February 18, 2023

Homily on the Commemoration of the Dead (St. Luke of Simferopol)

 By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on April 11, 1948 - 4th Sunday of Great Lent)

Much to my chagrin, some of you go to the gatherings of sectarians and there become infected with their false teachings.

Some also became infected with the false teaching that one should not pray for the dead, one should not make offerings for their repose. But you know that every Saturday during Great Lent, the dead are commemorated. Therefore, you must establish yourself in the Orthodox teaching about the commemoration of the dead, you must not believe what you hear from the renegades of the Church.

What does the Holy Church teach? We have authentic and ancient testimonies that the holy apostles already performed commemorations of the dead and prayed for them. There are evidences in the works of the Teachers and Fathers of the Church that have come down to us that already in ancient times, in the very first centuries of Christianity, they prayed for the dead and commemorated them.

The first liturgy that we know is the so-called Liturgy of Saint James, the brother of the Lord. And look what prayer for the departed is contained in this liturgy: “Lord, God of spirits and all flesh, remember the Orthodox, whom we commemorated and whom we did not commemorate, from the righteous Abel until this day. Grant them rest in the land of the living, in Your Kingdom, in the sweetness of paradise, in the bosom of our father Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, where sickness, sadness and sorrow have fled, where the light of Your Face dwells and hope illuminates."

See how similar this ancient prayer is to the one you hear at every liturgy: "God of spirits and all flesh..." We find the same words here. You see, therefore, that the ecclesiastical custom of commemoration of the dead dates back to the time of the apostles, that at all times in the history of the Church the commemoration of the dead has been performed.

Tell me who should be listened to more: renegades from the Church, sectarians, or Saint John Chrysostom? Now listen to Saint John: “It is not in vain that the apostles instituted before the Awesome Mysteries a commemoration of the departed; they knew that it would be of great benefit to the departed, a great beneficence. Offerings for the dead are not in vain, prayers are not in vain, almsgiving is not in vain, all this was established by the Holy Spirit, desiring that we receive benefit through each other."

Remember, remember these words, believe that the commemoration of the dead was established by the apostles themselves and, as Saint John Chrysostom added, even by the Holy Spirit Himself.

And not only in modern times, but also in the Old Testament, prayers were made for the dead, offerings were made for them. Here are the words of the holy prophet Baruch: “O Lord Almighty, thou God of Israel, hear now the prayers of the dead Israelites, and of their children, which have sinned before thee” (Bar. 3:4). The prophet, as you see, speaks about the prayers of the dead themselves, and this is extremely important for us, as you will see from my further discourse. And if he asks to hear the prayers of the departed themselves, doesn’t it mean that we should support the power of their prayers with our prayers for them?

There is a certain assertion in Holy Scripture that the sacrifice for the dead was performed hundreds of years before the birth of Christ.

You do not know, unfortunately, the great history of the partisan wars that the brothers Maccabees started, and the first of them Judas, against King Antiochus Epiphanes, who set himself the goal of destroying the faith of the Jewish people, converting all of them to paganism. This story is amazing: their courage is amazing, God's help to their cause is amazing. The Lord always protected them in battle. One day, several people fell in battle. Judas was very grieved: “Why, Lord, have You abandoned us?” But when they examined the corpses of those killed, they found things stolen from those against whom they fought. Deeply grieved, everyone turned to prayer, asking that the sin committed by the fallen soldiers be completely blotted out. And the valiant Judas, having made a collection of up to 2000 drachmas of silver, sent it to Jerusalem to bring back a propitiatory sacrifice for sin, so that they would be freed from sin (2 Macc. 12:32–45). Is this not clear evidence that in the Old Testament not only prayers were made, but also offerings for dead sinners?

What are the doubts of those who listen to the sectarians, who listen to the Lutherans based on? They are based on the fact that, as sectarians - Baptists, Evangelicals - point out, there are no direct indications in Holy Scripture for prayers for the dead, but does this mean that these prayers are useless and not even pleasing to God?

It doesn't mean this at all, for the holy apostle James in his universal epistle commands us to pray for one another (James 5:16). This does not mean that we should pray only for those who are alive, who are near us, for you know that "God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living" (Mark 12:27). For He Himself testified that all are alive before God.

If a person dies, this does not mean that his soul ceases to exist: the body is destroyed, but the soul is immortal; she is alive, although she does not live with us, she lives a different life, just as the saints live a different life, to whom the Lutherans and sectarians do not want to render any honor and do not address prayers for them. Isn't this disbelief in the immortality of the soul?

For if they believed that all are alive before God, that “God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living,” then they would not say that it is not necessary to commemorate the dead, then they would understand that the commandment of the Apostle James must also be understood in the sense that we should also pray for those who already live in another world.

To deny the immortality of the soul means to deny Christianity itself, for the teaching of Christ is the teaching of eternal life. Is eternal life possible if there is no immortality? Denying immortality means ignoring the direct and clear words of the Lord Jesus, spoken in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, which depicts the afterlife of both the rich man and the poor Lazarus (Luke 16:20–31).

Well, if some do not recognize immortality, like the materialists, we need to affirm ourselves in the thought that there is hope for those brethren who have departed from us.

You often, every Saturday, hear at the Liturgy the words of the holy Apostle Paul: “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–17).

