A short explanation of “Saturday of the Dead”
Around the time of Great Lent, we have some Saturdays which are set aside for the commemoration of the dead. We call these days “Saturday of the dead”, or “All Souls Saturday”, and we just celebrated the first one appointed during this time of year, on the Saturday before the Sunday of the Last Judgment (the penultimate Sunday before Great Lent begins).
The full list of “Saturdays of the dead” for the year is::
· The second Saturday before Great Lent (before the Sunday of the Last Judgment)
· The third Saturday of Great Lent
· The fourth Saturday of Great Lent
· The Saturday before Pentecost
· Demetrius Saturday (Saturday before Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki – 26 October)
The proper way to celebrate these days is to serve Vespers the evening before and on Saturday morning, celebrate “requiem matins”, which is a special form of matins in which the dead are commemorated by name two times (if memory serves) and all of Psalm 118 is chanted in two parts. Some people call this a long “panakhida” (parastas in Greek) which is the typical prayer service for the dead which Orthodox Christians are familiar with.
Of course, following matins, the Divine Liturgy is celebrated, and the dead are again all commemorated by name. It is important that an Orthodox Christian submit the names of Orthodox loved ones who have reposed. We have the custom of accepting names by email or other means, and are not prejudiced against the dead because their loved ones are not at the service to pray for them as well, but it is much better to pray in person for one’s loved ones. The priest prays for the people and with the people, but (as much as possible), not instead of the people!
It is a shame that the requiem matins is almost unknown among modern Orthodox. Just check the online calendars for most churches. This service is almost never mentioned. With God helping us, we have preserved this tradition. Like Philip, I must say “Come and see” to those who do not know of this service. It is good to make an effort to pray for the dead, and to hear compunctionate hymns, and think of our own death. Somehow a quickie “Trisagion Service” just does not cut it on these days.
Why do we pray for the dead?
Many people who call themselves Christians are offended when they hear that we pray for the dead. This begs the question: Why do we pray for the dead?
The answer is really easy. We pray for the dead for three reasons that I can think of off the top of my head.
Most importantly, we believe in the resurrection. God is the God of the Living, and not of the dead, our Lord told us, and we believe this truth. If this is true, then the dead have not ceased to exist, because “all are alive to God.” Praying for the dead, as much as asking the dead (those whom we believe to be righteous) to intercede for us shows that we really do believe in the resurrection.
We also know that “all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, and there is “not one man who liveth and sinneth not”, and we (at least as a church, if not individually) are profoundly humble. How can we know the judgments of God? They are a vast abyss. We do not presume to declare that one is blessed and another is damned. God knows, and only rarely reveals to us this with certainty.
We also pray because we love. Love remembers. We continue to remember our loved ones even though they are no longer with us who have living flesh.
Why do we pray for the dead? Because, knowing the weakness of flesh and mans predilection to sin, we hope in the resurrection, leaving all judgment to God, and because we love, we remember.
Here is another reason: We pray because we love, and also prayer teaches us to love. It takes effort and time to pray for those from whom we hear no answer. Let’s face it – we rarely think of death, and mostly think of ourselves. By making an effort to pray, We not only remember our loved ones; God also remembers us and softens our hearts and teaches us to love. Remember an important principle in the Christian life: What we do affects who we are and vice-versa!
The next Saturday for the dead that we will remember (we cannot do all of them yet) is March 6 (ns), the third Saturday of Lent. Will you remember your loved ones on that day?
“NB” is shorthand for “nota bene” ,which is Latin for “Note well”. These shorter posts are meant to be “noted well” more often because they are briefer than the usual blog posts. I have “noted well” that many of my flock does do not read the longer posts. I have a lot of stuff to tell you, so there will still be longer posts, but I also plan to post shorter “snippets” which will have “NB:” in the title.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2010. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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