Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco St. John,
We often see the desire of relatives of the deceased to conduct funerals and construct tombs as lavishly as possible. Large funds are sometimes spent on luxurious monuments. Relatives and friends spend much money on wreathes and flowers, even though the latter need to be removed from the coffin before it is closed, so as not to accelerate the body’s decomposition. Sometimes they want to pay their respects to the departed and express their sympathy to his relatives through printed notices, even though this method of expressing their feelings shows their shallowness and sometimes even their mendacity, inasmuch as those who are truly mournful will not put their mourning on display; one can express one’s sympathy much more warmly in person. But no matter which of these things we might do, the departed will receive no benefit thereby. It is all the same to a dead body whether it lies in a poor or rich coffin, in a luxurious or modest grave. It does not smell the flowers that have been offered; it does not need feigned expressions of grief. The body is given over to decay while the soul lives, but the latter no longer experiences the sensations perceived through the bodily organs. A different life has begun for it, and something different needs to be rendered unto it.
Here is what it needs and what we should do, if we truly love the departed and wish to offer him our gifts! What exactly will bring joy to the soul of the departed? Above all, sincere prayer for him, both personal prayer at home and, in particular, the prayers of the Church coupled with the Bloodless Sacrifice, that is, commemoration at the Liturgy. Many appearances of the departed and other visions confirm the enormous benefit that the departed receive from prayers for them and from the offering of the Bloodless Sacrifice on their behalf.
Something else that brings great joy to the souls of the departed are deeds of mercy done for them. Whether feeding the hungry in the name of the departed or helping the poor, it is as if this were being done for the departed himself. Before her death, St. Athanasia ([the Abbess of Aegina] whose memory is celebrated on April 12) gave instructions to feed the poor for forty days in her memory; however, the sisters of the convent performed this for only nine days due to negligence. The saint then appeared to them with two angels and said: “Why did you forget my instructions? Know that deeds of mercy and priestly prayers offered for the soul over the course of forty days placate God. If the souls of the departed were sinful, then the Lord will grant them remission of sins; if they were righteous, then those praying for them will be awarded for their good deeds.”
Especially in these days, which are difficult for everyone, it is senseless to spend money on useless objects and affairs when, by making use of these means for the poor, one can perform two good deeds simultaneously: both for the departed and for those who will be helped. If, along with prayer for the departed, food will be given to the poor, then they will be fed bodily while the departed will be nourished spiritually.
Seventh week after Pascha, 1941, Shanghai.