FW: God's Vineyard (was Re: [orthodox-synod] St. Vladimir Cemetery vandals )
A selection for the American holiday of Decoration Day (called Memorial
Day in the North) compiled from Orthodox Life, Vol.42, No.3, May-June,
1991; and "The Elder Joseph of Optina," Holy Transfiguration Monastery,
1984, Appendix B
We direct these words to all Orthodox Christians when the summer
arrives, when almost all of us will visit the remains of a close one.
Protect the graves of your loved ones. Preserve from disarray God's
vineyard from which the angels will gather the great harvest into
God's storehouses. Do not destroy the tombstones which were erected
by loving hands. Do not disturb the peace and tranquility of those
who have reposed from earthly cares.
Do you know where the custom of meticulously protecting graves
from crude vandalism comes from? From very early in the Christian era,
from apostolic times. If we were to descend into the catacombs, where
the first Christians buried their deceased brethren, we would see with
what love they treated the tombs! What heartfelt, gentle, and deeply
touching messages and images are engraved there! What light-filled
faith breathes therein! Death itself is never called a misfortune,
but the passing on to a better life; the deceased one rests in peace,
his body is only temporarily given over to the earth, the cemetery
itself is referred to as a place of rest. With what suplications did
the Christians turn to people - not to disturb the sweet dreams of
the departed, not to disturb their serenity! On the contrary they
warned of damnation if the graves were disturbed.
While visiting a cemetery, who has not noticed how some tombstones
are broken by some daring hand, how crosses and holy images are defiled.
What sorrow this brings to the heart! Is it possible that they do not
know what a great sin this is? The wrath of the righteous Judge does
not always descend immediately, but God's punishment will sooner or
later come upon those vultures who have lost their conscience and
sense of shame. Be wary of such a heavy sin. Do not disturb the peace
and tranquility of those who have reposed from earthly cares.
Although grave robbing is not prevalent in America, on the other
hand desecration of graves by occultists is widespread. For this
reason one should carefully guard the sanctity of graves. Church
tradition as recorded in the lives of saints teaches that the soul of
the departed is present in a special spiritual way at the place of
its burial. Therefore graves should be protected from desecration by
occultists and properly maintained. Prayerful commemoration of the
departed should be observed at the place of burial.
May the Orthodox pray for their non-Orthodox departed ones while
visiting their places of burial?
Of course! But we ought not to pray in a self-willed manner, not
as we wish and as it comes into our head, but according to the
direction of persons experienced in the spiritual life. The Optina
Elder Leonid gave an example of such prayer when asked by a spiritual
child how he could comfort himself in the grief of his father's death.
The Elder Joseph points to this prayer as a model. One can pray for
a non-Orthodox person in the following manner:
"Have mercy, O Lord, if it is possible, on the soul of Thy servant
(name), departed to eternal life in separation from Thy Holy Orthodox
Church! Unsearchable are Thy judgments. Account not this my prayer as
sin. But may Thy holy will be done!
Experience has shown that such a prayer tempers the burning sorrow
of the heart felt by the one praying for the soul of the person close
to him, even though he died outside of Orthodoxy. We pray exactly as
our Lord Jesus Christ taught His Apostles to pray, "Thy will be done!"
This all embracing petition gathers within itself all our needs and the
needs of all our brothers, even though they be non-Orthodox. In it we
entreat the All-good Lord for the souls of the departed non-Orthodox
Christians, that He may accomplish with them that which is pleasing to
His holy will. For the Lord knows immeasurably better than we to whom
to show mercy and what mercy to show.