Life after Death | Orthodox | 19

The right way to pray for the departed

If it was impossible there to change the spiritual condition of the soul, then why is it a must for a Church to pray for the departed from the beginning?

The Church constantly remembers them and calls upon every believer to pray, teaching them how to do it correctly.

Especially important is the prayer help to a soul during the first 40 days after a man’s passing away, which of course, does not mean at all that at the subsequent time a prayer is not needed or it is not useful.

What kind of prayer should it be?

Answering this question, it must be mentioned about 2 absolutely different understandings of a prayer.

One – is a sincere, heartfelt, repentance prayer, committed both individually and combined with prescribed Divine Service.

The other thing is the pronouncing the words of a prayer without praying.

To a great regret, the second as a rule, prevails in our real life.
This occurs due to ignorance, to laziness, to self-justification.

They often call a prayer not the appeal to God – with attention, reverence and contrition of heart – but a presence at the Church service, which is performed by a priest, reading and singing of the words of a prayer – without praying, as a result the liturgy forms themselves remain empty, inactive words for a person.

It is very important to remember that we deceive ourselves when we are satisfied with a wording, an enveloping shell only, not forcing ourselves for a prayer proper.

Everybody knows that we might as well be present in the Church, without praying, listen to a choir, dream a bit, commit a sin in our mind and with this full bow of second thoughts we return home.

We recall, for instance, how Ivan the Terrible asked the blessed Basil one day, whether there were many people in the Church.

The blessed Basil answered: “two”, despite the Church was full of people present there.

It turned out that only two persons kept praying, all the rest were only present.

This attitude towards a prayer was condemned by the Lord:

These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain, their teachings are but rules taught by men
”. (Matthew,15, 8).

So, when a man dies, his relatives very often limit their activity to external side of remembrance:

they order commemorative prayers at church, forty-days prayers, they hand in intercession lists for the repose, they put candles, send money to monasteries, to churches and etc.

And if there is a lot of money – to all monasteries and churches, to all priests and female staff present in the church!

And if I myself don’t stir a finger to refrain from anger, malignant gossip, censure, gluttony and etc., if I don’t force myself for a confession and communion, for a reading of the Holy Scripture and Saint Fathers’ writings, for an aid for those who are in need, to sick people, no good would come out of this.

We would like to fish out of a pond without an effort – no pains, no gains, - without a slightest exploit of our battle against an Old Testament man we hope to repair the old style of living of another person.

And this we call the remembrance of the departed, prayer for him!
Somewhere somebody instead of myself must pray for the dead.

But do they pray or just remember?

St. Theophan answers this question very openly and with regret:

If no one (out of relatives) takes breath from the bottom of one’s heart, the Prayer will be chattered, but there will be no praying for the sick.

The same thing with liturgy… It does not occur to those serving the Prayer to grieve before God about those who are remembered at the Prayer… And aren’t you able to grieve about everyone?”

That is a typical paganism to make anything external without a slightest attention to your own soul.., without a prayer.

And what does the Scripture say:

Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them (although the law required them to be made)” (Hebrews, 10, 8).

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise
”. (Psalm 50 (51), 16,17).

That means God accepts our sacrifices, gifts, remembrances when our soul and heart are broken and contrite and humbled, otherwise He is not pleased:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!
You give a tenth of spices – mint, dill and cumin.

But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.

You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former”. (Matthew, 23, 23).

Do you see with what threat God warns:

Woe to you, hypocrites” if you limit your activities with “a tenth”, that means with external deeds only, the rest you neglect, that means you are not engaged in purification of your soul.

All the external is good in case only when you don’t forget about what is important.

What is it – that, by what we can help the departed?

God answers:

Judgment - reasonable, sober-minded, as per the Gospel, attitude to, above all, to your spiritual life;

Grace – generosity towards to sinful, mercy for those who are in need, forgiveness for those who offend;

Belief – personal righteous life, personal repentance, personal prayer.

An outstanding question of greatest significance:

How to help the departed, how to pray for him?

By the way, Protestants rejected prayers for the dead.

The Orthodox Church from the outset asserts the need of such a prayer,

states that the state of the soul, happened to be grasped by demons bonds of passions after death, can be changed.