“Those who sleep in Jesus,” that is, those who have died with faith in Christ, God will bring with Him to where He Himself is. Tell me, are there really few among us, do not sinful people make up the vast majority, people who have not yet had time to wash their sinful deeds with tears of repentance? Such are the majority, and the Apostle Paul says not to grieve, for God can bring them with Him for their faith in Jesus. And that in the future life, in the afterlife until the Last Judgment, the sins of those who did not have time to bring forth worthy fruits of repentance can be forgiven, do we not find direct evidence in the words of Christ: “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven people; if anyone speaks a word against the Son of Man, he will be forgiven; but if anyone speaks against the Holy Spirit, he will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the future” (Matt. 12:31–32).

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven by God either in this age or in the future, and if so, if in the next century it is possible in the afterlife to forgive lesser sins than blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, then we must believe that the fate of our dead, even having a lot of uncleanness, a lot of sins, can be alleviated, for God is merciful, and everyone is loved by God. The same thought is contained in other words of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and then are unable to do anything more; but I will tell you whom to fear: fear the one who, after killing, can cast into hell: yes, I tell you, fear him” (Luke 12:4-5).

Christ did not say that one should be afraid of the one who, after death, plunges into hell, but said “who can cast into hell” - he can cast into hell, he can also have mercy.

Luther and the sectarians base their negative attitude towards pardoning the dead on those words of Holy Scripture, which seem to say that everyone receives unconditionally according to his merits. “We must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, so that each one may receive according to what he did while living in the body, good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). They say that it is directly stated here that each one will receive what he deserves; why, then, pray, when it is according to merit.

This is not at all about the judgment that will be pronounced at the Last Judgment: it is said about the preliminary judgment that is performed on each dead person after his death and can be very different from the Last Judgment.

The Lutherans say, the sectarians say even what the ancient heretics said, they say with their words: "If it were true that prayer improves the lot of the dead, then everyone would be saved." What evil words, as if it is not pleasing for everyone to be be saved!

And God is pleased wth this. The Lord does not want any of the people to perish. God wants everyone to be saved; and if it is possible to improve the fate of our dead loved ones by making offerings for them, will this not be joyful for God, and for us, and for the angels of God? Only the enemy of the human race does not want the salvation of people, but God wants to save everyone.

And those who reject the need for prayers for the dead are unpleasant; as if they don't want everyone to be saved. They are based on the words: "In hades who will confess to you" (Ps. 6:6).

They say that this is a definite indication of the Psalmist that it is no longer possible to confess in hades. Yes, it is really impossible to confess in the sense in which it is possible during life, for what is true confession, washing away our sins?

This is the kind of confession that, following the oral confession before the priest of sins, makes it an obligatory task to correct one's path, to leave the sinful path, not to repeat the sin that one has repented of. Such a confession is impossible for the dead, because everything is over: life can no longer be changed, because there is no more life.

Our unfortunate brethren, who died in sins and appeared before God at the preliminary judgment, suffer, grieve and regret that they did not bring forth worthy fruits of repentance during their lifetime. Of course, they can send their sighs, their sorrow, their repentance to God.

So let us help them with our prayers for them, for prayer for them expresses our love for them, and love is an all-powerful, irresistible force. Love is from God, love never ceases, and every gift of love, and every prayer of love for our dead, and every loving offering for them are pleasing to God, just as all manifestations of love are pleasing.

Therefore, we must continue to pray constantly for our dead. For everyone? No, not all of them. The Holy Church points out that there are sinners for whom it is impossible, it is not necessary to pray: these are those who died in bitterness against God, against Christ, who died in unbelief, who committed grave sins. Saint John the Theologian writes about them: “ If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that” (1 John 5:16).

Whoever has committed sins unto death or those sins that will not be forgiven either in this life or in the next - who blasphemed God, rejected His existence, trampled on His law - the afterlife cannot be alleviated.

There is still a very real means to alleviate the fate of the dead. The Holy Church from ancient times attaches great importance to all works of mercy that are done in memory of the departed. And the Church attaches the greatest importance to the commemoration of the dead during the celebration of the liturgy, when particles of prosphora are taken out at the proskomedi for the dead, and at the end of the liturgy they are lowered into the cup with the Blood of Christ, and the priest says: “Wash away, Lord, by Your Holy Blood, the sins of Your servants here remembered through the intercessions of the Theotokos and all Your saints. Amen." So is the blood of Christ powerless? Is it not possible to wash away the sins of those whom we commemorate?

Remember these most important means, remember that the prayer for the repose of the souls of your dead is enormous, remember that you must do good deeds, deeds of mercy, deeds of love in their memory.

There are many such deeds before each of you, you see for yourself, you will find it yourself, and I will point out to you one deed by which you can alleviate the fate of your dead. You heard the call of the rector to show Christian love to those unfortunate little ones who are abandoned by everyone. You know how many orphans are left from parents killed in the war. You know that our government arranges orphanages and children's homes for them, but there are so many orphans that they don’t have time to accommodate everyone in time, there are still many children that you will meet along the streets and train stations.

Those who are placed in orphanages live in poverty, without maternal love and affection. Today I was very touched to hear that the good women had gathered and went to visit them. Small children rushed to meet them with a cry: “Mothers, mothers have come!” So it is necessary that among you, Christian women, there are such mothers.

It is necessary that kind people be found who would take care of those unfortunate children who have not yet been accepted into orphanages, and even, perhaps, adopt them.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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