While preparing a post about the popular tradition at Otpust (pilgrimage) of Parastas (Memorial Service) celebrated annually on Saturday evening in Mount Macrina Cemetery, I learned of the heinous martyrdom of the 85 year-old French priest Father Jacques Hamel. Blessed Father Jacques Hamel spent his life in service to our Lord and made the ultimate sacrifice. May the martyred priest pray for us in heaven and his memory be eternal! Amidst the murders of so many by purveyors of hate, our tradition of prayer for the deceased becomes all the more poignant.
Visiting our loved ones in the cemetery and singing the memorial service for the deceased are cherished traditions of Christians of the Eastern Rite. During the Parastas at Otpust, the melodious solemn Rusyn chants for the departed resound across the Mount, as the faithful join in corporate prayer for their departed family and friends. Just as we love and respect our living loved ones, so do we continue to love and respect those who have departed this life by our prayers.
The Church is mystically composed not only of her earthly members but also of the faithful departed. All of us, living and dead, are members of one Church and are bound together by a common faith and love. Our departed loved ones are graced by our commemoration of them in our prayers. How else, if not by prayer, do we express our mystical union with our loved ones, who have gone to their rest before us? The Church instructs that all of her members, both living and departed, are being continually perfected by mutual prayer.
The Old Testament exhorts the faithful to pray for the departed:
“It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins” (2 Maccabees 12:46).
The Church has prayed for the dead from the beginning of its existence as is witnessed by the earliest liturgical monuments. The memorial services of the Orthodox Catholic Church are celebrated with great solemnity and are replete with the joyous Christian teaching of the Resurrection, replacing the funeral dirge with refrains of Alleluia, a hymn of praise. The Resurrection gives Christians the courage and calm to remain faithful in the face of persecution, death and martyrdom.
With the Saints give rest, O Christ,
to the soul of Thy servant,
where sickness and sorrow are no more,
neither sighing, but life everlasting.
The pilgrims at Otpust still walk among the graves and reminisce about days past and those buried there who they knew personally, reminding us of the many sacrifices, accomplishments and impact of those who have gone before us. I will be standing by the grave of my children’s grandmother “Baba Marko” as the Parastas ends with the exclamation of Вѣчьная Памѧть (Memory Eternal). 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.