My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,


Orthodox Christian Tradition on the Commemoration
of the dead.

Besides the prayers which are raised up to God during the Divine Worship on behalf of the dead, our Holy Orthodox Church has also ordained that Memorial Services be offered on certain days. The origin of the Memorials is found in the Holy Scripture. From the Old Testament, we are informed that the Israelites prayed to God to forgive the sins of their fathers who had died (cf. Neh. 9:2). From the New Testament we learn that the holy Apostle Paul prays that our Lord Jesus Christ may grant that the faithful Onesiphoros who was already dead, "find mercy from the Lord" and the Father on the day of the Second Coming (2 Timothy 1:18). The Church has never hesitated to pray for her departed, that they "may find mercy" from God on the Day of "the Lord." This is why we find Memorials already from the first centuries of the Church’s life. And this is so for we are all – both living and dead – the "body of Christ and individually members of it" [1 Corinthians 12:27).

According to Saint John of Damascus, "the Disciples of the Savior and holy Apostles are the ones who decreed that we remember the faithful who have fallen asleep in the Lord "at the awesome, holy, and Life-Giving Mysteries. From one end of the world to the other, this Apostolic Tradition is firmly held by the Church of Christ without any objection until this day, and will continue to be held "until the end of the world."

The Saturdays of the Souls and the "Kollyva"

Our Holy Orthodox Church has ordained Common Memorials TWICE A YEAR: on the Saturday before Meatfare Sunday and on the Saturday before the Great Holy Feast of Pentecost. With the former, the Church has a Memorial FOR ALL THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN ASLEEP IN THE LORD. This practice was established by the holy Fathers of the Church from the first Christian age because certain believers "suffered prematurely in strange lands, far away from their relatives, in the sea, on treacherous mountains, contagious disease, hunger, battlefield, hunger, fire, cold or storms. With this common Memorial, we pray for all.

The Second Common Memorial designated for each year by the Church is served nine days after the bodily Ascension of our Savior Jesus Christ; that is the Saturday before Holy Pentecost. On this Memorial Saturday, the Church commemorates "all those who have piously fallen asleep from the beginning of the age in the hope of the resurrection unto life eternal.

Memorials are NOT held: a) On all Dominical Feast days, b) from the Saturday of Lazarus until the Sunday of Thomas inclusively, c) on Pentecost Sunday, and d) on the Feast Day of Koimisis (Dormition) of the Theotokos.)

The Saturday of the Dead. On the day before the SUNDAY OF THE LAST JUDGMENT, and in close connection with the theme of the Sunday, there is a UNIVERSAL COMMEMORATION OF THE DEAD ‘from all the ages’. [There are further commemorations of the dead on THE SECOND, THIRD, AND FOURTH SATURDAYS OF LENT.} Before we call to mind the SECOND COMING OF CHRIST in the service on Sunday, we commend to God ALL THOSE DEPARTED BEFORE US, WHO ARE NOW AWAITING THE Last Judgment. In the texts for this Saturday, there is a strong sense OF THE CONTINUING BOND OF MUTUAL LOVE THAT LINKS TOGETHER ALL THE MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH, WHETHER ALIVE OR DEAD. For those who believe in the Risen Christ, death DOES NOT constitute an impassible barrier, SINCE ALL ARE ALIVE IN HIM; the departed are still our brethren, members of the same family with us, and so WE ARE CONSCIOUS OF THE NEED TO PRAY CONSISTENTLY ON THEIR BEHALF.

The Saturday before Holy Lent (‘Cheese Week’), there is a General Commemoration of all ascetic saints of the Church, both men and women. As we set out on the journey of the Lenten fast, we are reminded that we do not travel alone, BUT AS MEMBERS OF A FAMILY, SUPPORTED BY THE INTERCESSIONS OF MANY INVISIBLE HELPERS.

Saturday in the First Week.

After the penitential fasting of the first five days of Great Lent, Saturday and Sunday are kept AS FEASTS OF JOYFUL THANKSGIVING. On Saturday we commemorate the Great Martyr Theodore Tyron or Tire, ‘the Recruit’, a Roman soldier in Asia Minor, martyred in the early 4th century under the Emperor Maximian (286-305 A.D.). Here may be seen at work a rule applied by the Church snce the 4th century: AS THE FULL LITURGY CANNOT BE OFFERED ON WEEKDAYS IN LENT, saints’ memorials which in the fixed calendar occur during the week are transferred to Saturday or Sunday. So the memorial of Saint Theodore, whose feast falls on 17 February, has been transferred to the First Saturday. The texts for the day in the Triodion make frequent referrences to the literal meaning of the name Theodore, ‘Gift from God’.

There is a specific reason why Saint Theodore has come to be associated with the first week of Lent. According to the Tradition recorded in the Synaxarion, the Emperor Julian the APOSTATE (reigned 361-363 A.D.), as part of his campain against the Christian, attempted to defile their obserance of the firt week of Lent by ordering all the food for sale in the market of Constantinople to be sprinkled with blood from pagan sacrifices. Saint Theodore then appeared in a dream to Evdoxios, Archbishop of the city, ordering him to warn his flock against bying anything from the market; instead, so the Saint told him, THEY SHOULD BOIL WHEAT (Kollyva) AND EAT THIS ALONE. In memory of this event, after the Presanctified Liturgy on the first Friday, a Canon of intercession is chanted to Saint Theodore, and a dish of kollyva is blessed in his honor.


At the sacred Memorials, as we know, KOLLYVA (boiled wheat) is offered, a practice which can be traced to the middle of the 4th century. Bread and wine with olives or cheese or rice were offered in Memorials of earlier times. The offering of these gifts served the purpose of charity, and those who partook of them would pray: "BLESSED BE HIS/HER MEMORY". This is why they wre called MACARIAE (BLESSINGS), and had their origin at the meals or the funeral meals of which the Apostolic Constitutions speak.

The KOLLYVA which finally prevailed over the other gifts, conceal a profound and most didactic symbolism. They symbolize the resurrection from the dead of the bodies. They remind us that man, too, is a seed that is at death buried in the earth as is the seed of wheat. This seed will be resurrected again by the power of God. For this reason, as Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki observes, in the KOLLYVA we add various other seeds (raisins, walnuts, almonds, sesame, etc.). But the basic element is always wheat because the Savior Himself likened His All-Holy Body and His Resurrection to wheat, saying, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). In like manner, if I die as God the Father has ordained, I will harvest the salvation of the human race. This Dominical word is beautifully complemented by Saint Paul when he speaks about the resurrection of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49. (Source: The Lenten Triodion and The Mystery of Death)

(To be continued)


"Glory Be To GOD
All Things!"
– Saint John Chrysostomos
+ + +

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+ Father George

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