but also the destiny of the unrighteous at the same time we are being reminded of our own mortality and the day of our own death.

It does not seem edifying to even discuss the Scholastic ideas about the prayers and commemorations for the reposed. Which teachings fit this category is self-evident, and if they are not, then after we present the exact theological teachings of the fathers, they should be. They are identified, in addition to the exaltation of the power of demons and the remoteness they attribute to God, by the fact that they turn the prayers into magical incantations which, as containing the correct formulae, obtain certain predicted results in themselves (thus the oft repeated injunction that we must be careful "not to omit a single word," from the prayers.) This is the Latin mechanical theory of prayers and grace, reflected also in the heretical notion that the epiklesis is a "formula." Observe, for example, the mechanical theory of the prayers for the reposed on the third, ninth and fortieth days, and ask what happens in those seasons when these prayers are not even permitted, or on days when they are prohibited and must be served instead a day or two, or even a week later.

But let us pass over from these things and, seeing what the prayers and commemorations for the reposed do mean, we shall also understand what they do not mean. We mentioned that we were going to turn to the "precise patristic theological statements" on the subject. We specify this because, as with many subjects, the fathers spoke often in various contexts. Thus, we find certain emphasis being given and certain allegorical expressions being used when, for example, one of the fathers is admonishing careless listeners to compunction. Again, we sometimes find terms or expressions used rhetorically in sermons or instructions to monks, etc, and often parables are used (and this is especially true of the Paterikon collections, which contain much that is parable and allegory, not at all intended as doctrine). On the other hand, there are occasions when the fathers are called upon to give more exact theological expression, as when they are making response to questions put to them by some heretic or false teacher. Such for example, was the case when the heretic Aerios made inquiry of our holy father Epiphanios of Cyprus concerning prayers offered for those fallen asleep. The response of the saint was a well considered reply, drawn from the conscience of the Church. Such, too, are those precise expositions of the meaning of liturgical practices, as we shall see.

We naturally give the greatest consideration to those particular words of the fathers in which they are especially formulating a complete and precise statement of doctrine or defence of a teaching. When we find what at first glance seems somehow contradictory to this, we examine, first of all, the context of the words which seem to be a contradiction. Usually, when we do this, the seeming contradiction vanishes.

Saint John Chrysostom tells us, for example, of the incident when Jerusalem was saved by calling to remembrance David, and God's promise to him. The Saint adds:

"If the remembrance of a just man had so great power, when deeds are done for one, how great power will it not have. Not in vain did the Apostles command that remembrance should be made of the dead in the terrible Mysteries. They know that great gain results ...."

To whom does this gain come? The people of Jerusalem gained by their remembrance of David, for David had his promise already, and the people, by commemorating this just man, obtained for themselves a share in his promise. And to the one commemorated also, for our holy father continues:

"They know that great gain results to them, great benefit...and this we do only for those who have departed in faith ..." [2]

According to the Scholastic satisfaction theory, this "benefit" consists in a remote, vengeful God being convinced into mercy and forgiveness by the entreaties of fallen humans who, evidently, have greater love and compassion than God. These prayers are magical, because by repeating the formulae correctly, we compel the "powers" to react in a certain prescribed way.

What are the benefits of these prayers and commemorations then? Our holy, apostolic father Dionysios the Areopagite, in a most complete theological exposition "Concerning Things Performed Over Those Fallen Asleep," [3] replies:

." the prayer beseeches the supremely Divine Goodness to remit to the person fallen asleep all the failings committed by reason of human infirmity, and to transfer him in the light [or, light-filled] land of the living (Ps.56: 13; 116:9) into the bosom of Abraham (Lk.16: 22) and Isaak and Jacob; in a place where grief and sorrow and sighing are no more. It is, I think, evident then, that these, the rewards of the pious are most blessed...

"But you may, perhaps, say that these things are indeed correctly affirmed by us, but want to know for what reason the hierarch beseeches the supremely Divine Goodness for the remission of the sins committed by the person fallen asleep, and [that he may receive] his most glorious inheritance....For, if everyone shall receive, by the divine justice, equivalent to what he has done in the present life, whether it be good or otherwise, and the person fallen asleep has finished his own activities in this present life, from what prayer offered by the hierarch will he be transferred to another inheritance than that due to and equivalent for his life here?

"Now, well do I know, following the Scriptures, that each one will have the inheritance equivalent; for the Lord says, he has closed respecting him, `and each one shall receive the things done in his body according to that [which] he has done, whether it be good or bad' (2Cor.5:10). Yes, the sure Traditions of the Scripture teach us that the prayers even of the just avail only for those who are worthy of pious prayers, during this present life, by no means after death. What, in truth did Saul gain from Samuel? (1Sm. 16:1). And what did the intercessions of the prophet profit the people of the Hebrews? (Jer.7:16)...

"Now with reference to the prayer mentioned, which the hierarch prays over the person fallen asleep...the holy hierarch...has learned then, from the God transmitted Scriptures, that to those who have passed their life piously, the most bright and divine life is given in return (1Jn.5:16), according to their due...the divine love overlooking, through its goodness, the stains which have come to them through human infirmity, since no-one, as the Scripture says, is free of blemish (Jb.14:4).

"Now, the hierarch knew that these things have been promised by the infallible Scriptures; and he asks that these things may come to pass, and that the righteous returns be given to those who lived piously...and while knowing that the promises will be unfailing, he makes known clearly to those present that the things asked by him according to the holy law, will be entirely realized for those who have been perfected in a holy life. For the hierarch ...would never seek things which were not pleasing to the Almighty God, and divinely promised to be given by him." [4]

Compare these words of a great and profound Orthodox theologian who was taught by the mouths of the apostles themselves, with the complex and disturbing legalism and "satisfaction ideology" of the scholastics who turn these prayers into bribes or magical means of forcing God to be merciful.

engeance for each little sin, whether known or unknown, etc. Repentance does not consist in a legalistic enumeration of each sin. It is simply not true that God forgives only those sins which we actually enumerate either mentally or with our tongue. Repentance is a state or condition, a disposition of heart, not the fulfilling of a legal agreement with God. As the Scripture says, "Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness" (Rm.4: 3, 9; Gal.3:6; Jas.2:23). And if to Abraham who was a child of the law, how much more to us who are children of faith shall it be accounted to us for righteousness if we have believed God, for we hope not on our "own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." (Rm.3: 21- 22; 8:4; 10:3-6 f). For if we struggle, as the Church teaches us, to purify ourselves and acquire the Holy Spirit, we will receive no less than did our father Abraham. It will be accounted to us for righteousness, for the sake of Christ, in Whom all righteousness has been fulfilled. After all, we are saved by actual faith, and for our works we are rewarded; a greater reward for the one who has fulfilled the greater works, a lesser one with lesser works - but no less a salvation.

