From September 29 through October 12 each year I commemorate four family members that have passed away. Three are from my family & one is a relative of my spouse. Two of them, Grandpa Johnny & Great-aunt Mona hold special places in my heart due to their influence on my spiritual life. I did not realize their importance or influence until I became Orthodox. I suspect that it is due to our Orthodox practice of commemorating the grandparents of Christ our Lord, Joachim & Anna as well as our veneration of His mother Mary, the Ever-Virgin Theotokos (Mother of God) that has produced this admiration for & appreciation of my own family members.
If I had to define my grandfather, it would be through these words of prayer; a prayer spoken before every meal: Our precious Heavenly Father, We thank Thee, O Lord for this day, for Thy watchful care over us, & for the many blessings that Thou hast bestowed upon us. Be with us guide & direct us. Bless the sick & the afflicted, the poor & the needy. Bless this food that it may be used as nourishment for our bodies used for Thy glory. When Thou art done with us on earth gather us unto heaven we beg in Thy name, & to Thee we will give the praise, now & forever. Amen.
In actuality Grandpa was my step-grandfather. He met my grandmother when my mother was 8 & they married five years later. He officially became the father to her six children that he had been since they were 5-14. A year later he resisted her ex-husband that returned suddenly to take custody of the oldest two children he had abandoned years before. He mourned with & helped the family through the death of the youngest son approximately two years later. He worked in coal mines & suffered from black lung. He also worked in the local hospital as a PRN & farmed. Finally, he was a father to his youngest grandson whose father was not around as well as myself after my parents divorced & my father moved to California. He had an alcohol addiction that later was replaced by a prescription drug addiction. I was in my late teens before he finally overcame the problem with the help of my grandmother & his faith. Grandpa Johnny was a WWII veteran who loved to retell the same war stories again & again. His mother committed suicide while he was deployed; he never truly got over her death. He served as a medic at a field hospital in France. I was much honored to have him pin my Second Lieutenant bars on my uniform when I was commissioned in the U.S. Army.
I would term my grandfather’s faith as steady, quiet & lived. As previously noted table grace was faithfully prayed before all meals. He & grandma always read their bibles together every evening after supper. I now have their matching bibles. He also was an early riser in the mornings, long before grandma. After setting the breakfast table & getting the breakfast food ready to cook, he quietly read the Holy Scriptures while waiting for her to arise. At the day’s end, he could be seen on his knees in prayer before retiring for the night. He passed on just minutes after Grandma had arisen one morning while sitting in his chair with the Holy Scriptures open in his lap. He never preached about or spoke of faith, but oh, the faith Grandpa Johnny taught me through his example!
Aunt Mona is my grandmother’s sister. Aunt Mona was the youngest of seven children, married & had ten of her own during the depression. She buried her husband, her parents, most of her siblings as well as several of her children & one grandchild before her own death. I received Christmas, Easter & Birthday cards from her well into my 40s. She was a small lively lady, not even 5’ tall, & was still driving in her 90s. Aunt Mona was a preacher even though her denomination did not ordain women. I said she was lively!
Like my grandfather, her faith too was steady & lived, although her faith was anything but quiet! Aunt Mona’s contribution to my spiritual life was my baptism, which is a long & involved story for another time. Unlike my grandfather whose faith was quiet, Aunt Mona was outspoken about her faith. Words of Holy Scripture were learned in the heart & spoken with familiarity. I have no memory of Aunt Mona but what she did not mention the love of God, the salvation of Christ, the promise of heaven &/or the fires of hell, complete with quotations from her tattered & well-worn Scofield KJV. One’s life was to be lived according to faith in Christ from the Holy Scriptures as best as one could. Faith was not something to be ashamed of or hidden.
Many Christians lose so much depth to & understanding of their faith by their failure to appreciate the ancestors of Christ. The Holy Scriptures show us God’s plan for our salvation throughout human history from Adam though the Virgin Mary. The genealogy of Christ twice appears in the Gospels (Luke 3:23-38; Matthew 1:1-17) & yet the persons named in those genealogies, who lived that history in faith to God, are virtually ignored by many. Just as our family members, in my case my grandfather & great-aunt (among many others), influenced us, so too the family members of Christ surely influenced Him during his earthly life & upbringing in faith.
Christ was raised in a family of faith. The Gospels tell of the Mother of God taking her son, Christ our God, to the temple. In Luke 2:21-40 the Virgin Mary takes her son to be circumcised on the 8th day & presents him to God after the 40 days of her purification. The Orthodox Church still commemorates this in the rite of Churching of mother & child approximately 40 days after the birth of a child. On February 2 each year, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast of The Meeting of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the Temple, one of 12 great holy days celebrated each year. In the same chapter verses 41-52 tell of Joseph & the Virgin Mary taking Him to Jerusalem for the Passover where Christ listened to & questioned the religious elders in the temple. Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, and Luke 3:21-23 tell of the baptism of Christ by His cousin St. John the Forerunner (aka: John the Baptist). His family also witnessed His trial & execution, removed His lifeless body from the Cross & buried Him in the tomb.
When the Orthodox commemorate the departed relatives of Christ, or the saints, or even our own departed loved ones, we do not do so in order to lesson or supplant Christ. Rather we are acknowledging their role in our salvation, a role that frequently has involved witness, testimony, torture, imprisonment, suffering & martyrdom for their faith in God. When we commemorate the anniversary of a loved one’s death we also celebrate their “birth” into eternal life. God has worked throughout recorded history to bring about our salvation in Christ; mankind has its synergistic role in that salvific plan as well.
For more information:
Feast of The Meeting of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the Temple:
Commemoration of the departed:
Trisagion Memorial Prayer for the Departed:
“O God of spirits & of all flesh, Who has trampled down Death & overthrown the Devil, & given life unto Your world, give, we beseech You, eternal rest to the soul of Your departed servants Johnny & Mona, in a place of brightness, in a place of verdure, in a place of repose, from whence all pain, sorrow, & sighing, have fled away.
Pardon, we beseech You, every transgression which may have been committed, whether by word or deed or thought. For there is no man who lives & does not commit a sin. You only are without sin, Your righteousness is everlasting, & Your word is the Truth.
For You are the Resurrection, & the Life, & the repose of Your departed servants Johnny & Mona, O Christ our God, & unto You we ascribe glory, together with eternal the Father, & Your Most Holy, & Good, & Life-giving Spirit, now & forever, & for ages to come.” Amen
“May our gracious & merciful Lord, who rose from the dead, Christ, our True God, through the intercessions of His Holy Mother & of all the Saints, establish the soul of His departed servants Johnny & Mona in the mansions of the righteous; give them rest in the bosom of Abraham, & number their souls among the just, & have mercy upon us & save us”.
Eternal be Your memory.
Memory Eternal, Grandpa Johnny & Aunt Mona!