Saturday, November 05, 2016

Dostoyevsky on Prayer for the Dead

Young man, be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.

Remember, too, every day, and whenever you can, repeat to yourself, ‘Lord, have mercy on all who appear before Thee today.’ For every hour and every moment thousands of men leave life on this earth, and their souls appear before God. And how many of them depart in solitude, unknown, sad, dejected that no one mourns for them or even knows whether they have lived or not! And behold, from the other end of the earth perhaps, your prayer for their rest will rise up to God though you knew them not nor they you. How touching it must be to a soul standing in dread before the Lord to feel at that instant that, for him too, there is one to pray, that there is a fellow creature left on earth to love him too! And God will look on you both more graciously, for if you have had so much pity on him, how much will He have pity Who is infinitely more loving and merciful than you! And He will forgive him for your sake.” (The Brothers Karamazov, book 6, chapter 3 (g) - Conversations of Fr Zossima: Of prayer, of love, and of contact with the other worlds)

The video above is a choral setting of the words “Eternal Memory” (Вѣчная Памѧть in Old Church Slavonic, from the Greek Αἰωνία ἡ μνήμη) from the Byzantine Rite’s equivalent of the Requiem service. The author of this setting, Pavel Chesnokov (1877-1944), was a remarkably prolific composer of sacred music, with over 400 pieces to his name; very sadly, when the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, where he has served as choirmaster, was destroyed in 1933, Chesnokov was so distraught that he stopped composing altogether. (The church was demolished to make way for a gigantic public building that was never realized, and reconstructed on the same site from 1995 to 2000.)

Although All Souls’ Day has passed, it has become a common custom to extend the special season of prayers for the dead through the whole of November. Rorate caeli recently published a useful reminder of the original intention of Pope Benedict XV, when in 1915 he granted all priests permission to say three Masses on November 2nd, a custom originally observed only in Spain and Portugal, namely so that they might pray for those who had been killed in war. We also ought to persevere in this holy intention, and remember especially to pray for the many Christians who were killed in the War-to-End-All-Wars, and the many wars that have happened since, for “it is ... a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.”

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