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Prayers for those in Hell - John Charmley - 10-08-2007 08:50 PM

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

A question that has arisen on another site: does the Coptic Church pray for those in Hell?

In Christ,


- admin - 11-08-2007 09:18 AM

Dear John

It would appear that the Service of Vespers on the Sunday of Pentecost did contain the same prayers as used, for instance, in the Russian tradition....

Quote:...Who on this all-perfect and saving Feast hast vouchsafed to accept the supplicatory prayers of forgiveness for them that are held in Hades; Who grantest us great hope that unto the departed held in the bondage of grief, there be sent from Thee rest and refreshment...
but that these have very recently been excised by the Holy Synod.

What worries me rather is that when a Coptic Metropolitan was asked about this by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev he first of all expressed the view that such prayers were contrary to Orthodox doctrine (why then had we been praying them for millenia?) and was then surprised that other local Orthodox Churches prayed such prayers? I wonder how the Synod could choose to amend the liturgy of the Church without thoroughly researching the issue in question.

Your Grace, I wonder if this came up at any of the Synods you have participated in, or whether it occurred before the union of the BOC with the COP?

On the other hand, the litanies do lead us to pray...

Quote:For there is no death for Your servants, but a departure; and if any negligence or heedlessness has overtaken them as men, since they were clothed in flesh and dwelt in this world, do, O God, as a good and philanthropic One repose them and forgive them, for none is pure from blemish even if his life on earth be a single day.

which leads me to consider that we are indeed praying for those who have died in their sins due to negligence and heedlessness. We are certainly asking that their sins be forgiven them after their deaths.

In Christ


- Fr Gregory - 12-08-2007 08:56 AM

The modern Coptic theology of ?life after death? is imprecise and inconsistent.
As a general rule, it tends towards a more Protestant view than a traditionally Orthodox view. In general, it seems to be that at the moment of death the eternal future of the soul is determined and therefore no prayer could be effective in changing that future. I have heard it argued that, although God (being Omnipotent) could change the eternal state of the soul after death, He won?t!
Any concept of Purgatory (even that rather confused Orthodox concept which tends to amount to Purgatory but is not called by that name) is rejected. This raises some problems with the traditional Coptic prayers for the departed: if no change in the state of the departed is possible, what is the purpose of such prayer? Equally, one might wonder about the purpose of prayers for the Saints! Let alone for the Old Testament Patriarchs ? assuming they cannot have been saved since they were without Baptism, what is their state?

The Litany of the Departed contradicts the contemporary Coptic teaching:

Deacon: Pray for our fathers and brothers who slept and reposed in the faith of Christ since the beginning. Our saintly fathers the archbishops, and our fathers the bishops, our fathers the Archpriests, our fathers the priests and our brothers the deacons, our fathers the Monks, and our fathers the laymen, and for the full repose of all the Christians, that Christ our God will repose all their souls in the Paradise of Delight. As for us, may He be merciful to us and forgive us our sins.

Congregation: Lord have mercy.

Priest: Graciously, O Lord, repose all their souls in the bosom of our fathers the saints Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Sustain them in green pastures by still waters in the Paradise of Delight, the place from which sorrow, distress and sighing have fled, in the light of Your saints. Raise their bodies on the day You have appointed according to Your faithful and true promises. Grant them the blessing of Your promises what eye has not seen, nor ear has heard, neither has entered into in the heart of Man,
that which You, O Lord, have prepared for those who love Your Holy Name. For there is no death for Your servants, but merely a departure. Any negligence or carelessness that has overtaken them as human beings living in this world of flesh, then You, as the Good God and Lover of Mankind, graciously forgive them.
Your servants, O Lord, Your Christian Orthodox servants who are in the world from east to west, every one by his own name and every one by her own name: graciously, O Lord, repose them all. For no-one is undefiled even if he lives a single day on earth. As for those, O Lord, whose souls You have taken, repose them and grant them that they will deserve the Kingdom of Heaven. As for us, grant us all, O Lord, Christian perfection which pleases You.

This Litany certain presupposes that sin can be forgiven after death.

The theology of ?life after death? reflects both the significant influence of Protestant missionaries on the development of Coptic thinking over the past few centuries, and the lack of competent Coptic theologians.

Fr Gregory

Prayers for those in Hell - John Charmley - 12-08-2007 11:10 AM

Dear Fr. Gregory,

As ever, we are in your debt for such a clear response. This area has always seemed to me, even as I approached Orthodoxy, to be one in which even traditional teaching seemed a little unclear, but this modern version seems positively to contradict traditional teaching; of course, that is not to say that the modern version might not be right - but this does tend to be an area in which, for understandable reasons, too much precision is unavailable.

