Archive for January 27th, 2012

The quote for the day from my Franklin Planner is from Samuel Johnson:  “He that labors in any great or laudable undertaking has his fatigues first supported by hope, and afterwards rewarded by joy.”

For an Orthodox Christian, the divide between this life and eternity isn’t all that great.  Of course we can’t see them (though I sometimes wonder about those who are about to make that final journey, since they almost always seem to see people who have been dead for some time), but they are never far from our thoughts, and sometimes you can almost sense their presence.  That feeling is strongest for me whenever I attend a Liturgy; I have been at Liturgies where the only two people visible were the priest and me, and the church has felt packed to the gills.

Be that as it may, a person’s presence is most keenly felt in the days immediately following death.  You’re more aware of them at that time than at any other; even people you never knew personally, if they are close to someone you do know, hover at the edge of your brain.  This is currently the case for me with the father of a member of my parish, a man who was the very first priest of that parish and who is consequently known and loved by a great many members of it.

The other day, his daughter posted a note on Facebook asking for volunteers to read the Book of Psalms for her father.  This is a uniquely Orthodox custom, described in this way in the Orthodox Coverdale Psalter published by Holy Trinity Monastery (I think):  In the Orthodox Church, there exists the pious custom of reading the Psalter for one who has died.  The Psalms are read continuously, except during those times when a Memorial is being served, from the Rite Following the Departure  of  the  Soul  from  the  Body  until  the  burial  of the reposed, and in his memory after that.  This reading serves as prayer to the Lord for the reposed, comforts those grieving for the deceased, and directs their prayers for him to God.  Any pious lay person may read the Psalter for the reposed, and those who do so perform a good work.

I had not known that the Psalter continued to be read after burial, but having learned of the custom, I wanted to do this for my friend and her mother.  So I wrote for details.  Turns out there were several volunteers, and their efforts were coordinated by another member of the parish, whose family is something of a legend in Orthodox circles.  He organized a roster of the ten volunteers so that each of us would read one section of the Book of Psalms a day, and if possible, skip ahead ten sections and read that one, as well:  Thus, I began with Kathisma 8 (Psalms 55-63) last night, picked up with Kathisma 9 (Psalms 64-69) this morning, and hope to get into Kathisma 19 (Psalms 134-142) tonight.

(For anyone who is interested in this unique structure, here’s a link that goes into it more fully:  http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/typicon_psalms.aspx)

Because these groups of Psalms are interspersed with prayers specifically for the deceased, it takes a bit of time and effort to get through the whole thing, but not a great block of time; maybe half an hour to 45 minutes.  For me, the hard part last night was that I got the notice so late that I had a hard time staying awake to finish the task!  And because my husband is now home full time, finding a quiet space to work on this will be a challenge, too.

But, “He that labors in any great or laudable undertaking has his fatigues first supported by hope, and afterwards rewarded by joy.”  This is both a great and a laudable undertaking, first, in that it provides comfort to Father Laurence’s family, and second, in that it “picks up where he left off,” so to speak, in continuing the prayer that was such an integral part of his life, while his soul “makes the adjustment” from one world to the next.  I feel so honored to be able to do it.  I hope that I may complete it worthily.

One final note:  Often, when writing about people who have passed on, I write, “May their memory be eternal!”  Only recently did I learn the reason behind this phrase:  At the final Judgement, some people actually will find themselves in hell, those people who were not interested in God while in this life or who actively militated against Him – they are there, in other words, by their own choice.  For those who are welcomed into heaven, the realization that someone they had known and loved was not also there, would make them sad, and there can be no sadness in heaven; so they will not even remember the existence of those who are not there.  I can think of nothing more horrible, or sadder, than a mother who forgets her children, for example, or a husband who forgets the wife with whom he shared his whole life.

So, Memory Eternal, dear Father Laurence, and if my prayers are of any help to you, remember me also, when my own time comes.

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