Session 2: “With the saints give rest O Lord” - Death and Dying

"With the Saints give rest O Christ, to the souls of thy servants, where sickness and sorrow are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.”

Aim: This session attempts to present the Orthodox approach to dying and death. Maybe some participants are unfamiliar with an Orthodox funeral or the memorial services. Certainly, secular American culture attempts to hide and sanitize death, acting in immense denial of human mortality. The Orthodox approach does not back away from death, but denies its power by virtue of the Cross. Before participants are led to see the tragedy of death by abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment and suicide, they need to see the tragedy of death in general and learn of its significance to Christian life. This may seem morbid. That's okay. Young people are surrounded with images of death and violence but these are often very unreal, and occasionally even romanticized. This session is a chance to deal with death in a more realistic manner.

Objectives: By the end of this session, students should be able . . .

1. To sing parts of the memorial service and or funeral services.

2. To discuss the Gospel message of hope in the face of death and the loss of loved ones.

3. To articulate Orthodox practices relating to the dead.

4. To list their own "family trees" as they understand them and discuss the continuity of the Church community as the living and the dead in Christ. (following session 1, activity #4)

5. To express emotions of mourning and understand better the grieving process.

Useful texts: The Reading for Lazarus Saturday (John 11:1-44)

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

2 Corinthians 5:1-10

Funeral Services and Panakhida book.


Prayer lists

kollyva and/or bread

Copies of prayer sheet at end of this session.


I. Opening Prayer

II. Check-In and Review

III. Activity #1: Remembering the Departed

IV. Activity #2: W. W. J. D.?

V. Activity #3: Prayer Lists

VI. Conclusions

VII. Closing Prayer

I. Opening Prayer

In addition to the usual prayer, teach the tropar With the Souls of the Righteous (Tropar Tone 4) located on the prayer sheet at the end of this session

II. Check-In:

Before beginning activities, make sure that participants know who every one is. Go around and ask every one to briefly say their names, how they are, and ask them to share one thing that they have lost recently that was dear to them. Then briefly explain to them the nature of this session and that they will be asked to discuss death, dying, and loss.

III. Activity #1: Remembering the Departed

Time: 15-20 minutes

This activity is designed so that participants can discuss their own personal experiences with death and the grieving process. It is not intended to be an excessively emotional activity, even though it can bring up powerful emotions. Be prepared by staying calm and pastoral, leading your flock as it were through the valley of the shadow of death. You may wish to have participants keep a journal and record their answers to the questions you ask them.

We have already talked about something we have lost that was dear to us. When we lose someone dear to us those feelings of loss can feel incredibly strong. There are many ways in which we can cope with those feelings. Some are unhealthy and destructive, and some can help us grow and learn things new about our lives. Our Orthodox Church has developed important means for us to deal with grief, loss, and mourning.

Has anyone here ever attended an Orthodox funeral? Do you think that our funerals can be very emotionally charged, and make lasting impressions? [relate some of your own experiences.]

Maybe you have also seen funerals in other Churches-- they are often quite different. These earliest impressions can teach us a lot about how we understand death and grieving. Think back and see if you can remember some of the images you associate with what happens when someone dies. It could be related to a funeral, or a memorial service but it doesn't have to be. Sometimes we remember how other people are reacting-- it may be the first time we have seen a family member cry.

What are some of your images, impressions, memories? [Write down on chalkboard or equivalent all responses. Examples include: the sad songs, closing the coffin, an empty feeling, my father crying, rain, smell of the funeral home, kissing the departed, etc.]

When someone we know dies, especially a close friend or family member, these can be life-changing experiences for us. The Church teaches us to take death very seriously, and not to try to just forget about it and pretend it won't happen to us. The Church asks us to remember death as we go through our lives, as we prepare ourselves to be with Christ who died in order that we might have life.

What are some ways that we cope with death? What are some examples of things people do to deal with their feelings when someone dies? [Examples include: get depressed and cry, get drunk, hide their feelings, wail, get angry.]

Grief is a special process that we all go through. It is good for us to grieve and to mourn so that we can continue with our lives and grow spiritually from the experience of not only having lost a loved one, but from having had that relationship to begin with. Grieving is a chance to take stock of life, ours, our loved ones, and what God has intended for us. Grief usually happens to us in stages that we move through (we may not move through all of them).

