Orthodox America

 How Can We Best Honor Our Friends and Relatives Who Have Departed This Life? 

by Saint John (Maximovitch)

We often see relatives of the departed go to great lengths in arranging an elaborate funeral. Substantial sums are not infrequently spent on fancy tombstones.  Relatives and friends spend lots of money on wreaths and flowers (even though the latter have to be removed from the coffin before it is closed, so as not to hasten the decomposition of the body). Some like to pay their respects to the departed and express their condolences by placing a notice in the newspaper, although such a public display reflects the shallowness of their feelings and often their insincerity.  One who is truly grieved will not advertise it; a personal expression of sympathy carries more warmth.

Whatever such arrangements we make, the deceased is not going to benefit. For the dead body it is all the same whether it lies in a plain or a fancy coffin, in a lavish or a humble grave.  It does not smell the fragrance of the flowers that are brought; it does not need feigned expressions of sympathy.  The body will be given over to decay; the soul lives, but it no longer experiences any feelings through the sensory organs.  Another life has begun for the soul, and it has other needs.

Here is what it needs and what we must do if we indeed love the departed and desire to bring him our gifts.

What, in fact, will bring comfort to the soul of the departed? First of all, sincere prayers on his behalf-prayers at home and especially the prayers of the Church, joined with the Bloodless Sacrifice, i.e., commemoration at the Divine Liturgy.

Many appearances of the deceased and other visions attest to the tremendous benefit which the departed receive from prayers on their behalf and from offering the Bloodless Sacrifice in their name.

Another thing that brings them consolation is almsgiving and other charity in their name.  To feed a hungry man in the name of the departed, to help an indigent is to do the same for the deceased.

Saint Athanasia (commemorated April 12), before she died, willed that for the forty days after her repose the poor be fed in memory of her.  However, the sisters of the convent were lax and did so for only nine days.  The Saint then appeared to them in the company of two angels and said, "Why did you forget my will?  Know that charity and the prayers of a priest, offered on behalf of a soul through the course of forty days, stir up God's mercy: if the souls of the departed were sinful, the Lord absolves their sins; if they were righteous, those praying for them are rewarded with virtue." Especially nowadays, when it is so difficult for everyone, it is senseless to waste money on useless things when, in spending it on the poor, one can do two good deeds at once-benefiting the departed and also the recipient of the charity.

Not long ago, on the first-year anniversary of nun Maria's repose, in accordance with her will, donations were collected and a dinner for the needy was prepared on the grounds of the Archbishop's residence.  Some 150 people responded to the notice, and all were fed.  A great good was thereby accomplished.

Even if one does not do good on such a big scale, if one feeds at least a few or even one hungry person, this is already something. To do this is not difficult; one has but to give a sum of money for a memorial repast to the Committee for Assistance to the Needy at the Archbishop's church, or to the House of Mercy or the soup kitchen. With prayer for the departed, food will be given to the poor.  They will be satisfied physically, and the departed will have their fill spiritually.

(Translated from Slova, a book of homilies and sermons by the newly-glorified Saint John Maximovitch; compiled by Archpriest Peter Perekrestov, San Francisco, 1994.)