After my death our beloved Church abroad will break three ways ... first the Greeks will leave us as they were never a part of us ... then those who live for this world and its glory will go to Moscow ... what will remain will be those souls faithful to Christ and His Church. ~St. Philaret of NY


Prayer for Non-Orthodox

This post is my response to learning that in their continuing apostasy the ROCOR-MP is now offering a Requiem Service for Non-orthodox served by a priest

from the book: Soul After Death by Fr. Seraphim Rose

Prayer for Non-Orthodox


How the Orthodox Church prays for its faithful children who have died is set forth above (Chapter Ten).  But what of those who have died outside the Church?  In general, the Church follows the principle well expressed by Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow: "The non-Orthodox by the very fact of their non-Orthodoxy have cut themselves off from communion of the Mysteries of the Orthodox Church.  To this there corresponds the absence of their commemoration at the Mystery of the Eucharist."  Thus, at the Divine Liturgy the Church does not make particular commemoration of the non-Orthodox, and especially of the dead who can no longer be joined to the Church.  

How, then, can an Orthodox Christian express the impulse of his Christian heart to pray for relatives and friends who have died outside the Church?  The answer of the Church to this question is both strict and compassionate, as may be seen in the following article, the last part of a longer article setting forth the reasons why the Church does not pray for the non-Orthodox at the Liturgy, by one of the great Orthodox hierarchs of our own century, one of the founding fathers of the Catacomb Church of Russia in the 1920's.  He was a hieromonk when this article was written; it is here translated from the Russian periodical Soul-Profiting Reading, 1901.

By Metropolitan Joseph of Petrograd

Speaking of the strictness of our Orthodox Church with regard to the commemoration of wrongly-believing Christians, we do not wish to say that our Holy Church commands us, her children not to pray for them at all in any way.  She only forbids us arbitrary prayer – that is, to pray however we wish or think.  Our Mother, the Orthodox Church, instructs us that among us everything, and also prayer itself, should be done decently and in order (I Cor. 14:40).  

And so we pray at all our church services, usually without knowing or understanding it ourselves, for all peoples of various nationalities and for the whole world.  We pray precisely in the way our Lord Jesus Christ instructed His Apostles to pray in the prayer given to them: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!  This all-embracing petition includes in itself all the needs of ourselves and those of one blood with us, even though they be our wrongly-believing brothers.  Here we entreat the All-good Lord also for the souls of departed non-Orthodox Christians, that He might do with them what is pleasing to His holy will.  For the Lord knows immeasurably better than we to whom and how to show mercy.  

And so, Orthodox Christians!  Whoever you might be, layman or priest of God, if during any church service there should come to you a fervent impulse to pray for some "Carl" or "Edward" close to you, then, when the Lord's Prayer is read or sung, sigh for him to the Lord and say: May thy holy will be done in him, O Lord!  And limit yourself to this prayer.  For thus you have been taught to pray by the Lord Himself.  And believe that this prayer of your will be a thousand times more pleasing to the Lord and profitable to your soul than all your arbitrary church commemorations.

Now let us say a little about private prayer. More than one example is known in our Orthodox Church of the private prayer of a pleaser of God helping the souls of the departed of another religion, even pagans.  Thus St. Macarius of Egypt related of himself...*

From this account of the blessed Father, first of all we see that his prayer for the pagans suffering (in hell) was not the public prayer of the Church, but private prayer.   It was the prayer of a solitary desert-dweller praying in the secret closet of his heart . . . Then, this prayer can serve in part for us Orthodox Christians also as an inducement to pray for the non-Orthodox, living and dead, in our private prayer at home; but it is only an inducement, and not at all a model – for the Saint did not tell us how he prayed for the pagans and did not teach us how to do this . . . In one respect only it can serve for us as an example: in that St. Macarius prayed for the pagans not with an arbitrary prayer, but in the way the Spirit of God Who dwelt in His pure heart instructed him.  This Spirit not only instructed, but compelled him to pray for the whole world – for all men, living and dead, as is usual and characteristic for the loving hearts of all pleasers of God, as also the holy Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: Our heart is enlarged; ye are not restricted by us (11 Cor. 6:11). 

Thus, we can now agree that Orthodox Christians may pray for non-Orthodox Christians, living and dead, in private prayer at home; but – let us remind again and again – not with arbitrary prayer, not as we think and desire (so as not to draw upon ourselves the wrath instead of the good-will of God), but according to the instruction of people experienced in spiritual life.

There was an incident in the life of the Optina Elder Leonid (Leo in schema) who died in 1841.  The father of one of his disciples, Paul Tambovtsev, died an unfortunate, violent death – by suicide.  The loving son was deeply grieved by the news of this, and so he poured out his sorrow before the Elder:  "The unfortunate death of my father is for me a heavy cross.  Yes, I am now on the cross, and these pains will go with me to the grave.  I imagine eternity, terrible for sinners, in which there is no more repentance, and I am tormented by the prospect of the eternal torments which await my father, who died without repentance.  Tell me, Father, how can I console myself in my present grief?"

The Elder replied:  "Entrust both yourself and the fate of your father to the will of the Lord, which is most wise and almighty.  Do not pry into the wonders of the Most High.  Strive by humility of wisdom to strengthen yourself within the bounds of moderate sorrow.  Pray to the All-good Creator, fulfilling thereby the duty of love and the obligation of a son."

To the question:  "In what way should we pray for such ones?" the answer was:  "In the spirit of virtuous and wise men, pray thus:  Seek out, O Lord, the lost soul of my father, if it be possible, have mercy!  Unsearchable are Thy decrees.  Do not account this my prayer as a sin; but may Thy holy will be done!  Pray simply, without testing, giving your heart over into the right hand of the Most High.  Of course it was not God's will that your father should have such a grievous death; but now he is entirely in the will of Him Who can cast both soul and body into the fiery furnace, and Who both humbles and exalts, gives over to death and brings to life, sends down to hell and raises up.  And at the same time He is so merciful, almighty, and filled with love that the good qualities of all those born of earth are nothing before His Most High Goodness.  Therefore you should not grieve excessively.  You will say:  'I love my father, and therefore I grieve inconsolably.'  This is just.   But God loved and loves him incomparably more than you do.  And so it remains for you to leave the eternal fate or your father to the goodness and mercy of God, Who if He wills has mercy, but who can withstand Him?"

 And so, this private prayer to be said at home or in the cell, given by Elder Leonid, experienced in spiritual life, to his disciple, can serve for an Orthodox Christian as an example or model of prayer for any non-Orthodox Christian close to one.  For example, one may pray in this way:  Have mercy, O Lord, if it be possible, on the soul of Thy slave (name) who has departed into eternal life in separation from Thy Holy Orthodox Church!  Unsearchable are Thy decrees.  Do not account this my prayer as a sin, but may Thy holy will be done!
* In the "Alphabetical Collection" of saying of the Desert Fathers, under "Macarius the Great," we read:  Abba Macarius said, 'Walking in the desert one day, I found the skull of a dead man, lying on the ground.  As I was moving it with my stick, the skull spoke to me. I said to it, "Who are you?" The skull replied, "I was high priest of the idols and of the pagans who dwelt in this place; but you are Macarius, the Spirit-bearer. Whenever you take pity on those who are in torments, and pray for them, they feel a little respite." The skull further instructed St. Macarius concerning the torments of hell, concluding: "We have received a little mercy since we did not know God, but those who know God and denied Him are down below us." 

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