Monday, May 2, 2011

from the Akathist for the Repose of Those Who Have Fallen Asleep

I'm no friend of Osama bin Ladin, and I'm not about to dispute whether he deserved to die. Still, as Gandalf told Frodo, "Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life." If we can't give the latter, we shouldn't be too quick to cry for the former either.

The verse from Proverbs that you often hear quoted is interesting:
Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth (24:17)
but mostly, I think, for the words that follow:
Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him.
Proverbs is mostly common sense wisdom about the world around us, and as such, it is often messy. We'd like this to be a more exalted standard--love your enemy as God does, or some such thing. But no, the point here is that God may care more about teaching you a lesson in humility than about justly executing your neighbor. Or to put it in more secular terms, dancing in the streets over the death of our opponent may have more far-reaching consequences than the death itself.

But for Christians, the standard is Jesus, is it not? He who rebuked his disciples for wanting to call down fire from heaven. He who forgave his enemies while they were putting him to death. He who told us to love and pray for our enemies. I know it's not an easy standard, but what good would it be if it were? This is one of the things I love about liturgical prayer. There's no rule that says we must pray in the words of the Church, though we are certainly supposed to pray with her heart. When we don't know how to do that, we have a wealth of model language to help us. Here, then, are a few pertinent sections from the Akathist for the Repose of Those Who Have Fallen Asleep:

Kontakion 2

Enlightened by the illumination of the Most High, Saint Macarius heard a voice from a pagan skull: "When you pray for those suffering in Hell, there is relief for the heathen." O wonderful power of Christian prayer, by which even the infernal regions are illumined! Both believers and unbelievers receive comfort when we cry for the whole world: ALLELUIA.

Ikos 3

O Glad Light, Redeemer of the world, embracing the whole universe with Thy love: behold, Thy cry from the Cross for Thine enemies is heard: "Father, forgive them." In the name of Thine all-forgiving love we make bold to pray to our Heavenly Father for the eternal repose of Thine enemies and ours.
Forgive, O Lord,
those who have shed innocent blood,
those who have sown our path of life with sorrows,
those who have waded to prosperity through the tears of their neighbors.
Condemn not, O Lord,
those who persecute us with slander and malice.
Repay with mercy those whom we have wronged or offended through ignorance,
and grant that our prayer for them may be holy through the sacrament of reconciliation.
O Lord of unutterable Love, remember Thy servants who have fallen asleep.

Kontakion 5

Thou hast given us death as a last prodigy to bring us to our senses and to repentance, O Lord. In its threatening light, earthly vanity is exposed, carnal passions and sufferings become subdued, insubmissive reason is humbled. Eternal justice and righteousness opens to our gaze, and then the godless and those burdened with sins confess on their deathbed Thy real and eternal existence and cry to Thy mercy: ALLELUIA.

Ikos 5

O Father of all consolation and comfort, Thou brightenest with the sun, delightest with fruits, and gladdenest with the beauty of the world both Thy friends and enemies.
And we believe that even beyond the grave Thy loving kindness,
which is merciful even to all rejected sinners, does not fail.
We grieve for hardened and wicked blasphemers of Thy Holiness.
May Thy saving and gracious will be over them.
Forgive, O Lord,
those who have died without repentance.
Save those who have committed suicide in the darkness of their mind,
that the flame of their sinfulness may be extinguished in the ocean of Thy grace.
O Lord of unutterable Love, remember Thy servants who have fallen asleep.

Kontakion 6

Terrible is the darkness of a soul separated from God, the torments of conscience, the gnashing of teeth, the unquenchable fire and the undying worm. I tremble at the thought of such a fate, and I pray for those suffering in Hell as for myself. May our song descend upon them as refreshing dew as we sing: ALLELUIA.

Ikos 6

Thy light, O Christ our God, has shone upon those sitting in the darkness and shadow of death and those in Hell who cannot cry to Thee. Descend into the infernal regions of the earth, O Lord, and bring out into the joy of grace Thy children who have been separated from Thee by sin but who have not rejected Thee.
For they suffer cruelly. Have mercy on them.
For they sinned against Heaven and before Thee,
and their sins are infinitely grievous,
and Thy mercy is infinite.
Visit the bitter misery of souls separated from Thee.
Have mercy, O Lord, on those who hated the truth out of ignorance.
May Thy love be to them not a consuming fire
but the coolness of Paradise:
O Lord of unutterable Love, remember Thy servants who have fallen asleep.

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