Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In the World to Come - On Prayer for the Departed

In the World to Come - On Prayer for the Departed

by Mike Wingert


In perhaps Christ’s most oft cited statement regarding which sins are forgivable, and which are not, an import point gets overlooked:

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come. Matthew 12:31-32

Let us pay attention to the final line: “In this world, or the world to come.” This portion of the statement lets us know that sins can be forgiven in two periods: this world, and the world to come.

Prayer is for the Christian what training is for the athlete. It is necessary for our spiritual growth and the gateway for our communication with God. Prayer is engaged because of both our desire to do so and our duty to so. It is that very thing which makes us one with one another, as Father and Son are one. It is the means by which we receive strength to attain our goal - God’s eternal embrace.

When we pray, we must be mindful of this world and the world to come. For as we remember in our petition to Christ, “Who was crucified for us, O Christ our God, who by Your death trampled and slaughtered our death,” death in the world to come has been vanquished. Being mindful of these things, the Christian will feel a burning in his or her heart to pray for those who are among us in this world, and for those who are no longer with us, awaiting the world to come.

In fact, the Scriptures also remind us that we should pray for the departed:

    (39) On the next day, as by that time it had become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kinsmen in the sepulchres of their fathers. (40) Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. (41) So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; (42) and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. (43) He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. (44) For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. (45) But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin. - II Machabees, xii, 40-46

Indeed, it is that very resurrection that we await in the world to come. Just as we are taught in the Holy Bible, we also do such because of Christ’s love embedded in our hearts.

The ‘Aneede – The Departed'

We refer to those who have passed on as “departed,” and not “dead” because death itself has been conquered by Christ. Caring for the departed is also an urge rooted in every culture. It is not uncommon to encounter the petition of a mother who loses a child to ask God to “take good care of my baby up there.” This simple, motherly urge to see the well-being of her child is precisely the heart of our prayers for the departed. In the Divine Liturgy, we pray:

Lord grant good remembrance to the faithful departed,
who partook in Your holy body and blood,
and may they stand on Your right side,
on that great day You shine forth.

To be on the right side of God (Matthew 25: 31-46) is the aspiration of all who accept God’s grace. It is the end of our journey, and the heart of those who yearn to heed Christ’s call to be one with one another, just as the Father and Son are one (John 17:21).


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