Prayer and Spirituality: Christianity
Is There any Biblical Basis for Praying for the Departed?
1) What is death?The soul is separated from the body with death. Where are those people who died in Jesus Christ? The thief; he is with Christ in Paradise. St. Paul says that he likes death more than `life in the flesh', because of "Having a desire to depart and to be with Christ". So after death he will be with Christ. (Phili. 1:23) "Blessed are the dead, who die in the Lord from now on" (Rev 14:12-13) One can die in Christ, if one lives in Him. Are the dead able to hear Christ's voice? Yes, the dead can hear Him. There are some who were dead, yet heard His voice. They are the widow's son (Luke 7:14-15), Jairus's daughter (Mark 6:41), and Lazerus. "He went and preached to the souls imprisoned in Sheol" (1 Pet 3:19). "The gospel was preached also to those who are dead " (1 Pet. 4:6). So it is obvious that they (the dead) can hear Christ. If they could not hear Him, why should Jesus preach to them?
2) But can they talk to Him? The answer is YES.Refer to Mat 17:1-8: "And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, 'conversing' with him." (Mat 17:3) What did they talk? They talked about His great suffering and crucifixion and that it would happen soon. It is believed that Moses died approximately in BC 1451 and Elijah was taken up in BC 896. We cannot deny the fact that Moses who died approximately 1400 years before Jesus Christ, and Elijah who was taken some 890 years before Jesus Christ, were talking to Jesus Christ. If the dead cannot talk, how did this happen? Again if anyone still disbelieves, let me quote from Oswald Smith who established a modern church called the Peoples church based in Canada. In his book "The battle for truth" in page 14 to 27 he discusses what the dead does, how much they know about us, and whether they know us at all? Here is the summary of his discussion: Is the dead conscious or sleeping? Verse (Heb 12:1) says "seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witness, let us run with patience the race set before us." So these witness, Abraham, Samuel, Mosses, those martyrs referred to in revelation, all after death are active and not sleeping. "I am God of Abraham, I am God of the living." (Matt 22:32) So Abraham is alive. "The dead are blessed." (Rev 14; 13). What blessedness if not conscious? In Rev 6:9- 10 it says "The dead cried with a loud voice" So surely the dead are not in slumber. "I may be with Christ, which is far better" (Phili 1:23) We know that our Lord is mediating for us before God. He promised the apostles that they would follow Him and be where He is. Therefore the apostles are, with Him now. The thief who believed while on the cross is also with Him. Are all these people slumbering? Definitely not. 2 Cori 5:8 says, "Departing the body, I desire more to live with Christ…" The dead are with the savior whom they loved, strong and happy, and in an enlightened life.
3) Now the question is whether the dead (Departed) remembers us or forgets us?Joseph did not forget his father in the palace of Pharaoh! Moses did not forget the Israelites while in Pharos palace. The girl while in the palace of Naaiman, did not forget Elisha. (Likewise the witnesses mentioned in Heb 12:1). The just will not forget their loved ones if they move to another country or another continent. Likewise, our dead will not forget their loved ones if they move to another `world'. So our prophets and saints will never forget us, but always will be watching and praying for us.
4) Another question is, can we recognize the dead if we see them again?The apostles recognized Moses and Elija at Mount Tabore. Saul the King recognized Samuel who was dead. Mary and the apostles recognized Christ after his resurrection. Stephen saw Christ in his glory. So the answer is yes, we can recognize the dead. "The throne of God and the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him, seeing his face and reigning forever and ever" (Rev 22:3-5). Daniel in the den of lions, Anania in the big fire, Peter on the cross, all glorified God because of their hope in the life after death. It is Jesus Christ who removed the curtain and showed the world what is beyond the grave. The promises of our Lord: "There are many abodes in the house of my Father" "I go to prepare place for you" "I will come again" "Where I am, there you will be" "Who believes in me will live even after death" "You will be with me in Paradise today."
What is the state of those who died in Jesus Christ?Let us see, where the living Christians are?