Whom does the Church call upon to pray for? For the Saint? No, for sinful, whom as it turns out, our prayers can help to get rid of a passionate demon-torture.

How? God has directly answered to it to His pupils who were unable to oust a demon:

But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting”. (Matthew, 17, 21).

By saying this, He opened a great truth to us, a sacred mystery:

Freeing a man from the slavery of passions and demons requires not only a prayer but fasting, by which it is meant – the abstention from your insatiable passionate lust (carnality) of the soul and body at least lowering them down to a minimum.

St. Isaac of Syria wrote:

Any prayer, in which a body didn’t labour and a heart didn’t grieve, is regarded as the same prematurely born foetus (child) of the belly, because such a prayer has no soul in it”.

But such a fasting occurs utterly seldom – there are few people who practice this.

That is why the gift of ousting demons was given by God to very rare ascetics, but not to any priest.

The ordination does not give either a gift of performing miracles or moreover any power over demons.

Even the apostles in their attempt to cast out a demon by pronouncing a prayer only, failed, as we see it from the Gospel.

The same thing, if not the worst, happens with the present-day exorcists (clergymen, who allege, that by reading out special prayers they clear off a person from demons),

who took up the courage upon themselves to be engaged in such a terrible thing, portraying miracle-makers out of themselves, not having won their passions and not having obtained a gift of the Holy Spirit from God to cast out demons!

Isn’t a very simple truth clear, that only he who has achieved a state of impassivity,- it means who has cast out demons from himself, - is capable to enter an open fight with the spirits of darkness without making any harm for a possessed by demons and for himself?

Venerable John Cassian of Rome (V c.) exposes angrily these unreasonable exorcists:

And he, who wishes to rule over unclean spirits or miraculously give health to the sick or to show a certain amazing sign before people’s eyes,

though he calls upon the name of Christ, but in fact he happens to be alien to Christ, because being arrogant with pride he does not follow the Teacher in His humility…

That is why our Fathers never called those monks kind and free from the infection of vanity, who wanted to have a reputation of exorcists”.

Also he said:

No one must be glorified for the gifts and wonders of God…

For quite often people corrupted in their brains and who are opponents of belief, cast out demons and commit great wonders by using the name of God”.

In the “Acts” of the apostles it is said, by way of providence, about those exorcists, who at those times and now impudently reckoned on ousting demons by force of words of prayers and the name of Jesus ( as in magic):

The evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know and Paul I know about, but who are you?”

Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all.
He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.

When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear”. (Acts, 19, 15-17).

This is the most serious warning to all present-day priests, engaged in the attempts to cast out demons by reading prayers, as contrary to the teaching of Saint Fathers and a thousand-years long tradition of the Russian Church

and a sad example of how you may distort a prayer, using its wording and external forms only, ignoring the important conditions of its accomplishment.

But let’s return to the prayer for the dead:

Here is a striking example which is being described in the ancient life record of St. Gregory Dialogos, a pope of Rome (who lived in VI c., before the schism [break away] of the Western church):

He prayed for none other but for the emperor Trajan (+117), one of the most cruel, through his ignorance, persecutor of Christians, and at the same time the best ruler in the Roman Empire minding his justice and concern for the poor.

St. Gregory, touched by one of his deeds (Trajan defended a poor window, who was in desperate situation), started vigorously with a certain exploit praying for him.

As a result it was revealed to him that his prayer was accepted.

How could it be understood?
For, Trajan was not only baptized but he was a persecutor of Christians.

But what do we hear:

Let no one be surprised, when we say that he (Trajan) was baptized, for without being baptized nobody will see God, but the third kind of baptism is the christening by tears”.

By whose tears?! – Of St. Gregory.

Here is what power of prayer could be, which is linked with fasting!

“Though it is a rare case, - explains hieromonk Seraphim Rose, - it gives hope to those whose relatives died not believing”.

By the way, St. Mark of Ephesus (XV c.), a fighter with Catholics for the Orthodoxy, referred to the example with Trojan, as to the fact which arises no doubts:

Some of the saints, who prayed not only for the faithful but for the impious, were heard and by force of their prayers delivered the latter from eternal suffering... “