In Christ,


prayers for those in hell - kirk yacoub - 13-08-2007 08:56 AM

I'm not going to enter into the debate about whether anyone is in hell yet, but I will respond regarding prayers for the dead. I received a very comforting and illuminating email on this subject a few months ago from Fr Dale Johnson, a Syriac Orthodox priest in the USA. He explained that when he lived in the Mor Gabriel monastery in south-east Turkey prayers for the dead are said every Saturday evening, something which occurs, it seems, everywhere in Syriac monasteries. The point about this is that these prayers attach to themselves the prayers of individuals regarding the deceased.
In the Syriac Liturgy of St James we pray "we commemorate all our faithful dead who have died in the true faith... We ask, we entreat, we pray Christ our God who took their souls and spirits to Himself, that by His many compassions He will make them worthy of the pardon of their faults
and the remission of their sins."
The first thing about this is the recognition that even the faithful depart this life having committed sins, and secondly, that we can pray for the remission of these sins.
Fr Dale Johnson added that the efficacy of prayer for the dead extends beyond those who died in the faith. Christ implies this in the Gospel when he refers to sins that cannot be forgiven either in this life or the next. It is right,proper, and a Christian act of love, to pray for the souls of those who died outiside the faith. A priest is permitted to perform a mass for the salvation of the soul of a non-believer, and prayers offered by believers for the souls of those who died outside the faith are efficacious both for the dead person and for the one who prays.
God does indeed forgive after we depart this life.

Kirk Yacoub

Prayers for those in Hell - John Charmley - 13-08-2007 11:33 AM

Dear Kirk,

Thank you so much for this.

Romans 10:11-15 seems to support this reading:
Quote:10:11 For the Scripture says, Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.
10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him.
10:13 For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
10:14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?
10:15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!
There are so many in this world who do not have the name of Christ brought to them, and even more who do not have it brought in Orthodox form; and that leaves out (thankfully) the thorny question of which Church is the Church.

Those who take a narrow view of these matters seems happy, potentially, to confine masses of their fellows to Hell; this is surely not an understanding of the God who loved mankind so much that he sent His only begotten Son to die and rise that we might be raised to Eternal Life? Such a view would, surely, be as mistaken in its way as the opposite one that it does not matter what you believe or how you behave, since God will save us all - Indifferentism, I believe it is called.

I want to take that theme up in 'A Generous Orthodoxy' so will say no more here - other than to thank you again, Kirk; to God be the Glory, of course!

In Christ,


prayers for those in hell - kirk yacoub - 16-08-2007 09:09 AM

I once read one of Matta el-Maskeen's pamphlets on prayer (this is not in Orthodox Prayer Life) in which he describes a high state of prayer in which a believer may pray not only for the soul of a deceased person, but may actually take onto their own shoulders the sins of that dead person.
He naturally added that this is no easy thing, that it is fraught with dangers, and that it is vital that whoever prays in such a way never abandons the person they are praying for.
The 20th century Roman Catholic saint Faustyna was a nun who performed similar acts of prayer. No doubt there are many still doing this.
It is something worth thinking about, being an act directly in line with a real imitation of Christ

Kirk Yacoub

- AndrewY - 24-08-2007 05:36 AM

Dear John,

H.H. Karekin I states:

Quote:The liturgical and sacramental life of a Church is the authentic expression of the faith, or the mind and of the spiritual experience of her clergy and people. On the other hand the liturgy stamps its imprint on the consciousness of the worshipping community, as a channel of grace. All dogmas are ultimately tested in the life of the Church against the basic tradition on the one hand, and against the experience of the age on the other.

Unfortunately, the Holy Synod of the Coptic Church has chosen to theologise in opposition to "the experience of the age."

I would love to know H.E. Seraphim's thoughts on the matter. Does he support the Synod's decision? If not, is he doing anything to have this very serious misjudgment rectified?

Do our sister Churches have any idea or interest in what goes on in the Coptic Church? Having read quite a bit of literature from contemporary Armenian and Syrian Orthodox heirarchs, I would safely conclude that they are much more theologically proficient than Coptic heirarchs, and I think our Church depends on their intervention else it will continue down a path of deviation until there is hardly anything left Orthodox to recognise in her. I wish I could just pick up the phone and ring H.H Karekin, or H.H. Aram I, and order: "Please, take a flight to Egypt now, and sort this circus out!"