"But you have come near mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the innumerable multitude of angels. To the general assembly and church of the first born who are registered in heaven to God the judge of all, to the Spirits of just men made perfect. To Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel" (Heb 12:22-24).
Who are these first born? See the verse below."These are the ones who were not defiled with for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being first fruits to God and to Lamb" (Rev 14:4). "Then one of the elders answered saying to me `Who are these arrayed in white clothes and where did they come from?' And I said to him "Sir you know." So he said to me, "These are the ones who came out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them." For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes". (Rev 7:13) Again from Revelations: "When He opened the fifth seal I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. When they cried with a loud voice saying, `How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on earth'." (Rev 6:9, 10, 11.) "Then another angel, having a golden censor, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar, which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel's hand." (Rev 8:3, 4) "And that which withers shall be no more, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and His servants shall serve Him. And they shall see his face." (Rev 22:3, 4) "They will follow The Lamb where ever He goes." (Rev. 14:4) "Blessed are the ones dead who die in the Lord from now on…. That they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them." (Rev 14:13) As sequence St. Paul talks about the rewards of the work that follows. "Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, give me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing." (2 Tim 4:8) In summary, St. John who received his revelations from God has taught us the following: One who has died in Jesus Christ is arrayed in white clothes and will be protected and shepherded by Him and will praise Him. They will know the happenings in this world. They will be with Jesus Christ and will see Him every day and will follow Him wherever He goes. They will rest and wait for the rewards for their works in this world. Polycarp (AD 69-155) was a disciple of St. John and the bishop of Smyrna. He was martyred. At that time, the church in Smyrna sent a letter to the Christians in Philominon. Here is a quote from his letter: "He was not only a famous teacher, but also an outstanding witness, and thus gained the imperishable crown. Now with the apostles and all the just he is glorifying God and the Father almighty, and he is blessing our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls, the Helmsman of our bodies, and the Shepherd of the Catholic Church throughout the world." (81a)
David says, "The dead does not praise the Lord, all those gone down into silence" (Psalms 115:17). Why then pray for the dead?When we read the very next verse, it will be clear... "It is we who bless the Lord, both now and forever" (Psalms 115:18). David says he will praise the Lord now and forever. So won't David die? Didn't he die? David says that he and people like him, will praise the Lord even after they die (i.e. forever). Who are the 'dead' referred to in Psalms 115:17? God created Adam and made him the caretaker of Garden of Eden and told him "From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die" (Gen. 2:17). But Adam ate it, but lived another 900 years! In the parable of the Lost Son, the lost son's father says, "your brother (the lost son) was `dead' and has come to life again." (Luke 15:32). But he had not died at that time! To the people who were alive, and listened to Jesus, He told them "I have come to give you life" In all these verses, the word `dead' is used to represent sin or death of the soul. Therefore, life means a sinless soul, not referring to the physical body. St. Paul also says, "You were dead in your transgressions and sins" (Eph 2:1). In all these quotations death and life refers to the death and life of the soul and not of the physical body. It is clear whom David refers to as the "dead and gone into silence." David here says that a person dead in sins and transgressions cannot praise the Lord. From the Scofield Bible – (Eccle. 9:5-6); "What is mentioned in this is just a view of the preacher, son of David; and not a divine revelation about the state of the dead. He as a natural man under the sun, doesn't see any difference between a dead man and a dead lion (9:5). No one will take 9:2 as a divine revelation. But it is specifically asserted in scriptures that there is life and consciousness between death and resurrection (Is 14:9-11; Matt 22:32; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 16:19-31, John 11:26; 2 Cor 5:6-8; Phil 1:21-23, Rev 6:9-11). If anyone is still stubborn and believes in this argument, please read on. Let us assume that David meant literally what he wrote. St. John has written in Revelations that the dead are with our Lord (Refer to Previous Question). Whom should we believe? David or John (Actually these are all words by God and it will never be conflicting). "In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets. In these last days, he spoke to us through His Son, whom he created the universe" (Hebrews 1:1). So David lived in an era in which the revelation was in part. But St. John gives to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, by reporting what he saw. John received the revelation that is complete through Jesus Christ.