Based upon the reactions people have to death what do you think these stages might be? In small groups, try to make a list of the stages of grief. [There are generally about six stages of grief:

1. Shock: difficulty accepting, emotional numbness, disbelief and denial.

2. Anger and Resentment: Looking for someone to blame, such as God, doctors, family.

3. Guilt: feeling guilty about your own actions, blaming yourself.

4. Depression: loss of energy, appetite, emotional withdrawal, doubt.

5. Loneliness: a sense of loss and isolation in one's grief.

6. Hope: accepting the loss and rebuilding one's sense of life and the value of life, realizing the enrichment of life that the person brought to you and having hope in the life to come.]

Compare each groups lists when they have finished. Point out similarities and try to come up with a comprehensive list that they can record in journals.

Death is a powerful reality when it comes into our lives. When we discuss issues involving death, we should always remember its power to affect our lives. We can grow as human beings when we approach death from a Christ-centered, heart-centered way. As Orthodox Christians, we are called to proclaim that Christ has trampled down death by death, and that death has lost its sting. But death can still sting those of us who still live!

Death should not be the final word in our lives and it is not for those that have gone ahead of us. Next we will look at what the Church teaches about death and Christ's triumph. It is the Church that can bring us through our grief to that stage of hope, the hope of the Resurrection.

IV. Activity #2: What would Jesus Christ Do?

Time: 15-20 minutes

This is a directed Bible Study of the basic reading from the Saturday of Lazarus. John 11:1-45 tells the story of grief and hope that is so important to our understanding of the life and death of Christ. Rightly, Lazarus' Resurrection is a prelude and promise of the general Resurrection. This story also demonstrates Christ's very human self and his divine love for us.

The Church teaches us to deal with the challenges we face by looking to God as the example. What would Jesus Christ do, if He were to lose a loved one? [Raise them from the dead, etc.]

The Story of Lazarus in the Gospel of John tells the story of just what happened when one of Jesus' beloved died. Starting with John 11:1, read one verse then pass the Gospel on to the next person, to read one verse and pass it on, and so on. When you think you have heard the specific answer to the question, "What would Jesus do if he lost a loved one?" raise your hand silently. Then we will discuss it.

Since it is a long passage, have the students read it in a circle, passing the text from person to person as they read one verse each. When they think they have heard the answer Scripture gives to "W. W. J. D.?" they should raise their hand. Reading line by line should emphasize verse 35, known as the shortest verse in scripture. This verse is also about grief. It is this line that provides the answer to "W. W. J. D.?" See how many people raise their hand to this line and then stop after verse 37 (a verse which also asks in its own way "W. W. J. D.?"). Then discuss what verses people picked and why vs. 35 is an important example of how Jesus loves us and shows us how to be. Then have them read through verse 45. You may also consider if you have an active, theatrical group to do a dramatic retelling of this story as a later peer ministry exercise.

V. Activity #3: Prayer Lists

Time: 15-30 minutes.

You will need paper and writing implements for this exercise. Also, have blank prayer list sheets, these should have space for prayers for the living and prayers for the dead. Each person should have some paper and something to write with. This activity follows activity #4: Family Trees from the last session. Students should have their family trees available for this activity. If they have not developed their trees, or were absent from session 1, have them spend a few minutes writing one up off their memory, which they can do even while answering the following questions.

Now turn to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. This is the epistle reading for the funeral service. St. Paul is telling us something about what happens to us when we die and when our loved ones die. What kind of feeling does he inspire? [Hope, etc.]

What St. Paul describes is pretty incredible. What does he say in vs. 17, what is the key idea? [We will be together with the Lord.] How? [By the Resurrection]

The Church teaches us over and over a very important lesson. We are not alone in death or in grief, and we will be with each other even after death and we will be with Lord. And we will be so forever, 'always.'

Who are the people with whom we will be together? [Family, friends, Christians]

In every liturgy we pray for those who have passed away. Often when someone has recently died, they are commemorated by name every Sunday in the Litany after the Gospel.

What are some other times the Church commemorates the dead? [Panakhida, Parastasis, Soul Saturdays, etc. Explain the full cycle of memorial services that are followed in your parish or diocese.]

The Church teaches us that when we worship, we are to pray for those who have already gone before us. Why do we pray for the dead? [It is a mystery. We believe that they are in a place of repose, awaiting the second coming. Orthodox Christians do not believe heaven and hell are “places” but states of being in relationship to God. There are many ideas circulating about what happens to us after we die. The truth is, we cannot know or describe it with certainty. Again, it is a mystery we should accept as a mystery and not try to force our hopes and fears upon it.

Take out your completed family tree. The family is the primary network of people that support us and that we will be called to attend to through prayers, memorials, and funerals. List as many people as you can know including those who may have passed away. Most people only know up to their Grandparents and maybe their Great-Grandparents. Include all those who you consider family even if they are not related, such as Godparents and close family friends. These people make up part of your “spiritual family.”