St Epiphanios of Cyprus also gives us a very clear and definite theological statement on this subject. Here, he is specifically refuting a certain heresy which denied prayers and commemorations for the reposed. Here, he is drawing forth from the whole Tradition and Conscience of the Church against an aggressive heretic. Aerios was questioning prayers for the reposed:

"Then he [the heretic Aerios] asks, `for what reason do you commemorate the names of the dead after their death? If a living person prays or gives out alms, what profit will this be to a dead person? But if the prayer of those here could really profit those yonder, let no man be pious, let no man do good! Rather let him gain some friends by any means whatever, and persuading them with money or having them simply as friends at the time of his death, they shall pray for him, lest he suffer anything yonder, or any grave sin he has committed be required of him'."

Now this question is not without merit and the speaker makes a perfectly valid point, for this is exactly the absurdity the Latins fell into at an early date. St Epiphanios responds directly to this question, and we may do well to look at some other responses to such questions. St Epiphanios answers:

"As regards the saying [commemoration] of the names of the dead, what could be more useful, more proper and wonderful? For this causes those present to believe that the departed live and are not in a state of non-existence, but rather that they exist and live with the Master; and it causes that the holy kerygma be proclaimed, that there is [lit. there being] hope for those brethren who are prayed for, who are, as it were, in a distant land. And indeed the prayer made in their behalf brings profit — though in truth it does not do away with the whole entirety of their offences — because in this world, we often do wrong involuntarily and voluntarily, and this act [of praying about the sins of the reposed] clearly points out that which is more perfect. For, we make memory of both just and sinners...." [5]

St John Chrysostom, as we saw above, assures us of benefits from our prayers for those fallen asleep. What reason does he give for these prayers?

"And this is the reason for the prayers, psalms and glorifications of God [at burial services]: so that you not weep and lament, but rather give thanks to God Who has taken him." [6]

As we saw above, according to our apostolic father Saint Dionysios the Areopagite, the prayers and commemoration of the reposed serve primarily to educate the faithful regarding the promises given to those who struggle for salvation, and the opposite end of those who are faithless. He declares that the things we ask on behalf of the reposed are only proclamations of what they are going to receive anyway, because God has already promised them, and so far from Him requiring our prayers in order that the reposed be shown mercy, He readily, without our prompting, overlooks those sins and stains the faithful died with. He does not keep some kind of "scorecard," but knows the heart and the volition and the disposition of the soul, and this he "accounts to us for righteousness" on account of Christ.

Saint John of Kronstadt also captures the immensity and beauty of the true meaning of our commemorations of the reposed when, separating himself from the corrupted text book theology, he turns to his own deep patristic consciousness and proclaims:

"What a close connection there is between the Church in heaven and the Church on earth! What love the Church has! Behold how She unceasingly remembers, calls upon in prayer and glorifies the Church in heaven for the great deeds accomplished on earth for God's sake; She unceasingly prays for the Church on earth and intercedes for the departed, in the hope of their resurrection, of their life eternal and of their union with God and the saints. Her love is immense, great, divine! Let us enter into the spirit of this love of our Mother, the Orthodox Church, and let us be penetrated with the spirit of this love. Let us look upon all our brethren as our own members, upon ourselves and them as members of one body of the Church, and let us love them actively, as ourselves; then we ourselves shall be living members of the Church in heaven and she will be our active and speedy helper and intercessor.

"How do we maintain [this] connection with the spiritual world, with the heavenly Church? By calling upon them in prayer, by keeping the festivals instituted in their [those fallen asleep] honour; and by the Church services. For the Church is one, under one Head — Christ. How do we maintain [this] connection with the departed? By means of prayers for them, especially when united with the offering of the bloodless sacrifice. How do we maintain union with living Christians....Again, by means of prayer for them all in God's temple and also at home." [7]

Here is the true meaning of all our prayers and commemorations of the faithful fallen asleep, that we be mindful of them and of God's promise to the faithful, that we learn and assimilate a deep, unshakable understanding of the uniqueness and unity of the Holy Church, and of Her hope and joy, so that we too might grow in love and be given the courage to struggle to attain those promises for ourselves. We commemorate the reposed so that we remain consciously united with them, confessing our faith in the resurrection and life eternal. Our prayers for the reposed are manifestations of Christian love, hope and faith, and they are revelations of the mystery of the union of heaven and earth in the body of the Holy Church. The immense difference between this pure, patristic understanding and the Scholastic concept is dramatically demonstrated if we compare these words of St John of Kronstadt, in which he obviously expresses his own deep spiritual conscience, with his words in another place, in which he expresses the questionable scholastic text book teaching on the subject of prayers for the reposed. [8]

Compare the above quoted words of St John of Kronstadt with the explanation of the daily liturgies offered for the reposed, given by the most venerable and authoritative commentator on the liturgical practices of the Church, St Symeon of Thessaloniki:

"..and especially [is] the Bloodless Sacrifice offered daily, for there is nothing more profitable for him who has fallen asleep, nor is there anything so much a cause of joy, illumination and union with God, for then, the very Blood of the Lord is shed in behalf of us the worthless ones, and the Divine Body is sacrificed ....What indeed is more beneficial than for Christ to be sacrificed in our behalf?

