This is my father-in-law, Joe. He passed into his eternal rest four years ago today. As Eastern Catholics, when we recall someone or remark upon their deaths, we say to others, “Memory Eternal.” One wonderful explanation comes from Scripture itself. As we read in St. Luke’s Gospel, the thief asked: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And in answer, in satisfaction of his wish, his wish to be remembered, the Lord witnesses: “I say to you, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.” In other words, “to be remembered” by the Lord is the same thing as “to be in Paradise.” “To be in Paradise” is to be in eternal memory and, consequently, to have eternal existence and therefore an eternal memory of God. (Orthodox Christianity.net). I love that explanation. But there are many others, too.
This is also posted on Orthodox Christianity.net: “The Jewish equivalent of “memory eternal” would be zikhrono/ah li-vrakha (“may his/her memory be unto blessing”). Heretics, apostates or evil doers are never mentioned by name after they are gone. If they are referred to, a mock name is used instead (I guess that explains why some call Our Lord “Yoshke”). Also, on Purim when the Scroll of Esther is read, noise is made to blot out the name of Haman, the enemy of Israel. With us, this happens when the Synodikon is read on Orthodoxy Sunday: people call out Memory Eternal thrice to acclaim Saints and righteous Emperors and thrice Anathema for heretics and enemies of the Church. When one really wanted to punish an enemy, they would kill everyone in his household, so that nobody would perpetrate his memory/pray for him. Cf. 1 Samuel 25:22 “So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.”
That explanation is a little extreme, but I love the ties to our Jewish roots in theology. And more is found in other scripture references, too. Proverbs 10:7 “The name of the righteous is used in blessings, but the name of the wicked will rot.” Psalm 112:6 “Surely he shall not be moved for ever: the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.” And from the book of Isaiah (Iz 49:13-15) “Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.”In the Eastern Churches, we don’t have a funeral “Mass.” We have a memorial service. And this is the last portion of that service:
Priest: “Glory to You, O God, our hope, glory to You. May Christ our true God, who rose from the dead and as immortal King has authority over the living and the dead, have mercy on us and save us, through the intercessions of his spotless and holy Mother; of the holy, glorious, and praiseworthy Apostles; of our venerable and God‑bearing Fathers; of the holy and glorious forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; of his holy and righteous friend Lazaros, who lay in the grave four days; and of all the saints; establish the soul of His servant Joseph, departed from us, in the dwelling place of the saints; give rest to him in the bosom of Abraham and number him among the righteous.
Priest: May your memory be eternal, dear brother, for you are worthy of blessedness and everlasting memory.”
I love how we are asking for a place among all the saints, a place of rest among the righteous. We are remembering the person who walked among us, and we are asking that God “remember” him, too. On that same site, Orthodox Christian.net, this is said,
To remember – to have memory of in the western world is to THINK and RECALL an individual.
To remember – to have memory of in the Eastern Church it is to RE-MEMBER – to pull that person, that part of the body, and RE-MEMBER – REJOIN that body part back into the Body of Christ.
So to say, Memory Eternal is saying “May he/she FOREVER be a MEMBER – A PART OF THE BODY OF CHRIST.”
And I truly ask that whenever I say, “Memory Eternal.” May that person forever be with us. We have the Church in 3 states – the Church Militant, here on earth, the Church Triumphant in Heaven, and the Church Suffering or Waiting (that would be those in Purgatory, should you accept that teaching). But we are all One Body in Christ. It is why we feel we can confidently ask the Saints to pray for us – they are part of the Body of Christ in the Church Triumphant. And we can continue to pray for those who have gone before us, asking for their memories to be eternal, for them to reside with God in Paradise.
And this leads to what I’ve been musing over. What would I like to be remembered for? My kindness to others? My temper? My sarcastic wit? My smile? My faith and love of God? I pray my children, and those who know me well, would have an amalgam of memories of me, that would form the whole person, imperfect as I am, for them to cling to after I am gone. But am I also that thief, hanging next to Our Lord, asking to be remembered? Well, yes I am. I have committed sins. I have great need of forgiveness and repentance.
I read a great blog today by Father Barnabas Powell over on Ancient Faith Blogs entitled, “We deceive ourselves – Faith Encouraged.” In it he says,
“If I am so blind to my need for forgiveness and repentance, I will continue to be at the mercy of my passions. I will continue to be ruled by my spiritual poverty and I will miss the healing power of the spiritual medicine offered to me by God in Christ. But, if I come to myself, as the Prodigal did when he was working feeding the hogs on a farm, and he remembered that the servants in his father’s house were well fed and cared for, I will begin the admittedly difficult journey back to the Father’s House.”
He goes on to say: “Once I see that I am only lying to myself and escape this delusion through honest confession, I am finally free to see myself as I really am: A person who needs God’s mercy and grace. How powerful the trick of the evil one is when he cons me into believing that God won’t accept me because of my mistakes! I allow shame and pride to build a wall of delusion between me and the very love that will set me free. God already knows me better than I know myself. He sees all my weaknesses and mistakes and He loves me still. He, like the Prodigal’s father, stands at the end of the road every day looking for me to return home to His warm embrace. He does not shame me. I shame myself by foolishly wallowing in my ego!”
And he then says, “Today, are you willing to abandon the lie that you are OK? Are you willing to look into your own heart, without shame, and be honest in your need for God’s mercy and grace? Are you finally willing to travel the Lenten wisdom of prayer, fasting, and repentance to see your loving Father throw His arms around your neck and welcome you home and forgive all? Such spiritual treasures await the honest and humble man. All the love and forgiveness you will ever need is as close as your willingness to abandon the delusion of your own heart and embrace the invitation to be Orthodox on Purpose!”
I take great comfort in that. I know that God forgives me and when it is my time to “be remembered” among the saints, I can take my place. But I need to be honest about who I am, and that this constant journey is a process of picking myself up and starting over – and over again. It is not being intimated into admitting I am far from perfect and that God has so much left to do in me; it is an acceptance of my true sinful self and a reconciliation with the real me and God. I also need to remember that we are not guaranteed our next breath. Am I ready to be remembered right now? Am I in that place that gives me comfort, knowing if today is my last, that I am ready for eternal remembrance? My father-in-law was a good man. He worked so hard and he loved his family fiercely. He and I butt heads quite a lot. I wish I was the woman I am today, back when he was breathing his last. I think we would have liked one another more (I think he would have enjoyed me more). His death came so rapidly that most of us were truly unprepared for it. It is a blessing in that he did not suffer for too long, but he did suffer. His entire family suffered along with him. The last moments he and I shared were awkward and deeply sad, but I can sincerely add my prayers to everyone who says, “Memory Eternal,” and I can beg for his repose among the righteous. God knows my heart and he knows the relationship I shared with Joe. Joe and I loved one another, in sometimes an argumentative way, but we wanted the same thing for our family. Disagreements in families are commonplace. But I also know that saying, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” is a wise saying. Time is not something we can count on – there is a finality to this life. Let us all strive to forgive one another and treat one another with loving kindness always and foremost.
Memory eternal, Joe; memory eternal. “…give rest to him in the bosom of Abraham and number him among the righteous.”