- AndrewY - 24-08-2007 05:37 AM

I forgot to add the source of the quote from H.H. Karekin I:

"Problems of Consensus in Christology: The Function of Councils" in Christ in East and West, ed. by Paul R. Fries and Tiran Nersoyan (Mercer University Press, 1987), 49-64.

prayers for those in hell - kirk yacoub - 24-08-2007 08:12 AM

Dear Andrew,
I'm a Syriac Orthodox Christian who does have an interest in what goes on in the Coptic Church. So, could you please explain what went on at the Coptic Synod, because I know nothing!
With prayers,
Kirk Yacoub

Prayers for those in Hell - John Charmley - 24-08-2007 08:51 AM

Dear Andrew,

I am sure that His Grace is aware of the problem, and know that he will be doing whatever he thinks is needful; a man of greater diplomatic skill, as well as integrity, it is hard to conceive of; so I think we can be sure that whatever can be done, will be. But, of course, it will take time, and the building of contacts; we in the BOC also have to be aware of the political sensitivities of the Coptic Church, and act accordingly.

What you say about the underdeveloped theology in some areas is clearly relevant here. I can understand that if one takes the view that upon death the soul goes into repose awaiting the Last Judgement, one could say 'what's the use of praying for the dead?' But we have prayed for them for centuries, so what is the reason for stopping recently.

What is the view of our Syriac brothers and sisters on this.

In Christ,


- AndrewY - 24-08-2007 09:40 AM

Dear Kirk,

There are a set of ancient prayers known as the "Kneeling Prayers" which were composed by St Basil the Great, which the Coptic Orthodox Church prays every Pentecost. Recently, the Coptic Synod gathered and decided to redact this text so as to remove the various clauses which petition God to pardon those in hades. Here is the relevant passage below; I have highlighted the clauses which the Synod has removed:

We beseech Thee to receive our prayer on this holy day which is the fulfilment of all things for our sake and for the sake of those who are in Amenti/Hades, for we have great hope concerning the release of all those who in every kind of suffering and those who have delivered their souls into Thine Hand. Hear us we, Thy lowly servants who pray to Thee, (and) give repose to all the souls of the Orthodox Christians, on whose behalf we beseech Thee. Those who have fallen asleep and those who have passed hence from this place; that they may rest in the place of coolmess; the place out of which grief, sorrow and groaning have fled away. Cause their souls to dwell in the tabernacles of light and make them worthy of forgiveness and peace. For the dead shall not praise Thee, O Lord, neither shall those in Amenti/Hades openly confess Thee, but we who are alive shall bless Thee, and supplicate Thee, and offer unto Thee these prayers and these sacrifices on behalf of their souls.

This sort of Liturgical revision is a contravention of the Tradition of the Church.

These matters won't be resolved unless an ecumenical awareness is raised concerning them. If you have connections with Bishops from your Church Kirk, speak to them! This is but one of quite a few absurd decisions made by the Synod in the recent past.

- AndrewY - 24-08-2007 09:48 AM

Dear John,

I trust all you regarding His Eminence, but the question is whether this is actually an issue to him; is it something he actually has on his agenda of things to deal with? That's what I want to know. Does he have plans to actually pursue the matter? I hope Peter, or yourself, or Fr. Gregory have spoken directly with him concerning this.

The political sensitivities of the Coptic Church cannot permit her to get away with such blatant challenges to the Tradition of the Church!

Prayers for those in Hell - John Charmley - 24-08-2007 10:36 AM

Dear Andrew,

His Grace is well aware of the issue and will, I know, handle it in the best way available; but as you say, it will take some consciousness raising on this one.

I should like to know more about the thinking behind the decision. There is a reading of it that could go like this: since we do not believe in Purgatory, why are we praying for those in Hades except as an act of piety? I'm not saying that was why it was done, or that that is a correct reading, but it would be good if someone could help fill us in on this one.

Central to the idea of Holy Tradition is that we should not unilaterally give away what is not ours to give away.

What other decisions has the Synod made of this sort, Andrew?

In Christ,


Prayers for those in Hell - John Charmley - 24-08-2007 01:02 PM

Dear Andrew,

That sounds like someone somewhere getting something in a muddle.

It was one reason why I asked whether there were any Coptic commentators we can read on this. I tend to end up reading Fr. Tadros Malaty, whose work I much enjoy and from whom I learn much, but it would be good to have some other Oriental Orthodox commentators.

I can just about see why there might be an objection to some of the improbable implications of 'becoming God', but surely in all Orthodox teaching theosis is central? As you say, to both St. Cyril and St. Severus it was an essential part of their soteriology.

Clearly the intricacies of Papal politics are involved here, but knowing little, I can only agree with you Andrew, that theosis is Orthodox teaching and we hold it; indeed, for me, it was a great and crucial step on my road here.

Let us pray that the the Church is guided aright.

In Christ,