"The particle [taken out of the prosphora] at the dread sacrifice and the commemoration made then of him that has departed unites him to God and invisibly grants him to partake and to participate in Him. For this reason not only the brethren who have in repentance departed in Christ are greatly benefited, comforted and saved, but also the sacred and divine souls of the saints greatly rejoice in this...and through this most sacred sacrifice they more purely and lucidly are united to Christ and commune and more truly partake of His gifts." [9]

Do we not see that not only sinful believers such as we, benefit from these prayers, but also the saints? And we all benefit in the same manner, for these prayers are great mysteries of divine love. Great indeed is the power of Godly love, and great is the mystery of divine love in the Holy Church. For, such love ascends to heaven and penetrates even the darkness of hades. To those in hades, it gives some small remission of the darkness for love, which is the essence - of all goodness, is the essence of spiritual light, before which darkness must retreat - and it gives, by God's grace, some kind of merciful and ineffable comfort and relief. But to those reposing in paradise, the prayers of the Holy Church rise up like warm waves of love which encompass the soul like a mother's tender embrace, like the gentle kiss a mother plants on the forehead of a sleeping child in the middle of the night. As God's grace is borne on the wings of His love, so our love is borne on the wings of God's grace, and by grace the souls of the departed perceive our love, and by His grace they benefit from our prayers and alms offered in love on their behalf. For, all things which the soul perceives, it perceives not of itself, but by the action of divine grace, just as it remains immortal not of itself, but by grace.

The benefits which the reposed derive from these daily liturgies and commemorations are not in the form of forcing God to mercy or buying off demons, but in the form of spiritual increase. The Church, as a loving mother, desires that all Her children have the best, or at least better. The reposed member of the Church is still a member: the organism of which he was and is a cell has not ceased to function in the fullest, and that functioning (which is certainly soteriological and pertains to the spiritual development of all Her members) involves the whole created universe, which is being redeemed along with man. It certainly involves the reposed in some way. The grave does not form a barrier to the love and life of the Holy Church (and that life is a liturgical life); the co- suffering love of the body of the faithful extends to all alike, and penetrates the grave and "hades." The saints, though glorified already and interceding for us, derive benefit from our commemoration of them, and we pray for them and for all for the sake of their increase, so that, by God's hand, love is made manifest, and they pass from light to light, from joy to joy, from glory to glory, every good and every perfect thing being made more perfect, more radiant by the divine action of godly love, in the which all are bound together and ascend as one body toward the perfection of our high calling in Christ. And what is so marvellous that we ask for the "pardon and remissions of the sins" of our reposed brothers and sisters? Not as though God would not grant it anyway, and not as though they would not be saved even without our prayers, but as demonstrating our oneness and unity of love. And what is so marvellous that the fathers on occasion phrased their charge to us to pray for the departed as if our prayers were the effectual means of the remission of their sins? For God honours love and things done from love, and the gifts of love even from us poor sinners He in no wise rejects or turns away, but in His own perfect love, He causes that our gifts of prayers and alms be received by the souls of the reposed and that they benefit from them. For He does not allow that godly love be offered in vain but as the Author of love, He causes His work to be fulfilled. And in this sense we say that the reposed benefit from our prayers and receive, as it were, pardon and remission of the consequences of sins on account of our prayers. Is this any different from what the sponsor does for a child at baptism? Only in the first instance, the child must accept, in due time, this intent, those vows made in its behalf and complete and fulfil what has been begun on its behalf, but the reposed believer has already accepted this intent before his death, by his very faith in the Holy Church which only helps complete and perfect what he has already begun. Would God deny grace and salvation to the child if there were no sponsor to proclaim the promises and vows? Of course not, and neither would He hinder the soul of the faithful even if no-one so much as breathed a prayer in their behalf. Nor would the demons have the slightest tyranny over the soul just because it had no-one to utter some magical incantations to force them to release it. But what is it, then, to have their "sins pardoned and remitted" by the prayers of the faithful? Is it not that their own conscience is relieved of its burden by the light of our love generated in the serving of the Holy Mysteries for the person? For, they know already that they are "saved" and destined for the Kingdom, but perhaps their conscience is still troubled by the burden of its own self-knowledge. And the conscience is, after all, our only accuser. Nonetheless, this much is clear, that God allows the manifestation of our love and prayers to be received by the souls of the reposed, in order to increase their joy and give them the comfort of the feeling of oneness and companionship common to the Body of Christ, the Holy Church leading us in the struggle of love "till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we be no more... tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind....But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ: from Whom the whole body fitly joined together and united by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, making increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Eph.4:13-16.)

We have seen now, both from the preceding chapters and from the extracts from the works of the fathers given in Appendix One of this work, that, for believers, death is not an object of fear or terror. No-one who has lived a life of active faith need tremble in terror at death. For, "death is a fair haven" (St John Chrysostom), and "no-one should be made sad by death; since in living there is a labour and peril, in dying, peace and the certainty of resurrection" (St Cyprian of Carthage), moreover, "I believe the words of the wise that every fair and God-beloved soul, when it departs hence, at once enjoys a sense and perception of the blessings which await it... and feels a wondrous pleasure and exultation, and goes rejoicing to meet its Lord" (St Gregory the Theologian), and "Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's" (Paul). Our holy and God bearing father Gregory the Theologian "trusts the word of the wise" that the soul departs the body and at once enjoys the noetic awareness of its future blessings, that the souls of the faithful go forth from the body "rejoicing to meet its Lord," feeling "a wondrous exultation." While the Scholastics and Westernizers would have us face death in morbid terror, for they believe, contrary to the great theologian, that the soul goes forth and at once perceives dark and terrifying spectacles, seeing that Christ has failed in His effort to conquer the demons. The Scholastics would cast us into doubt and despair, teaching us that the Theologian was in error, that in fact the soul goes forth not "rejoicing to meet its Lord," but shaking in hideous terror to meet demons, not feeling "a wondrous pleasure and exultation" but feeling a hopeless abandonment, doubting in their salvation, uncertain if God has been able to save them, crushed in hopeless dread to face a legalistic series of demonic tribunals, where demons have the power to obliterate God's promises and snatch away hapless souls from the arms of the Holy Church, if they have forgotten or not been able to fulfil some legal contract, some legislated "works of repentance." How pitiful and despicable does such a doctrine appear beside the words of our apostolic father Dionysios the Areopagite:

."..the divine love overlooking, through its goodness, the stains which have come to them through human infirmity, since no one, as the Scripture says, is free of blemish." [10]

Compare, too, these gruesome, complex and legalistic doctrines about demonic torture chambers, aerial traffic courts and wandering souls needing to be prayed to rest, with the pure, simple and profoundly Christian explanations of the apostles and fathers of the memorial services and prayers offered for the reposed on the third, ninth and fortieth days, and the yearly anniversary of their demise. The holy apostles have commanded us to, "Let the third day of the departed be celebrated with psalms and lessons and prayers, on account of Him Who arose within the space of three days; and let the ninth day be celebrated in remembrance of the living, and of the departed; and the fortieth day according to the ancient pattern: for so did the people lament Moses, and the anniversary day in memory of him. And let alms be given to the poor out of his goods for a memorial of him." [11]

Turning again to that foremost authority on Orthodox liturgical practices, St Symeon of Thessaloniki, we learn:

"[The Kolyva is offered] because man is also a seed and like a fruit from the earth; and like a seed sown in the earth he will be raised up again by God's might....The tritia [third day service] is celebrated for the reason that [the reposed one] received his being through the Trinity and having passed to a state of good being and being changed he shall [at the resurrection] appear in his original state or one superior. The ennata [ninth day] is celebrated that his spirit dwell together with the holy spirits, the angels, being immaterial and naturally similar to them for these spirits - are nine in number and by them [the orders] they triply proclaim and praise the God in Trinity - and so that he may be united with the holy spirits of the saints. The tessaracosta [fortieth ] is celebrated because of the Saviour's ascension - which came to pass after so many days after His Resurrection - in the sense that he [the reposed] as it were, having also risen and having ascended, as it were, being caught away in the clouds, shall meet the Judge and thus being united with Him, he should ever be with the Lord (1Ths.4:17). Now the third, sixth and ninth months also celebrated as proclaiming the Trinity, the God of all, and His glory in behalf of the deceased, for by the Trinity a man is fashioned, and when loosed from the body he returns to Him, and by the Trinity he hopes to receive resurrection. But the end of the year is celebrated because it is the consummation, and our God, the Trinity, is the Life of all and the Cause of being, and shall be the restoration of all and the renewal of human nature." [12]

St Gregory the Theologian explains his own offering of a memorial to Caesarios: "Such is my offering; if it be slight and inferior to his worth, God loves that which is according to our power. Part of our gift is complete, the remainder we will pay by offering (those of us who still survive) every year our honours and memorials. [13]

Thus, we have presented the specific, pure, simple, joyous doctrine of the holy apostles and fathers concerning things done for those who have fallen asleep. We need not even go into detail and offer comparison with the horror- filled Scholastic, Latinized doctrines of aerial purgatories, toll-houses and demonic tribunals. Let everyone compare these dreadful doctrines as they will with the radiant doctrines of the apostles and fathers, and weigh each for self. The choice between the two is not, it seems, difficult to make.

Finally, beloved in Christ, let us recall those words of the Apostle cited earlier, that:

"Because of Him the whole body is joined and firmly held together by the joints and ligaments with which it is supplied, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, grows to full maturity, building itself up in love," ."..holding the Head [Jesus Christ], from Whom all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increases with the increase of God" (Eph.4:13- 16; [14] Col.2:19).

And if we are all thus knit together, it is by the power of divine love, and our prayers and commemorations of those fallen asleep are but the confession and manifestation of the penetration of the faithful by this divine love, a grace-filled response of love to love. This is not of ourselves, but it is the grace of God working in those who accept it, "both to will and to do of His own good pleasure" (Phil.2: 13).

[1] Many of these problems arose during the famous "three hundred year Latin captivity of Russian theology," which is discussed somewhat by Fr Georges Florovsky in his work Ways of Russian Theology.

[2] Homily 3 on Philippians, para.24.

[3] Complete text in Appendix One, The Soul, the Body and Death (Synaxis Press, 1991).

[4] The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, Ch.7. See also, Apostolic Constitutions 8:43

[5] Homily 3 on Philippians, para.24.

[6] P.G.96:33A..

[7] My Life In Christ, Holy Trinity Monastery Press, Jordanville, N.Y., 1967 edn. p.177, 176.

[8] ibid, p.282.

[9] On Things Done for the Departed.

[10] The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, Ch.7. (Complete text in Appendix 1, the Soul, the Body and Death (Synaxis Press, 1991).

[11] The Instructions of the Holy Twelve Apostles, Bk.8, Ch.42.

[12] On Things Done for the Departed.

[13] Panegyric for Caesarios.

[14] This is a more exact translation than the KJV.

More Orthodox Truth from Archbisop Lazar

A refutation of the false "Macarian Homily."
An exposition of the heresies in the false "Macarian Homily."


he following is a critique of a tale which has been attributed to St Macari os of Alexandria. It purports to give an explanation of the Christian tradition of offering memorial services for the departed on the third, ninth and fortieth days after their repose.

Ordinarily, one might consider this fable to be a mere "pious fraud," a pretty little tale with some ethical value, despite its obvious pagan overtones and, therefore, harmless. That is not the case with this fable, however, because it is not "harmless." Not only are the clearly Gnostic and pagan elements of it almost always taken at face value by simple readers and even educated clergy, thus introducing pagan ideas and quite clearly heretical ideas into the minds of the faithful, but the tale keeps people, even seminarians, from reading the actual patristic and apostolic explanations of the third, ninth and fortieth day commemorations for the departed.

The Macarian document contains serious heresies, long ago refuted by the holy fathers of the Orthodox Church. Among these are the following:

  1. The Makarian document teaches the Gnostic/Platonistic doctrine of a radical dualism or dichotomy between soul and body. This is a teaching that has been condemned and written against by more that 15 of the holy and God-bearing fathers.

