All Souls

There are 5 All Soul’s Saturdays. 2, 3, and 4 were on Saturdays during the Great Fast on days that had no other commemoration (e.g. the Miracle of Theodore and Akathistos). This is due to the liturgical law that fasting periods are more conservative and retain ancient customs. Saturday, the day our Lord was in the tomb was a day for remembering the departed, and that has persisted until the present in Lent.

The All Souls’ Saturday before Meatfare Sunday was due to the Church Year. Meatfare Sunday was the Gospel of the Last Judgment and, in a way, concluded the regular cycle of Gospel beginning with Pascha and lasting until the next Great Fast (beginning with Cheesefare Sunday). It was natural, therefore, to remember the departed as we pray for all before the final and last judgment. The fifth All Souls’ Saturday the day before Pentecost does not have clear origins. Some have said that it is the Christianization of the pagan feast of Rosalia, which remembered virgins who have died a violent death. Their souls were locked in trees and were released on this feast day.

The Christians generalized this into a general feast for all the departed. Some find this controversial, since the ideology is that Christians owe nothing to pagans. We have no concrete evidence one way or the other. It might be connected with All Saints, which in the Byzantine Church was the Sunday after Pentecost, but this does not explain the one week delay. At any rate, though Pentecost is the Christian feast of the 50th day, corresponding directly to the Jewish feast of the Mt. Sinai covenant (note the Upper Room), it was also called Rusalka (in Slavonic) since it happened closely to the pagan feast.

The All Saints feast was originally “All Martyrs,” namely those who died a violent death in witness to Christ. Rome originally celebrated it at the same time as the Byzantines, but moved it to November 1, the Dedication of the Pantheon, the pagan temple made into the Christian Church of the All Saints. In our faith and worship, though, this all has a clearly Christian meaning.

All Saints

Over the last fifty-some days, we have celebrated the Paschal mystery – the central mystery of our faith, from our Lord’s crucifixion, resurrection, ascension to his sending the Holy Spirit on his followers. This Sunday, after all that has been proclaimed, we add a great “Amen!” “So be it!” This “Amen” will be great only if we make it more than just words but also actions. The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples that they might be witnesses to the Paschal mystery – our Lord’s death and resurrection, and the Greek word for “witness” is “martyr.”

This Sunday was originally called the Sunday of All Martyrs – because those who witnessed to Christ had to be ready to give their lives for him. Many Christians did and still do. This is what it means to be a saint – the readiness to give our lives for the Lord. Therefore the Lord says in today’s Gospel, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. (Matthew 10:32)” We should not seek to be killed for the gospel, but our priorities should be: 1) God; 2) God’s people, the “others” in our lives and 3) ourselves. Being human, and living in an individualistic society, we often reverse these priorities: 1) ourselves, no. 1; 2) others and 3) God, and putting God third is a practical atheism. We often have the misconception that to be a “saint” means only a life of misery and self-denial, but people who put their own pleasure and comfort first usually end up all “messed up.”

A saint is really someone who has their life in the right order, and so is full of the joy of the Spirit: “a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

All Saints Sunday

The Greek Church celebrates the great company of saints today. The Latin Church celebrates All Saints on November 1.

“The Church of Christ honors even after their death those who have lived a truly godly life. Every day of the year it commemorates the saints who departed hence on that day, leaving this mortal life. It sets the life of each of them before us for our benefit, and also shows us how each died, whether they fell asleep in peace or ended their lives in martyrdom. On this day, however, the Church gathers them all together and sends up a common hymn in their honor.”

(By St. Gregory Palamas – 1296-1358)