Monday, September 20, 2004

The Catholic faith
On prayer for the dead
Q: What is to be remarked of such souls as have departed with faith, but without having had time to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance?
A: This: that they may be aided towards the attainment of a blessed resurrection by prayers offered in their behalf, especially such as are offered in union with the oblation of the Bloodless Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ, and by works of mercy done in faith for their memory.
Q: On what is this doctrine grounded?
A: On the constant tradition of the Catholic Church; the sources of which may be seen even in the Church of the Old Testament. Judas Maccabaeus offered sacrifice for his men that had fallen. (2 Macc. xii. 43) Prayer for the departed has ever formed a fixed part of the Divine Liturgy, from the first Liturgy of the Apostle James. St. Cyril of Jerusalem says: very great will be the benefit to those souls for whom prayer is offered at the moment when the holy and tremendous Sacrifice is lying in view. (Lect. Myst. v.9.)

St. Basil the Great in his prayers for Pentecost says that the Lord vouchsafes to receive from us propitiatory prayers for those that are kept in Hades, and allows us the hope of obtaining for them peace, relief and freedom.

The Catechism of the Orthodox Church, pp 68-69 [I have a copy!].

This is the old Catechism of Metropolitan Philaret from 19th-century Russia, translated into English and approved for use in North America by (the later Saint) Tikhon, Bishop of the North American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church (predecessor to the OCA)
The same great metropolitan of Moscow who wrote this:
'Mark you, I do not presume to call false any Church which believes that Jesus is the Christ. The Christian Church can only be either purely true, confessing the true and saving divine teaching without the false admixtures and pernicious opinions of men, or not purely true, mixing with the true and saving teaching of faith in Christ the false and pernicious opinions of men' (Conversation between a Seeker and a Believer Concerning the Orthodoxy of the Eastern Greco-Russian Church. Moscow 1831, pp.27-29). 'You expect now that I should give judgement concerning the other half of present Christianity,' the Metropolitan said in the concluding conversation, 'but I just simply look upon them; in part I see how the Head and Lord of the Church heals the many deep wounds of the old serpent in all the parts and limbs of his Body, applying now gentle, now strong, remedies, even fire and iron, in order to soften hardness, to draw out poison, to clean wounds, to separate out malignant growths, to restore spirit and life in the numbed and half-dead members. In this way I attest my faith that, in the end, the power of God will triumph openly over human weakness, good over evil, unity over division, life over death' (ibid., p.135).
Also in the main link in this entry is this scathing criticism, from an Eastern Orthodox (!), of a book by Fr Seraphim (Rose):
As far as The Soul After Death by Fr Serpahim (sic) Rose, this is a shoddy piece of scholarship. It makes generous use of pseudographia works, such as the the supposed writing of St. John Chrysostom called Homily on Patience and Gratitude or bogus quotes from St. Ephraim. Besides providing mistranslations of existing service books, Rose also quotes untraceable service books without providing sources. Rather than relying upon obscure, controversial sources on the after life, I prefer to stick with tried and true Patristics accepted by the whole Church, as directed by my spiritual father.

While I don't agree with all of his opinions, Fr Seraphim had a lot of good things to say. (Many of which G.K. Chesterton already said decades before while being funnier and using fewer pages.) In this book, for example, he explained what out-of-body experiences are and why one shouldn't seek them or have séances, and also - what's controversial among the Orthodox - brings up some perfectly acceptable Russian folklore (the aerial toll-houses) to explain the particular judgement that the soul goes through shortly after death ...before going to heaven, hell or the intermediate state (known in Roman Catholic theology of course as purgatory). This state is also called hades (as Met. Philaret calls it) or sheol, not to be confused with hell (gehenna).

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