May 15, 2020

When Funerals Are Not Beneficial and It Is More Compassionate to the Dead to Not Conduct Them (From the Life of Saint Pachomios the Great)

Life of Saint Pachomios the Great

Chapter Three

And it came to pass once that Abba Pachomios went to another monastery to visit the brethren who were there, and as he was on his journey he met the funeral of a certain brother of the monastery who was dead, and the monks were going to the funeral and were singing as they went; and there were also among them the parents of the man who had died.

Now the brethren saw from a distance the holy man coming towards them, and they set down the bier upon the ground so that he might come and pray over him. And when the blessed man had come, and had said a prayer, he commanded the brethren not to sing any more psalms and hymns over him; and he also commanded them to bring the garments of him that had died, and they brought them, and in the presence of them all he ordered the men to burn them; then, when they had been burned he commanded that the dead body should be taken and buried without any further singing.

Then the brethren, and the parents, and kinsfolk of him that was dead threw themselves down at his feet and entreated him to permit them to sing over him, but he remained unmoved; and the parents of the dead man said unto Abba Pachomios, “What have you done, O father? This is a new thing, and you are sending away our son in an unlawful fashion. It befits not your holiness to display such a lack of compassion unto this dead man, and moreover, this savage cruelty is likely to bring about sorrow. Even an enemy who sees the dead body of his adversary knows how to show pity many times over, although his disposition be unutterable and immovable. We have seen a new sight with you, O Christians, the like of which has never been seen, even among the barbarians. Through this want of compassion you have made to cling to the family of the dead man a disgrace which shall never be blotted out. Would that we had never seen you on this day! For then our house, which has ever possessed an untarnished name, would not have inherited disgrace. Would that our poor son had never come into your savage hands! For then he would not have bequeathed unto us this everlasting sorrow. We beseech you now, since you have caused even his clothes to be burned, to allow a psalm to be said over him.”

Then Abba Pachomios answered and said unto them, “O my brethren, in very truth I have more compassion upon him that lies here than you have, and because, like a father, I am showing exceedingly great care on his behalf, I have commanded these things to be done. You would take care of the body which is visible, but I strive for his soul; for if you sing psalms over him he will receive the greater torments, and a reckoning will be demanded from him because of the psalms which have been sung, for he departs not with the power of the psalms upon him. If then you wish to make an addition to his everlasting sufferings, sing psalms; but I tell you, in truth, that if you do indeed sing psalms over him, he will certainly suffer more pain because of them, and he will curse you. And because I know what will benefit his soul I take no care for his dead body whatsoever; for if I permit you to sing psalms, I shall be found to be in the sight of God as one who strives to please the children of men, because for the sake of gratifying men I have treated with contempt that which will benefit the soul which is about to be punished in judgement. For because God is a fountain of grace He seeks excuses upon which He can lay hold in order to pour out upon us the abundant streams of His grace; if then, we, who have been held to be worthy by God to become acquainted with the art of divine healing, and do not apply the binding up which is suitable to the wound, we shall, like those who despise God, hear that which is written, 'Those who despised [God] saw, and marveled at the wonderful thing, and were destroyed.’ For this reason then, that is to say, that we may lighten his punishment, I entreat you to bury the dead man without any singing of psalms; for the good God knows that in return for this slight which has come upon him, we are giving him rest and are calling him to life. Had he listened unto me on the several occasions on which I admonished him, he would never have come to this pass.”

And when the blessed man had said these things they carried him to the mountain without the singing of psalms, and he was buried. And the holy man passed several days in that monastery in admonishing and teaching each one of the brethren the fear of God, and the way to strive rightly against the Calumniator, and against his arts, and wiles, and guile, and how in a short time, by the might of the Lord, we shall be able to bring to naught beforehand the things which are set against us by him.

Chapter Four

Now while Abba Pachomios was still there he heard that a certain brother from the monastery of Beth Raya was sick, and it was said to him, “He wishes to see you and to be blessed by you before he dies.” And when the man of God heard these things he rose up, and departed on the journey, but when he was about two miles from the monastery, the holy man heard a holy voice in the air, and he lifted up his eyes and saw the soul of the sick brother with the holy angels, singing hymns, and being borne aloft to a blessed and divine life.

Now the brethren who were accompanying him neither heard nor saw anything. And when the holy man had stood there and gazed for a long time towards the East, they said unto him, “Why are you standing here, O father? Let us hurry on so that we may reach him while he is still alive.” And he said unto them, “We shall not reach him there, for I have just seen him ascending to everlasting life; depart then, O my children, to your monastery.” And when those brethren entreated him to tell them in what form he had seen the soul of the brother who had died, he said unto them, “In a certain form”; and when they had heard this they departed to their monastery. And they inquired, and ascertained exactly from the brethren who were in the monastery, concerning the hour whereof Rabba had spoken to them, and then they recognized that the things which had been said unto them about the brother who had died were true.