  2. The Makarian document teaches that souls can wander after death. This is a teaching condemned and written against by St. John Chrysostom, St Andrew of Crete, St Gregory of Nyssa and others.

  3. The Makarian document teaches the heretical notion that hell already exists and that souls can in any way experience hell without their bodies. This heresy is roundly condemned by every holy father who ever wrote against Gnosticism. The condemnation of this grotesque heresy is beautifully summarized by St Mark of Ephesus in his "Ten Arguments Against Purgatory." (See the Point of Faith booklet "On the Nature of Heaven and Hell According to the Holy Fathers"" for a more complete discussion).

  4. The Makarian document teaches that the soul can have psycho-physical experiences once separated from the body. This is a heresy condemned by all the holy fathers from St Justin the Philosopher on, and firmly understood in the Orthodox Church up until the Bogomil heresy infiltrated Orthodox countries, and Latin Scholasticism began to dominate books published for Orthodox countries.

  5. It is sufficient that the Makarian document presents a teaching radically different from that of the Orthodox Church, as expounded so clearly by St. Symeon of Thessaloniki, but also the Makarian teaching is just plain silly. How can a soul be led (as if it has a complete physical body, which it most certainly does not) up to heaven to venerate God Himself, and then be led to hell? By what Holy Scripture, according to the words of which Divine Service, by what words of the holy and God-bearing fathers, or by what twist of distorted reason can one begin to justify such a blasphemy?

Moreover, because of this fictitious document, practically no-one ever reads the actual Orthodox Christian teaching on the subjects it deals with. To the contrary, cluttered, foggy, pagan and Gnostic mythology is being foisted off on Christians, in place of the clear, simple, scriptural truth of the Orthodox reasons for the third, ninth and fortieth day memorial services.

We have arranged this examination of the Macarian document in two columns. On the one side is the Macarian document itself and in the opposite column are relevant teachings of the holy and God-bearing fathers. In this way, a direct comparison may be made. At the end, we will discuss more at length the heretical aspects of the Macarian document. Essentially, the heresies are: (1) the idea that a soul can wander about after it has departed the body; (2) the idea of a radical dualism between soul and body; (3) the idea that souls are already in hell, suffering in the "fire." Another aspect of the fable almost too ridiculous to be considered a heresy is the idea that a person or the soul of a person could stand before the very throne of God, reverence Him in His Heavenly Kingdom, and afterward be led into hell.

Let us look at a side by side cimparrison of the heretical Makarian document with the Orthodox Chrisitan teachings.


According to the fable, St Macarios of Egypt was walking along the road, chatting with some angels which were strolling along with him. No one knew the reason for the memorial services offered by the Church for those who had departed, so he decided to ask the angels about it. One of the angels who was strolling with him replied:

When, on the third day, the body is brought into the church, the soul of the dead person receives from his Guardian Angel some relief from the grief which he feels at parting from his body. He receives this relief because of the oblation and praise which are offered in his behalf in God's temple, from which a blessed hope arises in him. For, over the time of two days, the soul has to wander at random over the world, with the angels accompanying it. Since the soul loves its body, it sometimes hovers about in the house in which it was parted from the body; some times around the coffin in which its body has been placed. Thus it passes those days like a bird which seeks a nest ing place for itself. The good soul, however, wanders through those places where it used to perform good deeds of righteousness.

On the third day, every soul is brought to heaven, that it may do reverence to the God of all. Wherefore, the Church has the blessed custom of offering oblation and prayers on the third day for that soul.

After the soul has done reverence to God, He commands that it be shown the varied and fair mansions of the saints and the beauty of paradise. All these things the soul sees during six days, marvelling and giving glory to God, the Creator of all. When the soul has seen all these things, it is changed and forgets all the sorrows which it felt in the body....

Having thus viewed the joys of the righteous for the space of six days, the angels lead the soul again to do reverence to God. Therefore, the Church does well to celebrate and offer oblation for the soul on the ninth day.

After this second reverencing of God, the Master of all orders that the soul be conducted to Hell, to be shown the places of torment, the different departments of Hell, the various torments of the impious, which causes the souls that are there to groan continually and gnash their teeth. Through these various places of torments, the soul is conducted for thirty days, trembling, lest it be also imprisoned therein.

On the fortieth day, the soul is again taken to do reverence to God; and only then does the Judge determine the fitting place for its imprisonment according to its deeds.

Thus, the Church acts properly in making mention of the baptized dead on the fortieth day.

[Since we are dealing in popular mythologies, one must wonder where the passage through the twenty-one aerial toll-houses fits into this schedule. The angels chatting with St Macarios evidently did not know about them, since the “passage through the toll-houses“ supposedly occupies this entire forty day period.]


Condemnation of All Teachings That the Soul Can Wander After Death:

"Nor, indeed, is it possible for a soul, once separated from its body, to wander here anymore. For, `the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God.'... And the souls, also of sinners, are straightaway led away hence... And it cannot be that a soul, when it has gone out of the body can wander here" (St John Chrysostom, Homily 28 on Matthew.)

The Actual Orthodox Teaching About the Meaning of the Third, Ninth and Fortieth Day Services:

The holy apostles have commanded us to, "Let the third day of the departed be celebrated with psalms and lessons and prayers, on account of Him Who arose within the space of three days; and let the ninth day be celebrated in remembrance of the living, and of the departed; and the fortieth day according to the ancient pattern: for so did the people lament Moses, and the anniversary day in memory of him. And let alms be given to the poor out of his goods for a memorial of him." The Constitutions of the Holy Twelve Apostles, Bk.8, Ch.42.

