Word Magazine February 2001 Page 16
O GOD OF SPIRITS
AND OF ALL FLESH
By V. Rev. Stephen Rogers
On the seventeenth of February this year the Church gathers together to celebrate the Saturday of Souls. As a prelude to Great Lent, we assemble to pray for all departed Orthodox Christians, petitioning that God would have mercy on them and grant them eternal life.
The prayers for the departed are prayers of love and of hope, earnestly seeking that the God of all love and hope would give rest to the souls of the departed in a “place of brightness, a place of verdure, a place of repose, whence all sickness, sorrow and sighing have fled away.”
We celebrate that through Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection, the door to paradise has been reopened and the possibility of dwelling in the eternal presence of God is made available to those we love and to us. Near the close of the Trisagion Prayers for the Departed, the prayer of the priest on behalf of the departed reveals the magnitude of what Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection have accomplished on our behalf. The priest prays: “O God of spirits and of all flesh, who has trampled down death, and made powerless the devil, and given life to the world …“. In this prayer we see the threefold triumph that Christ has bestowed upon those who believe in Him.
First, by His death and resurrection. He has “trampled down death.” Echoing the Paschal troparion, our prayer for the departed reminds us that Christ has removed us from the inexorable stranglehold of death. “For as in Adam shall all men die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Because of the love of Christ, death is no longer the ultimate finality and separation. What once was man’s greatest fear has been transformed into the passageway to man’s greatest hope. We can pray for our departed loved ones with hope. For the Christian, death is still the enemy, but it is a conquered enemy. And though we grieve over the physical departure of those we care for, we do not despair, for death has been trampled down by the death of Christ on the cross.
Secondly, the prayer for the departed reminds us that Christ has “made powerless the devil.” Our adversary, the Evil One, has been defeated. Christ has descended into Hell itself to proclaim that God has loosed the bonds of death and assured the defeat of the one seeking to devour us. As we go through life with its ups and downs, its triumphs and tragedies, we must remember that though there is sorrow and evil in the world, they are passing away. The author of all evil is destined for defeat. Good is triumphing over evil. We sometimes make the mistake of paying more attention to the desperate work of a defeated devil than we do the redeeming work of an all-loving God. We must not live as if there is no devil; a wounded animal is still a dangerous animal. But we need not live in fear. Ultimately, the power of the devil has been conquered and he will not drag us down to defeat if we keep our hope fixed on Him who conquers.
Thirdly, in this prayer for the departed we are reminded that Christ has “given life unto the world.” The fruits of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf are not limited to the other side of the grave. Christ came that we might have life and have it abundantly. A foretaste of the promises of the life to come can be experienced in this present life as well. Our faith and hope in Christ can remove “sorrow and sickness and sighing” in this present life. There is a place of rest and of brightness opened to us now. God is the God of all spirits and of all flesh and He is the hope and salvation of both the living and the dead. We can pray for our departed loved ones and they can intercede for us, for the same God grants His love and mercy to all. In that, we are never separated from those passed away before us. We are in communion with the same God and therefore in communion with one another.
And so we pray for the departed, not out of fear or desperation, but with hope and assurance in the God who “has trampled down death, made powerless the devil and given life to the world.” As we gather together for the Saturday of Souls let these three promises be our guide and our hope.