In Orthodoxy there is a pious custom of commemorating reposed ancestors and all departed Orthodox Christians, so that the living can honor the memory and pray for the salvation of the souls of our close ones who have departed to the Lord. Respect for parents is one of the ten commandments of the Decalogue, given to humanity through the people of Israel and the Prophet Moses on Mount Sinai. Therefore, it is the sacred duty of every Orthodox Christian to prayerfully concern ourselves with the fate in the afterlife of our relatives and friends who have departed this world, as well as for all the fathers and brothers who have fallen asleep in the right faith, asking the Lord to forgive their sins and transgressions.
In Orthodox practice, in addition to daily memorial prayers and services (such as the litany for the departed, the Litia, the Pannikhida/memorial service, prayers on the third, ninth and fortieth days after death, and the sorokoust (a forty-day daily commemoration), there are days established by the Holy Church for the special commemoration of the departed. These known as the Ancestor Memorial Saturdays. The Church established three such commemorations in the Lenten season—on Saturdays of the second, third and fourth weeks of Lent. They were established for a good and godly purpose—so that our reposed family and friends would not be deprived of prayer and intercession during the period of Lent, when the Divine Liturgy is not fully celebrated on most of the Lenten days.
The first such Ancestors’ Saturday in 2021 falls on March 14 / 27. On its eve, at the Friday evening service on March 26, the great Pannikhida known as the Parastas will be served, during which there will be a special commemoration of the departed. On Saturday morning, the memorial Divine Liturgy will be celebrated, followed by a Pannikhida at which the Orthodox will pray together for the repose of the souls of their relatives and brethren who have departed this world in the right faith. The Pannikhidas celebrated on the Ancestors’ Memorial Saturdays are of great importance for our departed close ones. After the joint prayers in the church, one can pray at home throughout the day that our reposed relatives be granted the forgiveness of their sins and settled eternally in the Kingdom of Heaven.
After the church service it is a custom among Orthodox Christians in Russia to visit cemeteries and remember their loved ones there. On this day they may tidy their graves and clear their tombstones. The Church forbids drinking alcoholic beverages in cemeteries, all the more so on the Lenten days. Leaving food or sweets at graves is also discouraged; such things should instead be left in the churches of God or distributed among one’s friends and acquaintances with the request to remember the names of the dead in their prayers. While remembering our reposed loved ones on Ancestors’ Saturday, as Orthodox Christians we should not give ourselves up to excessive sadness and melancholy; rather, we should implore the Lord to forgive their sins, with the bright hope that we will meet with them after the Universal Resurrection.
On this day, parishioners traditionally bring food to their churches and place it on the memorial table, including various treats (bread, vegetables, fruit, along with wheat flour for making prosphora). After the service the food is distributed among the poor or used for church needs. Candles are mostly lit on the memorial table or by the crucifix, but not by icons as in other days. In our day, the Orthodox faithful have a pious custom of giving alms to the needy, asking them to pray for our reposed relatives and friends.
The Second, Third and Fourth Saturdays of Great Lent
Troparion, tone 2
Apostles, martyrs, and prophets, hierarchs, holy monks and righteous men, who have fought the good fight to the end and kept the faith: since ye have boldness in the presence of the Savior, we entreat you, pray to Him on our behalf for the salvation of our souls.
Troparion, tone 2
Remember Thy servants, O Lord, in Thy love, and forgive them all the sins that they committed in this life, for none is sinless but Thee, Who hast power to give rest to the departed.
Theotokion, tone 2
O holy Mother of the ineffable Light, with angelic hymns we honor and magnify thee.
Kontakion, tone 8
With the saints give rest, O Christ, to the souls of Thy servants, where there is neither sickness, nor sorrow, nor sighing, but life everlasting.