Turning again to that foremost authority on Orthodox liturgical practices, St Symeon of Thessaloniki, we learn:

"[The Kolyva is offered] because man is also a seed and like a fruit from the earth; and like a seed sown in the earth he will be raised up again by God's migh t.... The tritia [third day service] is celebrated for the reason that [the reposed one] received his being through the Trinity and having passed to a state of good being and being changed he shall [at the resurrection] appear in his original state or one superior. The ennata [ninth day] is celebrated because his spirit [soul] abides together with the holy spirits, the angels, being immaterial and naturally similar to them — for these spirits are [of] nine [orders] in number and by them [the orders] they triply proclaim and praise the God in Trinity — and so that he may be united with the holy spirits of the saints. The tessaracosta [fortieth ] is celebrated because of the Saviour's ascension — which came to pass so many days after His Resurrection. (On Things Done for the Departed.)

Condemnation of the Heresy That There Are Souls Already in Hell and Suffering:

Nothing could more clearly expose the heresy and falseness of this fictitious "Macarian Homily" than the words of our Holy and God-bearing father, Mark of Ephesus, in his Ten Arguments against Purgatory:

“But if, as was said, no-one has entered either the Kingdom or Hell [Gehenna], how is it that we hear concerning the rich man and Lazarus that the former was in fire and torment and spoke with Abraham? The Lord said everything about Lazarus in the manner of a parable, even as He spoke of the ten virgins and in the rest of the parables. The parable of Lazarus has not come to pass in actuality, because the sinners in Gehenna shall not see the righteous who are with Abraham in the Kingdom, nor will any of them know his neighbour, being in that darkness.

“Accepting this opinion our Church thus is minded and preaches, and She is most ready and well prepared to defend it. Firstly, the Lord in the Gospel according to Matthew describes beforehand the judgment to come, saying, `Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit..' — it is evident that they have not yet inherited — `the kingdom prepared for you;' `prepared' He says, not `already given.' But to sinners He says, `Depart ye cursed' — evidently they have not yet departed — into everlasting fire `prepared' not for you but `for the devil and his angels.' Here again He says `prepared,' since [that fire] has not yet received the condemned demons.”

It should be clear to the reader that under no circumstances can one trust the teaching or theology of any person or organisation that offers this fake ""Makarian Homily" as an explanation for the memorial services for the reposed in the Orthodox Church.

More Orthodox Truth from Archbisop Lazar


A patristic explanation of these services.
The Actual Orthodox Teaching About the Meaning of the Third, Ninth and Fortieth Day Services:

Let us look once more at the actual Orthodox Christian teaching about the memorial services for the departed. This is the clear Patristic teaching so despised by those who are addicted to the heretical "Makarian Homily."

The holy apostles have commanded us to, "Let the third day of the departed be celebrated with psalms and lessons and prayers, on account of Him Who arose within the space of three days; and let the ninth day be celebrated in remembrance of the living, and of the departed; and the fortieth day according to the ancient pattern: for so did the people lament Moses, and the anniversary day in memory of him. And let alms be given to the poor out of his goods for a memorial of him." The Constitutions of the Holy Twelve Apostles, Bk.8, Ch.42.

Turning again to that foremost authority on Orthodox liturgical practices, St Symeon of Thessaloniki, we learn:

"[The Kolyva is offered] because man is also a seed and like a fruit from the earth; and like a seed sown in the earth he will be raised up again by God's might....The tritia [third day service] is celebrated for the reason that [the reposed one] received his being through the Trinity and having passed to a state of good being and being changed he shall [at the resurrection] appear in his original state or one superior. The ennata [ninth day] is celebrated because his spirit [soul] abides together with the holy spirits, the angels, being immaterial and naturally similar to them for these spirits __ are [of] nine [orders] in number and by them [the orders] they triply proclaim and praise the God in Trinity __ and so that he may be united with the holy spirits of the saints. The tessaracosta [fortieth ] is celebrated because of the Saviour's ascension __ which came to pass so many days after His Resurrection. (On Things Done for the Departed.)

More Orthodox Truth from Archbisop Lazar


The following is a reply to a letter which was received by the editor of The Canadian Orthodox Missionary. The reply to this letter included the preceding critique of the "Macarian Homily."

As you have seen for yourself, the false Macarian "homily" does indeed differ radically from the actual Orthodox teachings, which few people seem interested to learn. As to where it originated one can only surmise. However, one would probably be accurate to make this scenario: Someone, somewhere, challenged the Orthodox practice of serving memorials for the departed. People did not know how to answer, because they had always taken the practice for granted, and never sought to understand why it was done. To "remedy" this, someone simply created an answer. This is certainly not unusual; this has happened many times in the past, and the fictitious explanation has frequently been given the name of a famous person as its supposed author. In the case of the memorial services, the answer was taken from pagan folklore. It was not at all unusual for someone to invent an "answer" like this and attribute it to someone with more authority, and this was a notable and regular practice of the early Gnostic sects. That is why there were so many false "Gnostic Gospels" and fake "apostolic epistles" around before the Ecumenical Councils sorted them out and determined which ones were false. The story about the wandering soul probably actually did come from Egypt, because the tale comes directly from Egyptian paganism, from the rites of embalming high ranking personages of the old Egyptian kingdom. The embalming process took from forty to seventy days (it took longer in the most ancient era, and closer to forty days in later times, longer for the wealthy and noble, a shorter time for ordinary people). In early Egypt, the period of mourning, which was taken quite seriously, could last for a year or more. Sometime in later Egypt, the official mourning time had been set at forty days. The stages of this mourning process were marked off with special significance for each, relating to the steps of the embalming ritual. In fact, we read in the Bible that Joseph, who was given a high rank in Egypt, and thus had access to the embalming rite of the nobility, had his father embalmed.

"And Joseph commanded his servants, the physicians, to embalm his father, and the physicians embalmed Israel [Jakob]. And forty days were fulfilled for him; for so are fulfilled the days of those who are embalmed" [in Egypt] (Gn. 50:2-3).

We can read about this practice in the history of Herodotos, the "father of history." He records the same information about the embalming process during his visit to Egypt (c.440 B.C.).

In Egyptian mythology, the soul itself could not rest until the body had been properly prepared for burial, thus, the pagans believed that the soul wandered for this time. It is a fact that the embalmed body was often kept in its family home for some time after the rites. There was a belief that the soul haunted the house for some period during this time, and needed to be able to find its body. During that period, according to Egyptian paganism, the soul was judged and weighed before the forty two nome gods (a source, by the way, of the equally pagan "aerial toll-house" myth, which reduces the nome gods to exactly half: twenty one in number, but the "sins" decided at each follows the pagan Egyptian pattern very closely).