Does the New Testament teach us to pray for the dead/departed?My first response is, does it say anywhere in the New Testament that we should not pray for the dead? On the contrary, both St. Paul and Peter prayed for the dead.
1) Peter prayed for Tabitha, who had died. (Acts 9:40)"But Peter put all the people out, and knelt down and prayed. Then he turned to the body and said, `Tabitha, arise' and she opened her eyes and when she saw Simon Peter, she sat up". Here Peter prayed for the dead. Though not in the Bible, what would Peter pray to Christ at that time? It is easy to infer. He would have prayed like this - "Oh God, I pray for this servant of yours that is dead, that she may rise up for the belief of these people" (People's Commentary Vol. 1 page 581) (Lutheran) This is not my opinion. I have quoted Luther, who initiated the Protestant faith. Throwing up on his knees, he laid the matter before God in prayer and by power of the Lord the miracle was performed. [People's commentary vol.1, page 581 (Lutheran)]
2) St. Paul prayed for Eutychus, who fell down from a building and died (Acts 20:10)"But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him". The biblical scholars compare this to verses in 2 Kings 4:34-35; 1 Kings 17:21, 22; Acts 9: 40-41. "Elisha reached the house, he found the boy lying dead. He went in, shut the door upon the two of them, and prayed unto the Lord. And he went up and lay upon the child and put his mouth upon the child and his eyes upon his eyes and his hands upon his hand; and stretched himself upon him. The flesh of the child became warm. He arose, paced up and down the room, and went up and stretched himself upon him; and the child sneezed seven times and opened the eyes" (2 Kings 4:34-35) "Then he (Elijah) stretched himself out upon the boy three times and called out to Lord: 'O Lord, my God, let life breath return to the body of this child'." (1 Kings 17:21) Paul for Eutychus, Elisha for the boy, and Elijah for the child, they all did the same thing. They all prayed for the dead and God listened to their prayers.
3) St. Paul prayed for the departed Onesiphorus
( 2 Timothy 1: 16- 18):- "The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord on that Day". This is a request by Paul to God, for Onesiphorus. Therefore we can understand that St. Paul believed that God would bless the dead, and that we should pray for them.
Sayings of some early church fathers on dead/departed.Anyone who wishes to show his love for the deceased and to give them real help can best do this through prayer for them, especially in commemorating them at the Liturgy, when the particles removed [from the prosphora during the proskomedia – ed.] for the living and the dead are placed into the Blood of Christ with the words "Remit, O Lord, the sins of those commemorated here through Thy Precious Blood and the prayers of Thy saints." We can do nothing better or greater for the reposed than to pray for them, commemorating them at the Liturgy. This is always essential for them, especially throughout the forty days in which the soul of the reposed is on its way to its eternal home. The body then feels nothing. It does not see those gathered together around it, does not smell the flowers, does not hear the speeches made at the coffin. But the soul feels the prayers offered for it, and is spiritually close to them. O relatives and friends of the reposed! Do for them that which they need and that which is in your power to do. Spend your money not on external decorations for the coffin and grave, but instead on what will help those in need, in memory of your deceased relatives; on the church, where prayers are offered up for them. Be merciful to those fallen asleep; care for their souls. That same path lies before you, and how we will then want others to remember us in prayer! Let us, ourselves, be merciful to those who have reposed.
Holy Hierarch St. John MaximovitchBetween Hades and Paradise there does exist a great chasm indeed, as our Lord has told us. Yet, this chasm does not have the power to impede the mercy of our great God, who hears our prayers for the reposed. We say that only for those who sinned very severely and did not confess their sin is the passage from Hades to Paradise impossible. For those who sinned more lightly this pathway is not definitely closed, given that in the future judgment each one's place, either in heaven or in hell, will be decided definitively ... The prayers of the Church are able to help some souls to be saved after their death — but before the resurrection of the body — for the torments sinners suffer after death are provisionally and not definitively existent, unlike those that will exist after the Last Judgment. Thus, the opportunity is given to the faithful of the Church, in love to strengthen the reposed by their prayers. Alone the dead cannot be helped, however, with the love of others all things are possible.
