For years as a Protestant I was confused about the immediate destination of a loved one when they departed this life. Somewhere along the line I was influenced by the idea of Soul Sleep. Soul Sleep is the idea that the soul of the departed immediately goes to sleep to await their bodily resurrection which occurs at the second coming of Christ. At the same time, I was told to rejoice because those that had gone on before are that "great cloud of witnesses." I couldn't resolve the question as to how the departed souls could witness anything if they were asleep. Nevertheless, as I Journey To Orthodoxy, I continue to be delivered, disconnected and defused from many heretical teachings that I once held, or more accurately, that once held me.
Purgatory is a wholly Roman Catholic doctrine. The Church Orthodox has never held that an unregenerate individual has a chance for salvation after death thus the idea of a state of waiting, to be prayed or paid out, is totally foreign and heretical. However, the Church Orthodox has always held that salvation is a process not an event and that process continues after physical death. Orthodox Prayers for the dead, which is such a difficult subject for the western religious mind, are not because the departed are not His, but because they are His. (I'll let you do a more thorough study on the theology of that one. Click the blue link above.) We pray for the departed and we pray to the departed, because the only thing they have departed is their physical bodies.
A quick semantics observation for the non-orthodox and the English illiterate, the definition of "pray."
prayed, pray·ing, prays. v.intr.
- To utter or address a prayer or prayers to God, a god, or another object of worship.
- To make a fervent request or entreaty.
- To utter or say a prayer or prayers to; address by prayer.
- To ask (someone) imploringly; beseech. Now often used elliptically for I pray you to introduce a request or entreaty: Pray be careful.
- To make a devout or earnest request for: I pray your permission to speak.
- To move or bring by prayer or entreaty.
[Middle English preien, from Old French preier, from Latin precārī, from precē, pl. of *prex, prayer.]
So pray tell, in case you have a problem with the thought of anyone praying to anyone other than God, simply answer this question: "Have you ever asked a human being anything?" If the answer is "yes" then you prayed to them. Is there a difference in asking/praying to God and asking/praying to a departed saint? Of course. God can sovereignly move on our behalf and change events by His own hand. The only power that a departed saint has to effect events is in His prayer to God on our behalf. They have lived this life, have left this life and are today with the angels and all the saints of the ages around the throne of God.
It is with this in mind that I found myself at Morning Prayers recently. As I paused to add personal petitions (prayers) I saw, in a new and dynamic way, in the debths of my spirit, that my mother, Rozella, who left this life in 1980, is still alive, is conscious, can hear and see me, and is present with the angels and the saints of the ages worshiping around the throne. I spoke to her. I "prayed" to her to beseech the Lord on my behalf for the salvation and theosis of my soul and I prayed to God for the theosis of her soul. I cannot explain, I only can say, my mother was with me and I was with her. She was where I was and I was where she was for the first time since 1980. The realm of the Spirit is as real as the physical. It's the same but different :-). I communed with the saints. I communed with Saint Rozella and who better to pray for me than the one who knows me so well?