Protopresbyter Georgios Dorbarakis
Even though every Saturday is dedicated to the holy martyrs and the departed faithful of the Church, it’s well known that there are two particular Saturdays of the soul: one on the eve of the Sunday of Meat-fare and the other on the eve of holy Pentecost. This is why, on those two days we read in the synaxari: ‘On the same day, the most godly Fathers instituted the commemoration of all the devout departed throughout the centuries in the hope of the resurrection of eternal life’.
For the Church, the departed aren’t a part of the world which ‘has finished and gone’. Many people, because they’ve written God and Christ out of their lives, think that their existence has been enclosed within the stifling framework of this world. The departed constitute an organic part of the Church, that is, a part of the body of Christ, because death isn’t the portal which leads to oblivion, but the gateway which leads directly to the embrace of Christ. Just as we, the faithful, live in this embrace in this world, it’s even more true at the moment of our death and thereafter. Saint Paul tells us this directly, based, of course, on the resurrection of Lord Jesus Christ himself: ‘whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord’.
And it’s obvious: as Almighty, as Creator, as Dispenser and as Ruler of the whole world, as ‘he from whom and through whom and in whom all things were made’, the Lord gives us the opportunity to live here in this world, in soul and body, but also after death, as souls. And then even more so after his Second Coming, when he will resurrect our bodies and reunite them with our souls so that we’ll live, complete, in his presence, either positively (in Paradise) or, unfortunately, negatively (in Hell). In other words, that life exists and is real is due to its source, which is God himself: ‘I am he who is’; ‘For with you is the source of light’; ‘I am the way, truth and life’. The Lord is the God of the living and the departed.
So these departed, especially those who have fallen asleep in the faith, are the people we remember on Saturdays, especially the Saturdays of the Souls, like today, with the aim, on the one hand of praying for their repose in Christ because, as people, they may not have completed their repentance; and, on the other, to request that those who find themselves in the next world may deepen our repentance so that, bordering on death, we may realize that real life is that which is of an eternal nature, not that which simply fuels our passions, particularly our egotism and its offshoots. That we may direct our hearts and thoughts to the Lord’s command: ‘First seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these [the necessities of life] will be added to you’.
And we should emphasize that both of these things- prayer for the departed and the call to true repentance- aren’t merely additional situations in the sense that we can do one of them; but rather they’re a way of doing both. This is because the one is a requirement for the other. Repentance means a change of mind, a change in the position I take towards things, a change of life, a return to God, abiding in his holy will and love. According to my analogy of repentance, this also means that I love God and other people properly. Other people being everyone, wherever they are on earth and however far away in time. Let’s not forget that, according to our faith, Christians are ‘imitators of Christ’, created in his image and that Christ’s perspective envelopes the whole of humankind, in whatever place and time. This means that all penitent Christians regard other people, no matter the place or time they’re in, as included in their own existence as an organic part of themselves. So prayer for the departed isn’t merely a state of intercession but a given reality in our consciousness, a duty without which we’re failing in our faith: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.
So, with the bourne of death in mind, the Church calls us to repentance, to the vastness of its experience in Christ, to real life lived on the basis of God’s commandments. Because, alas, it’s all too easy in this world in which we find ourselves, to stray from the path of Christ and become attached to our passions, captivated by the pleasure of the carnality of the world. There’s one hymn- among many- that very aptly presents this casting off of the deception of the senses and the opening of our eyes to the true reality of God.
All of you who are devoted to this life, come and stoop among the tombs in amazement. Where now is the beauty of the body and the glory of riches? Where is the arrogance of life? Indeed, all is in vain. Therefore let us cry aloud to the Savior: ‘Through your great mercy, give rest to those you have taken from transient things’. [Lauds, Matins for the Saturday before Pentecost, canticle 2].
This has to do with all of us who aren’t on the normal level of true children: we should be devoted to the Lord because of our love for him. Often, perhaps continuously, attached to the concerns of life, captivated by our passions, we forget the thing most essential for our salvation: eternal life as a living relationship with God. And then comes our contact with the graves, because of the day, which reminds us that everything we do and pursue in this life, unless it’s blessed by Christ, is pointless: beauty, wealth, positions and offices. How we need to remember the words of Scripture, from as far back as the Old Testament: ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’. And ‘Remember your last days and you will never sin’. If love for God doesn’t move us, at least let fear of death do so. It might not be the best we can do, but it could still prove enough to save us.