The day following my last post, my father became very ill, went into the hospital, and departed this life all in the course of that one day. I had just quoted the Church’s hymn about Christ’s victory over death, and immediately I was clinging to the broadest possible meaning of that fact. In the morning I was tending the rosebushes and remembering my mother, who had passed over to “the other side” nine years ago that day, when I got the call from my sister that Daddy was going to the ER. The whole day then was infused with a heightened awareness of death and the grave that kept me turning to the One in Whom we are not ultimately separated by death. Before the day was over my remaining parent was gone from this world.
I am not about to consider either of them absolutely cut off from me and their fate finalized. Many would say that the dead are beyond help–they had their chance while they were on earth. How do they know? God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. He is beyond systems and protocols, beyond time, a Trinity of persons full of love and mercy, and we humans are all connected in our need for Him and for His forgiveness. So let’s stand together and pray for one another.
Father Alexander Schmemann in Great Lent writes, “Praying for the dead is an essential expression of the Church as love. We ask God to remember those whom we remember and we remember them because we love them. Praying for them we meet them in Christ who is Love, and who, because He is Love, overcomes death which is the ultimate victory of separation and lovelessness.”
I prayed today for my father–and for many other dead–with the Akathist (Hymn) for the Departed, a prayer that accumulates metaphors and phrases attesting to the ocean of forgiveness that is in our Lord. “…behold, Thy cry from the Cross for Thine enemies is heard: ‘Father, forgive them.’ In the name of Thine all-forgiving love we make bold to pray to our Heavenly Father for the eternal repose of Thine enemies and ours.'”
Besides enemies, the prayer lifts up to God for his mercy those who died in various ways, who had no Christian burial, the young, the hardened sinners, the innocent who suffered, those who made the innocent suffer, and on and on. Not one of us is righteous before Him, after all.
Are we not encouraged by Christ’s parables to be persevering in asking for what we want? And if we love people, we want very much for them to be forgiven and to live eternally in God. We would hate to give up easily, to write them off, if there is one more thing we can do. Christ has trampled down death by death. Let’s show love to our fellow humans by carrying their pallet down through the roof tiles, so to speak, to Christ, to the Holy Trinity.
The Akathist continues: “May the Divine Lamb be their perpetual light. Grant, O Lord, that we too may celebrate with them in a deathless Passover. Unite the dead and the living in unending joy.”
Christ is risen!