"With the spirits of the righteous made perfect, give rest to the soul of Your servant, O Savior, and preserve it in that life of blessedness which is with You, O You Who loves mankind." (St. John Chrysostom, Troparion for the Departed)
Losing a Loved One
The death of a Christian not only affects the family, but also the entire Church, for we are all part of the Body of Christ. The Orthodox Funeral Service, which expresses this fact, is not to be seen primarily as an opportunity to extol, in a sentimental way, the virtues of an individual. Rather, the various prayers and hymns emphasize the harsh reality of death, as well as the victorious Resurrection of Christ through which the power of death is conquered. The Funeral Service comforts those who mourn; it is also the means through which the Church prays for one of its members who has died in the faith of Christ. Orthodoxy views the end of physical existence only as the termination of one stage of life. God’s love is stronger than death, and His mercy is infinite and His goodness is beyond measure. The Resurrection of Christ bears witness to this power.
Death alters but does not destroy the bond of love and faith which exists among all the members of the Church. Orthodoxy believes that through our prayers, those “who have fallen asleep in the faith and the hope of the Resurrection” continue to have opportunity to grow closer to God. Therefore, the Church prays constantly for her members who have died in Christ. We place our trust in the love of God and the power of mutual love and forgiveness. We pray that God will forgive the sins of the faithful departed, and that He will receive them into the company of Saints in the heavenly Kingdom. The Orthodox Church remembers the departed in the prayers of every Divine Liturgy. Besides this, there is a Memorial Service in which the Church also remembers the dead.
Memorial Services are offered on the ninth, and fortieth day after a death, as well as, on the yearly anniversary of the death. It is also not uncommon to hold a memorial service on the third day, and third, sixth, and ninth month after death. In addition to these times, the Memorial Service is always offered for all the faithful departed on four “Saturdays of the souls,” which occur on the two Saturdays preceding Great Lent, the first Saturday of Great Lent, and the Saturday before Pentecost.
When the Memorial Service is offered, it is customary for the family of the deceased to bring a dish of boiled wheat to the Church (kolyva). The boiled wheat is placed on a table in the center of the nave during the Service and is a symbol of the Resurrection. When speaking of the Resurrection, our Lord said: “Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit,” (John 12:24).