It is a fact that official or taboo periods for celebrating, commemorating or fearing the reposed are not at all of Christian origin, rather certain logical periods already used in pre-Christian practice were chosen and “baptised” into Christian practice. For example, in voodoo practice, the ninth day is especially significant, as it has been in pagan practice from very ancient times. If a person has been murdered, their body is often buried with a whip or weapon in each hand so that, on the ninth day, the dead person can revenge itself on the murderer. A solemn, often dark celebration may be kept on that day by voodoo practitioners. We note in the Scripture that the forty days kept for Joseph were not kept because of any Jewish practice or ordinance of God, but because “it was the custom of the Egyptians.” The purely symbolic meanings given to these practices by the apostles and early fathers was intended to give a Christian understanding and transformation to pagan practices, long established. These were incorporated into the clearly prescribed order of serving memorial Liturgies for the departed.

There is an interesting story which was told in Greece for some time, to explain the third, ninth and fortieth day commemorations. At one time, it was popular to believe that the services had to do with the rate at which vital organs decayed. This story actually occurred in a Greek catechism, as the late Dr Alexandre Kalomiros told me. I do not remember the exact details, but it seems that the ideas was that the brain decayed in three days, the vitals in nine days and the heart in forty days. This, too, relates to the embalming rites of ancient Egypt, since great care was taken to preserve the internal organs in canopic jars before decay could set in, and the heart was of special importance in this process.

It is sorrowful that, in an era of relatively well educated clergy, some priests are still foisting off a Gnostic or pagan Egyptian myth about the memorial services, rather than referring to well attested Orthodox Christian writings on the subject. What is more astounding is that they do not recognize the non- Christian quality of the story, or realize that it not only contradicts Orthodox Christian liturgical tradition, but St John Chrysostom has said quite strongly that when a soul departs its body, it is impossible for it to wander here any longer.

I wonder, also, why so many people do not seem to notice that nowhere in the funeral service, nor in the memorial services, is there a single mention of this fantastic wandering of the soul, or of the mythological "aerial toll houses."

More Orthodox Truth from Archbisop Lazar


(This letter was translated from Russian to English at Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordan- ville, N.Y. and forwarded to Fr Puhalo by Archbishop Laurus).

The Apostle Paul teaching his disciple the apostle Timothy, "how one ought to conduct himself in the house of God, which is the Church of the Living God" (1 Tm.3:15), writes to him in the second epistle: "But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour [or, base usage]" (2 Tm.2:20). The Apostle has in mind the people in the Church when he speaks of vessels, but we have the right of employing his thought in a simpler and more literal, yet still a broader sense.

The history of the Orthodox Christian Church, continuing from the Apostles, has now come to the end of its second millennium of existence. Throughout the process of her broad and many sided growth, the Church has diligently preserved only the truths of the faith, the dogma of faith. Upon their foundation the tree of the Church developed in all directions, nourished by the Grace of the Spirit of God. The wealth of its spiritual contents on its own increased, and at the same time its material contents grew, and often the one would give place to the other. Much was acquired simply for preservation; other things have been carried away by the river of time into the realm of the forgotten, and now on certain rare occasions, something may float to the surface, thanks to the efforts and searches of special investigators and researchers. The Church herself regards everything conservatively and patiently (indulgently), and it has no persons who are assigned to the task of separating the valuable from that which is not so valuable. It has been forced only at certain times to uproot tares from the field of wheat, both in the spiritual and in the material sense. From such a conservative attitude, the Church does not suffer any harm. It happens sometimes that something which seems of little value later turns out to be both beneficial and important. The Church, as it were, says, those losses suffered as a result of the persecutions of the Church and of Christianity, wars and the destruction of elements of nature are sufficient. If we are to speak of literature (written works), the Church rejects only that which is an evilly intended forgery or a heretical concoction.

Let us speak a bit concerning genuine Church literature. All the various forms of literature are not of the same value; among them there is a graduation of value passing from sanctity all the way to simple usefulness.

Here, approximately, are these graduations:

  1. The four Gospels which are kept in the Sanctuary on the Holy Table.
  2. The Epistles and Paromea (Old Testament Prophecies).
  3. The Liturgicons and main divine service books.

    The above are the legacy of the temple.

  4. Patristic literature.
  5. Lives of saints.

    These latter, while they may be read in Church, are primarily for private reading.

  6. Theological science, academic theology and various theological literature.
  7. Ecclesiastical and historical sciences, practical textbooks and reference manuals.
  8. Pious accounts, edifying parables. These are simply morally inspiring readings in an easy form that is accessible to all.

We ask to be excused for such a lengthy introduction. Let us now pass on to the question concerning prayer for the dead in the article in question [i.e., an article in Orthodox Life which prompted our letter and the writing of this present book].

One must agree with the author of the letter [Fr Puhalo]. The article has essential weaknesses.

We are talking about the Church's commemoration of the dead. Part of the material in the article is concerned with the teaching of the Church, dogmatic theology; but another part with pious accounts and, finally, with Church and popular customs. In the [Orthodox Life] article there is no distinction made concerning the dignity of the material presented and thus matters which do not concern the dogma of the Church are dogmatized. Let us point out what we have in view:

We find an appropriate example of this in the footnotes of the author. There is no need to discuss the prayerful or liturgical meaning of "kolyva", as an offering for the dead. For it is simply an expressing of the desire to treat those who participated in the prayers for the dead, thank them for their love, as the Apostle says: "all is good and there is nothing worthy of condemnation that is done with the word of God in prayer." Even more so, there is no use in explaining the "meaning" of the wheat in the kolyva or what the honey and sugar in it "mean" or "symbolize".

In accordance with ancient views, it is accepted to offer special prayers on the third and fortieth days; these days, these very numbers in the Scripture, in general, represent something sacred. But the Church does not teach that commemoration on these days, as on the ninth day, is "indispensable". "Man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath for man." The days are not the important point.

