We all suffer bereavements. And we all remember our reposed relatives. Non-believers arrange memorial evenings and civil memorial services. Believers go further: we believe in an afterlife, in our Real and active coexistence.
After death life does not end, but passes into the next phase: from temporal to eternal, from corruptible to incorruptible. Judgment comes after death: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath (Rom. 2:7, 8).
Lately people have often asked the question: what do they do if they have had a dream about their reposed relative? What do such dreams say?
Firstly, such dreams show that there is an afterlife, which means that there is retribution for our actions.
Secondly, such dreams show that the departed continue to love us. We know from the Holy Scriptures that our reposed relatives are concerned about our fate. Thus, in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus the unfortunate nameless rich man asks Abraham to resurrect Lazarus so that he would teach his brothers how to live properly, that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment (Lk. 16:28). The sinful and merciless man worried about his brothers and implored Abraham to help them. Don’t our relatives worry about our spiritual life? In his Missionary Letters St. Nikolai (Velimirovic) of Zica relates several touching stories about appearances of relatives in dreams who literally saved the lives of their living loved ones. Thus, a mother saved her impoverished son from suicide, saying to him in a dream: “There are many poor people in Paradise, but not a single suicide.” Another dream prompted a woman to sincerely repent of her abortions: three teenagers, whom she had killed in the womb, laughed at her in a dream. From the Life of holy Righteous Jonah Atamansky, the Wonderworker of Odessa (1855–1924; commemorated May 17) we learn how his mother warned him not to sail on the steamer which would sink on its voyage.
Thirdly, such dreams show that we should not be indifferent to the destinies of our loved ones in eternity.
We know that the Church calls on us to be very cautious about dreams because of the difficulty of interpreting them and the lack of the gift of discernment. Therefore, in ninety percent of cases it forbids trusting dreams altogether. It is necessary to have a critical approach to dreams about dead people. We know from the Lives of the Saints that the evil one took advantage of the fact that an ascetic believed in dreams and lured him to perdition by showing him a false dream that the Apostle Paul was being tormented in hell, while the Pharisees were in a state of bliss in Paradise. The ascetic left the monastery, got circumcised, married a Jewish woman, and soon died without repentance. Therefore, any dreams must be treated extremely critically. It is best to go to your priest, share your dream with him and ask for his advice on what you should do.
Basically, priests will answer something like this. If a dream lulls your spiritual life, showing you that your reposed loved one is happy in eternity and you need not worry about him, give alms for him, or pray for his repose, then it is most likely a dream from the evil one. The Church teaches that “there is no man or woman who lives and sins not”. The Bible says this about man: every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen. 6:5). You also shouldn’t believe premonitory dreams that supposedly come from your departed relatives and tell you the future. If you have seen your dead relative in a dream, you should take it, first of all, as a signal for you to pray for his repose. Although there are exceptions, as shown above from the example of St. Nikolai (Velimirovic). The main criterion is that such a dream should call you to repentance before God and your neighbor.
If your relative was baptized, then it is best to attend a memorial service for his repose, and give alms to the poor in his name. The Holy Scriptures note that alms do deliver from death, and suffereth not to come into darkness (Tob. 4:10). When giving alms, you can even say for whose repose you are doing it.
It would be ideal for you to participate in the sacraments of repentance (confession) and Holy Communion. The fact is that our prayers and alms are pleasing to God when they are from a pure heart, and purity cannot be attained without repentance. The Lord said to the Prophet Isaiah: And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood (Is. 1:15). It is necessary for us to be cleansed of all sins, of this “black blood”, so that prayers for our dead relatives would be pleasing to God.
It would be good to submit the list of names of your reposed relatives for the Proskomedia at the Liturgy. At the service, the priest takes out particles from the prosphora, prayerfully remembering the names of the departed. At the end of the Liturgy, these particles are poured into the Blood of Christ with the words: “Wash away, O Lord, by Thy Holy Blood, the sins of Thy servants here remembered, through the intercessions of the Theotokos and all Thy saints.”
In addition, you should learn to pray for your departed relatives daily at home. We all continue to love them. Separation from them is sometimes unbearable. The Word of God says that charity never faileth (1 Cor. 13:8).
Immediately after such a dream you can read the Akathist for the Repose of the Dead for some period. It is a prayer of great depth, it breathes with the hope of a meeting, that the separation will end and there will be a great resurrection of the dead and a joyful meeting.
If your relative was unbaptized, don’t lose heart. There remains the path of prayer at home and the distribution of alms for his repose to those in need. The mercy of God is boundless, so we hope that the Lord will have mercy on many.
We can summarize that after such a dream, little attention should be paid to its content. But it is vital to focus on prayer in church and at home, and works of mercy. May the Lord extend His mercy on our departed loved ones, forgive them their sins, and grant them life with the saints.