OLPH Church
Our Lady of Perpetual Help
Byzantine Catholic Church

All Souls Saturdays  (back to Traditions) 


One of the most venerable traditions in the Church, equally observed in the West as in the East, is the commemoration of the departed in our liturgical prayers. It is the constant teaching of the Church since Apostolic times that the departed can be helped by our prayers, offerings and good deeds.

Origins

The custom of offering prayers and sacrifices for the departed comes to us from the Old Testament. Holy Scripture praises the custom as holy and pious, as is written in the II Book of Maccabees, (ch.12, v.45: "It is therefore, a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from sins." In the Catholic Church, the commemoration of the dead is considered as one of the main works of mercy.

In accord with this, the Byzantine Church has, since the ninth century, established a special day of prayer for the departed popularly known as "Zadushna Subota" (Gr. Psychosabbaton; psychesoul) which literally translated means Souls Saturday. In English, we call these Saturdays All Souls Saturdays. In the Byzantine Liturgical Year there are five All Souls Saturdays namely, Meat Fare Saturday, the Second, Third and Fourth Saturdays of the Great Lent, and Pentecost Saturday.

Reading of the Names of the Deceased

From the beginning of Christianity, local churches kept registers of their living members as well as those who departed. These registers were folding tablets made of wood, ivory, or precious metals artistically decorated with carvings and bound together by rings. They are known as diptychs, taken from the Greek word diptychon, which means anything folded in two. These were used in Church to commemorate the living and the dead at the Divine Liturgy since the fourth century.

In the Byzantine Church, these diptychs played an important role since the names of the heretics and the excommunicated were removed from them and, by the same token, these were excluded from the liturgical prayers. They came into disuse sometime during the fourteenth century and, eventually, they were replaced by official lists of the deceased members of individual families issued by the pastor. These were called Hramoty, from the Greek: grammata, meaning a written letter or document. The list of the de ceased members of a family made in booklet form was called a Pomjanik, taken from the Old Slavonic: pomjanuti, meaning to remember, and was used at the services for the deceased.

The custom of announcing the names of the deceased during the liturgical services, as stated above, can be traced back to the first centuries of Christianity. This venerable custom was transmitted to us by our ancestors as a part of our beautiful spiritual heritage. Every year, just before Meat Fare Saturday, the families give the lists of their de parted loved ones (Hramoty) to the pastor with the request that they be mentioned at the services held for the deceased on the All Souls Saturday.

Continuing to Pray

St. John Chrysostom assures us that: "It is a great honor. to be worthy of mention, while the celebration of the Holy Mysteries is going on." (Homily on the Acts 21, 4) Members of the family are encouraged to attend these services on the All Souls Saturdays for by their presence and by their personal prayers and receiving Holy Communion they strengthen the bond of love with their departed loved ones and indeed keep their memory reverlasting!

St. Gregory of Nazianz (d. 390), after celebrating the funeral services for his brother Caesarius, concluded his eulogy with the following words: "Part of my funeral gift is now completed. The remainder we will pay by offering every year, as long as we live, our honors and memorials for him!" (Orationion VII,17) We also should emulate St. Gregory by remembering our departed loved ones, especially during the All Souls Saturdays, as long as we live, and point out to those coming after us the wholesomeness of this beautiful and praiseworthy custom of praying for and remembering our departed loved ones.