Draw a small cross near each person that has passed away. The Cross symbolizes our death, which Christ took on himself through the Cross. The Cross also points to our Resurrection in and with Christ.

When you are ready, take out the blank prayer lists. Give each person one and ask them to fill them out with the names they have listed. Many prayer lists are double sided and have a space for the dead and the living.

The Lord asks us to pray for each other. We often learn prayer in our family life. Fill out your prayer lists with the names of your family members. There is space on one side for the living and one side for the dead. In the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the living and the dead and just two sides of one body: the body of our Lord, the body that is the Church.

What are some ways that prayer lists such as these are used in the Church?" [Used in the Proskomedia, prayed over by priests, sharing prosphora.]

What are some ways that we can pray for the dead in church? [Give the prayer list to the priest, ask for a memorial service or prayer to be said, light a candle for them, and prayer in general.]

We can also use these kinds of lists for our own prayer life. Part of the daily cycle of prayers that the Church suggests to us is a remembrance of the living and the dead. Ask your family members to join in you in commemorating the dead, perhaps at the next get-together or reunion.

Either as an end to this session or as part of a later service, conduct a brief remembrance for the dead of the parish. This can be done with or without a priest, following the rubrics for daily prayers. To get students to see that we pray together as more than a family, have them all pray this together so that they are praying for every person on every list, as well as the standard prays of commemoration given in the prayer books. When the time comes to say the name of the departed, go around in a circle and have each other say the names of the departed they have listed. This in and of itself can be a powerful experience since they may have never prayed for them out loud before. They also gain the benefit of sharing that with everyone else.

Remember, O Lord, of all those who have fallen asleep in the hope or resurrection unto life eternal; pardon all their transgressions both voluntary and involuntary, whether in word, deed, or thought. Shelter them in a place of brightness, a place of growth, a place of repose, from whence all sickness, sorrow, and sighing have fled away, and where the sight of Thy countenance brings joy to Thy Saints from all the ages.

emember especially Thy servants, [Here each person should name one or two of the departed.]

Grant them Thy heavenly kingdom and a portion in Thy ineffable and eternal blessings, and the enjoyment of Thine unending life.

Hear our prayer, O lord, for Thou art merciful and compassionate, and love mankind, and to Thee are due all glory, honor, and worship: to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen

VI. Activity #4: Agape

Time: 5-10 minutes.

Out of sadness comes sweetness. Out of the Crucifixion, comes Resurrection. Therefore, after every funeral we should give a special feast in remembrance of our departed loved one in hope of eternal life.

Make and share kollyva, the sweetened boiled wheat that is eaten after a memorial service. Show how it is made and go through the steps, but have some ready — like a cooking show! Discuss informally people's experiences with local traditions and memorial services. One of the richest aspects of our Orthodox faith is the variety of ways in which we connect ourselves to the Body of Christ through those who have passed away. Talk about the relics in your church as well. After discussions of grief and bringing up emotions, it is good to "feast" and feed the soul and body with lighter fare.

VII. Activity #5: Field trip (optional)

Tour a cemetery, (an Orthodox one or one with many parishioners). If possible, assist a priest with the blessing of graves.

VIII. Session Conclusion


1. What are some ways we pray for those who have died? [In daily prayers, at funerals, in memorial service, during liturgies, and during special days in the year.]

2. What are the ways that people cope with grief? [Review the their list of stages of grief.]

Teach your students the hymns that our church uses in praying for the departed. Sing them as a closing prayer.

IX. Closing Prayer

With the Souls of the Righteous (Tropar Tone 4):

With the souls of the righteous departed,

give rest to the souls of thy servants O Savior;

preserving them in the blessed life that is with thee, Who lovest mankind.

In the place of Thy rest, O Lord,

where all of Thy Saints repose,

give rest also to the souls of Thy servants;

for Thou only lovest mankind.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit

Thou art the God who descended into Hades,

and loosed the bonds of the captives;

Thyself give rest also to the souls of Thy servants.

Now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

O Virgin alone pure and blameless,

who didst bear God without seed,

intercede that the souls of thy servants may be saved.

“With the Saints give rest

With the Saints give rest O Christ, to the souls of thy servants,

where sickness and sorrow are no more, neither sighing,

but life everlasting.

Thou only art immortal, who hast created and fashioned man.

For out of the earth were we mortals made,

and unto the same earth shall we return again,

as Thou didst command when Thou madest me,

saying unto me: ‘For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.’

Whither we mortals all shall go,

making our funeral dirge the song:

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

“Many Years”