The Numberless Names of the Dead

Homily on St. Demitrios Saturday of the Reposed


The Kingdom of Heaven, memory eternal to all those for whom the Holy Church prays on St. Demetrios Saturday. This commemoration in honor and memory of St. Demetrios of Thessalonika was first served by St. Sergius of Radonezh after the Battle of Kulikovo and has continued to be served from age to age. The Church faithfully prays for all Orthodox soldiers who laid down their lives for faith and Fatherland on the field of battle. How many of them died during World War II, 1941–1945? Probably not a single home in Russia escaped this sorrow. We especially commemorate on this day those who were innocently killed in October 1993 and those who died in Chechnya and Southern Ossetia. The sailors on the “Kursk” and others of our submarines. We commemorate those who were innocently killed in recent years in Novorossia. All those who drowned or burned in catastrophes, natural disasters, or died in terrorist acts. All those who have in recent years died a violent death, amongst whom there are no few priests, elderly people, maidens and children. And how many have died in the past two years from the pandemic! We pray also, as always, for those who died having been vouchsafed Holy Baptism. We ask those who marked their faithfulness to Christ’s commandment by their blood1 to intercede for them before the Lord.

The numberless names of the dead who are pronounced at the litany are read from the lists of the reposed. These are our family members, and those we especially love. Those who have died far away from us, and who we sometimes forget. Those with whom we might have had difficult relationships. Our ancestors and all those to whom we owe our lives. Our neighbors and our close ones. Those whom we knew well. Those who died this year. Those who died long ago. How many coffins are carried every day out of the homes of our city, from all the villages of our dying Russia! Amongst them are those we know from the press and the television—artists, writers, scholars, and other famous people. And there are also the throngs of unknown, unglorified, and almost nameless. Those who were happy, and those lives were an abyss of despair. Those who were noble and generous, and those who were indifferent to everything. Those whose gravestones are always surrounded by flowers, and those whose mass graves have long been levelled to the ground. Those who believed that they would be vouchsafed paradise, and those who had no hope in anything.

We listen to what the Church sings, and we try to hear the voices of the reposed behind these hymns. Thank God that we find time to come to church for their sakes, to pause in the endless race of live and death. Let’s not limit ourselves to lighting candles and submitting lists, or bringing flowers to graves. Let’s resurrect in our memories what they were. From a distance we see them better, more authentically. We distinguish their main features. We perceive in a new way all the manifestations of their weaknesses, their fragility, but also of their kindness, their depth, their uniqueness and inimitability. Eternity is given to a man in order that he might be delivered from everything that was not right; so that all that is unworthy of true life would burn as in a fire.

Let our personal remembrance of the dead be united with the eternal memory of the Church in Jesus Christ. We all know perfectly well that when one of our close ones dies, no matter what our relationship was like with him, it is always unexpectedly revealed how little love we showed him. And we understand that now this is absolutely irredeemable. But Christ as before embraces all on the Cross and gives us, for as long as we live, new opportunities. We hear what our reposed say: “Life is short, don’t let what is most important slip by!”

Today is a day of prayer—for them and with them. Some of them are perhaps already in glory and behold the face of the Lord. While others still need to be cleansed of their garments soiled by sin before they can enter the Father’s House. They thirst for this purification and hope in our intercessions. May our prayer unite with the Church’s eucharistic offering for everyone and everything, and with intercession for those who, having partaken of Christ, have laid down their lives for their friends. May all be able to learn Christlike love—for God has prepared a face-to-face meeting for those who love Him.

1 The holy martyrs.

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