In such points of the article as the quantity of commemorations, of their ritual forms (candles, prosphora), the skeptical reader could even read in the material interests of the clergy or the parish church; people are given to such criticism.

"The Church established" we read [in the Orthodox Life article], but in fact only one thing is necessary and required for the believer. Other things are offered and regulated by the Church for good order and benefit. A third category is permitted as a good intention or custom which has arisen among the people of the Church and these are given their proper forms for the Church.

In connection with this, there arises a question which the author of the letter does not himself pose, but which is essential.

Do the dead need prayers from us? Can the sins of a man be removed by the prayers of other men? The answer is simple. We know that the Church is, in all its depth, a "bond of love", where there is One for all — Christ. Therefore in His Body, the Church, one must pray for all and all for each. This idea is expressed in our services, especially in the prayers of the priest. We pray for those close to us as a duty of love regardless of whether our brother or sister needs our prayers or even wants them.

Much regarding prayers for the dead can appear illogical. We note that the more devout a person was, the more prayers are offered for his repose. The Church is, as it were, indifferent to great sinners and apostates. Why is this? And in general, do the dead need our prayers? God Himself is merciful and loves mankind, and would He not forgive the dead person without our praying for him? The answer is given in the Gospel and the Epistles of the Apostles. In them there are given three axioms of Christianity: death does not exist; pray for one another; love never fails (Rm.14; Js.5; 1 Cor.13).

Let us now go on to the material in the article [in Orthodox Life] which specifically called forth the concern of the author of the letter [Fr Puhalo]. We think it possible that this concern expresses also the concern of others. We allow the thought that our Eastern, traditional Church in the sphere of religious psychology is not so strict in the demand for being logical as the Western, which is brought up in a more rationalistic direction; however, allow us to state our understanding of the matter.

from ancient times have loved to read anthologies of brief, easy stories from the lives of the ascetics, the desert fathers, concerning their journeys, their struggles, their meetings with one another, their conversations, their relation to the desert around them, and to the humble and at the same time miraculous revelations in their lives and acts. Up to the most recent times, such anthologies have been popular, such as "The Spiritual Meadow," and the "Lausiac History". These little stories often contain in their naive simplicity much that is allegorical and moral instruction. They are not historical material, and therefore it is not so important as to who is named in the account or whom specifically it concerns.

For example, the account of the conversation of St Macarios with the skull he found. This conversation attracts attention because of its originality. The skull says that it was formerly that of a pagan priest. But what is its meaning? In the way of life of the person whose brain once worked in the skull? Hardly. "Macarios listened and placed the skull on the earth and buried it." Did Macarios not think to pray for the man? To make the sign of the cross over him? Or to sympathize with him? Why? Because this is hopeless. And this would even have been sinful. But he does not throw his discovery on the ground, but buries it; in this way he expresses his respect for the man. And this is edifying. But what about the conversation? It is an allegory, a parable. But it also might be the spiritual insight of a holy person. Do the Holy Scriptures not offer us examples of such spiritual insight?

A separate question, and perhaps even a protest was evoked from the author of the letter [Fr Puhalo] by the account of the dream of Theodora concerning the toll houses, in the life of Basil the New. What is this dream needed for, when it introduces into the heavenly sphere concepts and actions which are purely earthly — the image of toll houses or customs stations in heaven, images or arguments for the soul between angels and demons? Let us reply that all this is expressed in a dream, the dream of the disciple of Basil the New, and it is given as an account of what the disciple saw in this dream. Our dreams are also in the form of tangible and earthly images. And at the same time our dreams can be allegorical. They can express our emotional state, our imagination, and often our illness both of body and soul, dressing them in the form of living beings.

In this instance the dream is recounted just as it was. We might allow that the narrator of the life of Basil the New put it into a certain order, put the sins of people into a certain scheme, as this is generally accepted among ascetic writers. But regardless, it is thanks to this full scheme of the falls and weaknesses of men that the account attracted such attention and became so popular among persons seeking moral perfection. But of course this dream is allegorical and is made up of a series of symbols. We are earthly, and we cannot speak of heavenly things with any other language than our earthly tongue; we do not know the tongues of angels. In the Psalms we address the Ruler of All: "Incline Thine ear; stretch forth Thy right hand; draw out Thy sword; chastise and defend with Thy high arm."

The Metropolitan of Moscow, Makary, reminds us that we should understand such accounts in as lofty (spiritual) a manner as possible. We can only accept his advice.

Let us take this earthly side of the symbolism into the spiritual understanding. Theodora is the soul of man; the angels — its virtues; the demons — its sins. Both are in the soul of a man and perhaps after death are found, as it were, on the scales of a balance. Is this image inconsistent with our religious concepts? Talking about the "balance" we imitate the symbolism contained in our hymns: "Thy Cross is found as the measure between two thieves; for the one was brought down to hades by the weight of blasphemy, but the other was lightened of his sins unto the knowledge of theology: O Christ God, glory to Thee" (Troparion of the 9th Hour).

More Orthodox Truth from Archbisop Lazar


Since, as Metropolitan Makary of Moscow says, the "toll house" myth in the Bogomil "Tale of Basil the New" must be understood only as an allegory for our virtues, our vices and our own conscience (soul), one must ask: instead of confusing the souls of the faithful with this grotesque tale, so full of heretical teachings, why not just tell them the truth.

As St. Cyril of Jerusalem so plainly says,15 it is our own conscience which judges us, as an infallible judge. There are no demons, no toll houses, not bartering angels. All this is a useless and highly unsatisfactory allegory. The truth is clear, completely Orthodox and in accord with the holy fathers, so why do the fanatical "toll house" addicts and those who offer the "Makarian Homily," refusing to even consider the teaching of the holy fathers, insist on spreading heresy instead of the clear, simple truth? Simply because many people have a neurotic need for the bizarre and "spooky," for a religion of terror and fear; and it really is a neurosis.

[15]Catechetical Lecture 18:14-15.


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