On the Commemoration of the Dead

How can we help our loved ones who have departed this life? Hieromonk Job (Gumerov) talks about the commemoration of the dead.


According to Orthodox teaching, through the prayers of the Church the dead can receive relief or freedom from their punishments beyond the grave. “Anyone who wishes to show his love for those who have died and give them real help can do this in the best way by praying for them, and especially by commemoration at the Liturgy, when a particle removed [from the prosphora, or communion bread] for the living and the dead is immersed in the Blood of the Lord with the words, ‘O Lord, take away the sins of those whom we commemorate here by Thy precious Blood, through the prayers of Thy saints’” (St. John [Maximovich], Life afer Death.)

In keeping with this the Church has established special services:

  1. Prayers commemorating the dead at Divine Liturgy (at the proskomedia, after the sanctification of the Holy Gifts, and at the litany for the dead).

  2. Pannikhidas and litias

  3. Reading of the Psalter

In order of significance, the commemoration at the proskomedia and after the sanctification of the Holy Gifts stands above the rest. The outstanding expert in Church service rubrics St. Athanasius (Sakharov) writes, “The commemoration of the living and the reposed at the proskomedia and after the sanctification of the Gifts, albeit unspoken, for its significance, power, and effectiveness cannot be compared with any other commemoration prayers—prayers for the living, Pannikhidas, or any other pious labors in memory of the living or the dead. It cannot be compared with spoken commemoration at the same Liturgy at the great and augmented litanies (which are allowed in some places) and at the special litanies for the reposed” (On the commemoration of the dead according to the rubrics of the Orthodox Church).

At every proskomedia, one of the prosphora used in the service (the fifth, in the Russian practice) is offered particularly for the dead. It is necessary to regularly give lists of names at the proskomedia. We can also order daily commemorations at the Liturgy for forty days, a half-year, or a year.

The Church has established special commemorative Saturdays, which have been named ancestor Saturdays: Before Meatfare Sunday (that is, before the fast-free Cheesefare week), before the feast of the Holy Trinity (Pentecost), before the day of St. Demetrios of Thessalonica, and on the second, third, and fourth Saturdays of Great Lent. Every Orthodox Christian should strive to fulfill his duty before his parents and other departed relatives and submit lists of names at the Liturgy and Pannikhida served on these days. “Pannikhida” (Greek: pan—“all” and nikh—“night”) literally means “all night service”. This name is given to the prayer service for the reposed because its composition resembles a part of the All-Night Vigil service, and also because in the early days of the Church, during the time of persecutions, it was served at night, like the All-Night Vigil. Any [Orthodox] person can order a Pannikhida for his departed relatives. This is most often ordered on days that are special for the reposed persons (their name days or anniversary of their day of death).

Sometimes people want to know why we [at Sretenky Monastery] ask not to submit long lists. This is only because the serving priest’s possibilities are very limited. He has to commemorate hundreds and hundreds (on feast days over a thousand) names at the proskomedia, which lasts only 30–40 minutes. During this time he must also commemorate those names written in the church’s synodic (commemoration books for the living and the dead). If he were to commemorate them all at the litany, it would take up a third of the Liturgy, which would disrupt the good order of the service. Those who wish to commemorate their relatives can do so themselves during the time that the priest is serving the proskomedia by reading their own commemoration books. The brother of St. Nikon (Belyaev), John, when he was a novice with St. Barsanuphius, recalled that in the Optina Skete of St. John the Forerunner there were huge commemoration books in which were entered the names of benefactor and their families for many decades. Strictly according to the rule, in the altar there would be only the serving priest, a hierodeacon, and a sexton. The elders blessed all the brothers to read the commemoration books not in the altar but in the church, while the proskomedia was being served. He writes that earlier he would submit lists of names, but later he also began reading them during the proskomedia. So also can any person in church read commemoration lists that were not submitted due to the large number of names. We have to believe that the merciful Lord, Who sees our circumstances, will accept this prayerful request for the living and the dead. We can also read our prayer books while the priest or deacon is pronouncing the litany for the living and the dead.

From deep antiquity there has also been the tradition of commemorating at home. Those who want to fulfill their duty before their reposed relatives can regularly read the Psalter. Some read a kathisma every day, others with a specific regularity. The commemoration of the living and the dead is also a part of the Morning Prayer rule.

