In the New Testament when Paul offers a prayer for a man named Onesiphorus who had died: “May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day”(II Timothy 1:18)
In the inter-testamental period, we have evidence that the Jews prayed for the departed, and history tells us that Jews always have and to this very days pray for their departed loved ones: “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. 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, so that they might be delivered from their sin.” (2 Maccabees 12:44-45)
There can be little question that from Judaism the practise passed over to the Christian Church. Attempts have been made to justify the custom by reference to the teaching of Jesus in such passages as Matt. xii. 32, but such inferences are regarded as strained. A more secure scriptural basis is afforded by the famous passage I Pet. iii. 19-20, cf. iv. 6, which is, however, sometimes brought into a forced connection with Zach. ix. 11. Combined with the vogue given by Jewish custom and the affection and hope which reached beyond the grave, this passage gave sanction to the practise in the early Christian Church. Tertullian is the earliest Christian writer who makes reference to prayers for the dead as customary (De exhortatione castitatis, xi.; De anima, Iviii.; De monogamia, x.; De corona, iii.; Eng. transls. in ANF, vols. iii. iv.). Similar testimony is given by Amobius (Adv. gentes, iv. 36), Cyprian (Ep. i. of Oxford ed., 1xv. in ANF, v. 367), Cyril of Jerusalem (Mystagogikai catecheseis, v. 7), Augustine (“City of God,” xxi. 13; De cura pro mortuis, i. and iv.), Chrysostom (Commentary on Phil., hom. 3), Dionysius the Areopagite (Hierarchia ecclesiastics, last chap.), and Apostolic Constitutions, VIII., ii. 12, iv. 41 (where the liturgical form is given). By some of these Fathers the custom was regarded as of apostolic institution.
Just as we love and respect our living brethren, so do we love and respect those of our brethren who have departed this life. We express our love for our departed friends and relatives through prayer. Just as we pray for the living that the Grace of God may be upon them, so do we pray for the dead because the final judgment has not yet taken place. At death, no one leaves the world to appear before God free of sin, perfect, holy, so that he does not need the mercy and Grace of God. All of us, living and dead, are members of one Church and are bound together by one Faith, by common love, and are unworthy sons of the merciful God. It is therefore our duty to ask God, each of us separately, and all together are one Church, to be merciful toward the sinful soul of our departed brother or sister.
Death and burial cannot completely sever the Christian love which united the living with those once living and now deceased. We continue to love our parents even after death. We continue to express this love for them and it becomes real when we commemorate them in our prayers. We can communicate with the living members of the Church in both a visible, physical manner and a spiritual manner, i,e., we can talk to them and do things for them materially and spiritually. We can communicate with the faithful departed in a spiritual manner only-through prayer, in which we ask for the forgiveness of their sins and for their establishment in God’s Heavenly mansions. We pray for them in the spirit of love, knowing that no one will be saved otherwise than by the prayer of all the Church in which Christ lives, knowing and trusting that so long as the end of time has not arrived, all the members of the Church, both living and departed, are being continually perfected by mutual prayer.
How can we but not pray for our deceased parents who brought us into this world, who cared for us in our childhood and looked after our upbringing, who fed us and clothed us? How can we not remember in our prayers our brothers and sisters and our friends, the companions of our life who have departed into eternity? How can our hearts not be possessed with the insatiable desire to pray for them as our expression of thanks, devotion and love. How else, if not by prayer, we express our feelings of unity and fellowship with our brethren in the Faith who have gone to their rest before us?
O Lord, remember the souls of Your servants, my parents (their names), and of all my kinsmen in the flesh, and of all our fathers, brethren and sisters who are fallen asleep in the hope of the Resurrection and life everlasting; pardon their transgressions, both voluntary and involuntary. Grant them Your Heavenly Kingdom, and a portion of Your eternal blessings, and the enjoyment of Your unending and blessed Life.
BESIDES our private prayers for the deceased, the Holy Church lays upon us the obligation to accompany the loss of a loved one with public, i.e. church prayer. The Church has prayed for the dead from the beginning of its existence as is witnessed by the earliest liturgical monuments. But prayers were said for the dead even is the Old Testament Church: “It is a holy and pious to pray for the deed, that they may be loosed from sins” (2 Maccabees. 12 :45). Besides the greatest prayer for the dead-the Liturgy, the prayers and devotions for the dead are contained in the memorial services such as the Trisogion and the Parastasis (Memorial Service). These services are said at the deathbed, upon the graves of the deceased, and on days in: which the deaths of our ancestors are commemorated. The Parastasis is filled with -a singular simplicity, soothing thoughts and devotion to God’s Will, and the grace of the prayers enter with out resistance into the hearts of the sorrowing to quiet the grieving and disquited soul.
The memorial services are of great solemnity and are replete with the joyous Christian teaching about the future Resurrection; the Orthodox Christian replaces the funeral dirge with the hymn of praise, Alleluia, which is sung frequently in these services. Needless to say, our belief in the Resurrection is a great help to us; it comforts and consoles us in our sufferings. Job cheered himself with this reflection (Job 19:25); and it was belief in the Resurrection which gave the early Christians such courage and calm in the great persecutions. Christians who believe in the Resurrection ought not to mourn for their dead like the heathen who have no hope (1 Thess. 4;12). St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (258 A.D.), used to caution his flock against such excessive grief, lest the heathen should come to think that the Christians had no firm belief in the life to come. Hence he considered it unbecoming to wear mourning for those who were rejoicing before the throne of God. Those only should be mourned for who died in grievous sin. “Not by weeping,” says St. John Chrysostom, “but by prayer and almsgiving are dead relieved.”
It is the tradition of the Church to say the Parastasis together with the Liturgy on the day of death, the third day, the ninth day, the fortieth day after death and on the annual anniversary of death. The prayers are said on the third day in remembrance of the third-day Resurrection of Our Saviour; on the ninth, that the soul of the deceased be conjoined to the nine ranks of Angels; on the fortieth, from the example of the mourning in the Old Testament for the death of the Prophet Moses for forty days by the Israelites, and because of the Ascension of Our Lord on the fortieth day. The dead are commemorated on the annual anniversary of death because this day is their birth-day into Life Everlasting, and on this day we especially feel the loss of a loved one.
With the Saints give rest, O Christ,
to the soul of Thy servant(s),
Where sickness and sorrow are no more,
neither sighing, But life everlasting.
The Parastasis ends with the exclamation of “Memory Eternal” to the deceased. By these words we express our firm belief in the immortality of the soul. It will live in everlasting peace and in the prayerful memories of those who pray for it.