Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Communal South

The idea of the ongoing community of the living with the dead is strong in the South.  One may see it throughout her history.  A few ensamples:

From 1854, George Fitzhugh writing on marriage:

The Roman dwelling was a holy and sacred place; a temple of the gods, over which Manes, and Lares, and Penates watched and hovered. Each hearthstone was an altar on which daily sacrifice was offered. The family was hedged all round with divinities, with departed ancestry purified and apotheosised, who with kindly interest guarded and guided the household (Sociology for the South, electronic edition, 1998, http://docsouth.unc.edu/southlit/fitzhughsoc/fitzhugh.html, accessed 9 May 2016, p. 194, © This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

From Wendell Berry in 1982 (‘The Wheel’, The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, Berkeley, Cal.: Counterpoint, 1998, p. 141):

At the first strokes of the fiddle bow
the dancers rise from their seats.
 . . .
In this rapture the dead return.
 . . . They step
into the steps of the living
and turn with them in the dance
in the sweet enclosure
of the song, and timeless
is the wheel that brings it round.

And from Randall Ivey in 2014:

In a time when the dead are forgotten
As quickly as yesterday’s news,
My father attends funerals
In coat, tie, and mirror-bright shoes.

 . . .

No matter the person’s station,
Whether or not he is kin,
Co-worker, employee, neighbor,
Man of renown or childhood friend,

My father never fails to show at church door,
Risking loquacious preacher and frisky bladder
To lift up prayer for those now gone
Because to him, unlike others, some things still matter:

(‘My Father Attends Funerals’, http://www.abbevilleinstitute.org/blog/my-father-attends-funerals/, accessed 11 April 2016)

In this too the South will find the full expression of this good instinct of hers in the practices and beliefs of the Orthodox Church.

Prayers to and for the departed abound in the Church.  Here is one ensample, for departed loved ones:

O God of spirits and of all flesh, Who hast trampled down death and overthrown the Devil, and given life to Thy world, do Thou, the same Lord, give rest to the souls of Thy departed servants in a place of brightness, a place of refreshment, a place of repose, where all sickness, sighing, and sorrow have fled away. Pardon every transgression which they have committed, whether by word or deed or thought. For Thou art a good God and lovest mankind; because there is no man who lives yet does not sin, for Thou only art without sin, Thy righteousness is to all eternity, and Thy word is truth.

For Thou are the Resurrection, the Life, and the Repose of Thy servants who have fallen asleep, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever unto ages of ages. Amen.

Source:  https://oca.org/orthodoxy/prayers/for-the-departed , accessed 10 May 2016

Nearly every day on the Church’s calendar is dedicated to one or more saints

and each day of the week is likewise dedicated to some holy person or event (Monday-Holy Archangels, Tuesday-St John the Baptist, etc.).

This day in particular, the second Tuesday after Easter Sunday (the first after Thomas Sunday), is the Day of Brightness (or Radonitsa as it is called in the Slavic part of the world), during which the Orthodox visit the graves of their kin and offer prayers to God for them and share the joy of the Resurrection with them.

Some articles on the Day of Brightness:

May all Southerners show their love and thankfulness to their departed kith and kin by their frequent prayers for them.

The death of people who are close and dear to us is one of the most difficult trials sent to us by the Lord God during this temporary life. There are no tears more bitter than the tears of a mother for the beloved child of her heart who goes to the grave before his time. What sorrow can we compare to the sorrow of widows and orphans? Nonetheless, our Lord and Saviour turns to these people, the most unfortunate ones in the eyes of the world, saying respectfully, "Do not weep!" The Apostle Paul commands these sorrowing ones, saying, "Do not sorrow!"

What does all this mean? Of course, it does not mean that we should forget those dear loved ones of ours who have departed, that we should cast them out of our hearts. No. We should love them after their death just as we loved them in life. However, we should not sorrow over their death. Death does not separate us who are Christians from communion in love with those who are dear to us. The Lord Himself has given us the very grace-filled means needed to have communion with them. The first among these means is prayer. Prayer is the best means for spiritual communion among people who are still alive. The Apostle Paul beseeched the believers to pray continually for him in order that the Lord would grant him strength and power to preach. Likewise, St. Paul prayed for others that the Lord would confirm them in the Faith and in a Christian life. There is no doubt that the prayers of believers strengthened the Apostle and that his prayers strengthened them.

We find an amazing example of the power and action of mutual prayer in the Acts of the Apostles. While St. Peter was in prison sleeping between two guards, prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for him (Acts 12:5). What was the result of this prayer? During that very night, the Angel of the Lord appeared in the prison, awoke the sleeping Apostle, and led him out of prison.

The power and action of prayer for the souls of the departed is even greater than prayer for the living. There is no greater comfort than prayer and no greater joy than joy in the Lord for those who are separated from their bodies. It is unjust, as some think, to assume that the needs of our departed brethren are unknown to us. However, this is not true. The spiritual needs of the dead are the same as the spiritual needs of the living. The dead need the mercy and goodness of the Heavenly Father, forgiveness and remission of sins, grace-filled help from God in the fulfillment of all good desires, and the peace and ease of the heart and conscience. These things are most important both for the living and the dead. Give rest, O Lord, to the souls of Thy departed servants is the continual prayer and best intention of our Mother Church for the souls of Her departed. We should also beseech the Lord with this intention for the departed souls of our own loved ones.

 . . .

Source:  http://orthodoxinfo.com/death/pray_reposed.aspx, accessed 10 May 2016

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