Close relatives of the reposed (especially children and grandchildren, i.e, immediate family) have the great opportunity to help their departed ancestors—to manifest fruits of spiritual life (to live in the prayerful experience of the Church, participate in the holy Sacraments, to live according to Christ’s commandments). Although our ancestor may not have grown these fruits themselves, but their children and grandchildren did, they (the departed ancestors) are participants in these fruits as the root or trunk of the tree. Just how great this help is even for relatives who lived outside the Church we know from the letters of St. Ambrose of Optina to Count Alexei P. Tolstoy. A mullah was baptized in his house church. The great elder wrote on this occasion, “The baptism of this mullah, the conversion to Christianity of the Lezgin [a nation in the Caucasus Mountains] Assan, the reception into the Church of an Abyssinian, and several similar examples has given us the thought that God also honors various tribes and peoples with various errors relative to the one true Divinity; because although it happens rarely, from almost all existing tribes in different times people have converted to true Christianity… This means that if out of the darkness of impiety one has turned to the Lord, then this is sufficient for the Lord; and for the sake of this one convert, He will honor the whole generation [i.e., lineage] that produced him” (Collected Letters [Moscow, 1995], 7).

“The lot of the departed is not considered decided until the general Last Judgment. Until then, we cannot consider anyone as finally judged; and on the basis of this we pray, convinced in our hope in God’s immeasurable mercy!” (St. Theophan the Recluse, Collected Letters, v. 6, letter 948).

Hieromonk Job (Gumerov)
Translation by OrthoChristian.com



See also
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Let’s try to understand why certain fathers of the Church, such as St. Gregory of Nyssa, preached this heresy and why they were not pronounced heretics themselves.
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Pfmd3/18/2023 3:03 am
The souls of the dead appear not only in dreams, but also plainly. The immortality of the human soul appears here more precisely and is revealed even more clearly. Here a person sees the dead with his own eyes as the living, and because he knew the reposed one well before his death, he cans say unmistakably that he sees precisely that friend or relative. The aims of the souls of the dead’s appearance to the living can vary. Very often they appear in order to improve in one way or another their condition in the afterlife. For, as all we Orthodox Christians know, the prayers of the living, especially the prayers of the Church, bring great benefit to the souls of the dead—they relieve their onerous lot if they are suffering torments in the afterlife for their sinful earthly life. But sometimes the souls of the dead come by God’s will to earth for the benefit of one or another relative, wishing to provide him some spiritual benefit. Most often they appear to those relatives who have begun to live a bad life—godless or dissipated. In this case, one way or another they help their relative to correct himself, to step once again upon the path of truth. Or they may appear in order to do some good for their close relative that they didn’t manage to do before their death. Thus, the soul without a body appears for a brief time as if to continue the work he began in his life in the body. Sometimes the souls of the dead appear to relatives simply out of the feeling of kinship, as if pining for them. Obviously, after its departure from the body the soul doesn’t lose for a certain time the connection it had with them while in the body, and at God’s will, they somehow show that connection. Moreover, the dead not rarely bring by their appearance some mundane profit, clear up one or another perplexity that they had not done during their earthly life, or show them where they should receive some profit for themselves. After close family, the closest person is always a friend or benefactor. People have a sincere attachment and gratitude to friends and benefactors. A person’s soul, which never dies, is immortal, after its departure from the body also keeps these feelings and not rarely appears from the world beyond the grave to its friends and benefactors in order to witness its friendship or gratitude to them. https://orthochristian.com/151085.html The above is from St. Mardarije
Pfmd3/18/2023 2:56 am
Bobby George: For a diametrically opposing view on dead souls from that of “tiberius”, whoever he may be and whomever he may represent, but who fraudulently presents himself as an Orthodox authority on this subject, please read the following on this website on the infinite glories of dead souls: ON THE IMMORTALITY OF THE HUMAN SOUL; by St. Mardarije (Uskoković)
Pfmd3/18/2023 1:26 am
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Gospel Reading for the Commemoration of the Dead Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.
tiberius4/19/2021 6:26 am
My understanding is that, with very few exceptions for only the most holy among us (i.e., saints), the reposed have no interaction with us upon departing this life. Therefore, they would have no influence on the living. Moreover, it would necessarily follow that they, i.e., the reposed, cannot (and thus, do not) attend holy communion with us. I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "can we request anything to them". If you are asking if we can make a request to departed loved one, as in, somehow communicate with (or a message of some sort to) them, the answer would be "no." Because the reposed have no interaction with us upon departing this life, we likewise have no interaction with them. We, therefore, cannot communicate with them in any way. This should make sense since our prayers for the reposed are made to the Lord exclusively. In other words, we are communicating (and making requests) to the Lord, not to the reposed. At most, we are praying to the Lord "about" the reposed. I hope this helps. Take care.
Bobby George2/18/2017 4:42 pm
\\o// Memorial of the Departed - 19/02/'17
I belong to the Indian (Malankara) Orthodox Church,London The question is "Does the departed souls have any influence on the living OR When they attend the Holy Communion with us can we request anything to them"...??
Thank you, a reply very much appreciated !
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