Father Cleopa Ilie (1912-1998)Bring bread, and wine, and love to the sanctuary, That the priest might enter with thy commemoration before the divine Majesty. On the stones of the ephod Moses engraved the names of the tribes, So that the priest should bring the remembrances of them into the Holy of holies. And thou, inscribe on the loaf the commemoration of thee and of thy departed, And give it to the priest to offer up before God. Make a banquet and call thy dead to come to the altar, For it is the haven and place of repose for all spirits. O friend of the dead, show thy love for him in this, And not by making great lamentation that profits him nothing. Mar Jacob of Serugh, Homily on the Commemoration of the Reposed. For the whole Church observes this practice which was handed down by the Fathers: that it prayers for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, when they are commemorated in their own place in the sacrifice itself; and the sacrifice is offered also in memory of them on their behalf.
Blessed Augustine, Sermons 172,2, circa 400 A.D.If our beloved depart 'in sin,' let us attempt to help them as much as it is possible for us, with prayers and petitions to God, with charity and offerings to the poor. These things are done so that the departed may receive some consolation.
John ChrysostomO ye faithful, remembering today by name all the dead from all the ages who have lived in piety and faith, let us sing praises to the Lord and Saviour, asking Him fervently to give them in the hour of judgement a good defense before our God Who judges all the earth. May they receive a place at His right hand in joy; may they dwell in glory with the righteous and the saints, and be counted worthy of His heavenly Kingdom.
Stichera from Vespers of The Saturday of the Souls, The Lenten TriodionOur fellow men, who have passed away, long for our prayers, just as prisoners long for the visits of their relatives.
Elder Passios of the Holy Mountain (+ July 12, 1994)Since we know that Thou, O Christ, by Thy divine sovereign power rulest o'er the living and art Master of the dead, we beseech of Thee: With all of Thine elect, where there is refreshment, in the brilliant splendor of the Saints, grant rest, O Friend of man to Thy faithful servants that have reposed and have departed unto Thee, Who alone art our Benefactor, Lord. For Thou will save those Thou has formed in Thine own image, O only Lord Who art greatly merciful.
Aposticha of the Praises of Matins, Saturday of the Souls, from ThePentecostarionSince we know that Thou, O Christ, by Thy divine sovereign power rulest of Thine elect, where there is refreshment, in the brilliant splendor of the Saints, grant rest, O Friend of man to Thy faithful servants that have reposed and have departed unto Thee, Who alone art our Benefactor, Lord. For Thou will save those Thou has formed in Thine own image, O only Lord Who art greatly merciful.
Aposticha of the Praises of Matins, Saturday of the Souls, from The PentecostarionO Father of all, take into thy keeping Irene, Zoe and Marcellus whom thou didst make; thine be the glory in Christ.
Cemetery of Priscilla, first to third century., Documents Of The Christian Church, 2nd edn., ed. Henry BettensonTo dear Cyriacus, our sweetest son. Mayest thou live in the Holy Spirit.
Cemetery of Callistus, third or fourth century, Documents Of The Christian Church, 2nd edn., ed. Henry Bettenson"At the Lord's table we do not commemorate martyrs in the same way that we do others who rest in peace so as to pray for them, but rather that they may pray for us that we may follow in their footsteps"
St. Augustine of Hippo, Homilies on John 84 [A.D. 416]"There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for the dead who are remembered. For it is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended"
St. Augustine of Hippo, Sermons 159:1 [A.D. 411]"It is true that Christians pay religious honor to the memory of the martyrs, both to excite us to imitate them, and to obtain a share in their merits, and the assistance of their prayers. But we build altars not to any martyr, but to the God of martyrs, although it is to the memory of the martyrs. No one officiating at the altar in the saint's burying place ever says, we bring an offering to thee O Peter!, or O Paul!, or O Cyprian! The offering is made to God, who gave the crown of martyrdom, while it is in memory of those thus crowned."
St. Augustine of Hippo, Reply to Faustus the Manichaen bk. 20 ch. 21, NPNF I 4:262
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