Ever since our daughter Judi reposed aged 17, 14 years ago, I have felt an unceasing desire to carry her in my life and in the things I do, to represent her in some way within my own faith and practices. I don’t mean the mere ‘memory’ of her as of someone who is dead, but the conscious reality of a young lady who now reposes, who rests in the arms of a God who says that he is not the God of the dead at all, but of the living only.
Last night I read these words of Saint Paisios: ‘Giving alms to people who are suffering…is also very helpful for the repose of the souls of those who have passed away. For when we give alms on behalf of someone who has died, the recipients will say, “May God forgive him; may his relics (physical remains) be sanctified”, or, “Take this for the sake of the soul of so and so.”They will say a heartfelt prayer, and it is this that helps a lot those who have fallen asleep.’ Or, in the case of a woman’s husband who died or a child killed in an accident, ‘What else can she do to help their souls? When she gives alms this will naturally help her personally, but it will also help her departed…’
In addition, is it really possible for us who remain in this life to represent those who have departed? Remember that obscure passage in 1 Corinthians 15:29, that everyone tries to re-translate or re-interpret? ‘…what do people mean by being baptised on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptised on their behalf?’ Evidently, baptised Christians were allowing themselves to be baptised, to be immersed on behalf of loved ones who had died prior to being baptised. They weren’t trying to ‘earn their salvation’ by fulfilling a mere religious rite, but they had apparently taken it upon themselves to fulfil out of the bond of love what a reposed person was no longer able to fulfil themselves. You see, this entrenched modern autonomy is something of an illusion. We belong to others and they belong to us. So, although it is no longer practised, if it is possible within the organic unity of the Church to be baptised on behalf of deceased loved ones, it is certainly real to be able to perform deeds on behalf of a reposed soul to which we have a special bond.
How strange this sounds in the ears of any western Protestant Christian. It seems suspiciously close to the attempt of the heretic Simon Magus to purchase the apostolic gift of the Holy Spirit with money, as is recorded in Acts 8: 18 ‘Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the Apostle’s hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also”’.
The spirit exhibited by Simon Magus is the expression of a different spirit than this one. It is a twisting of the spiritual function of a loving heart into a form of legal transaction; an attempt to buy the favour of God. The teaching of the Orthodox Church does not involve any sort of legal ‘works’ transaction. At the heart of the Church is an innocent, almost child-like spirit. This is not a naive childishness, nor a gullible immaturity, but a deep innocence; the same innocence that expressed itself in the life and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the same innocence that is required if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is a profound innocence. The darkening and twisting of this child-like spirit into the corrupt motives of Simon provides a crucial window into the abiding contrast between it and Orthodoxy and the word given by Saint Paisios.
I expect that I am not alone amongst Christians in struggling to know how to treat the beggars we meet in our cities. Whenever I go into Edinburgh there are always beggars lining the streets. Knowing the teaching of Christ that we should give to anyone who asks, should I merely comply? I served for two years as a drug and alcohol counsellor at a Christian rehab unit. Boy, did I learn the hard way how people are willing to skin their own grandmother to trick people out of money in order to purchase their necessary intoxicants! Thereafter I toughened myself up by reasoning, ‘These guys in the street will just spend whatever I give them on a can of super lager, etc., etc., etc.’
I had this discussion years ago with a very wonderful sister in Christ. She disagreed with me. A few days after our disagreement our families were out walking together in an English town. There was a beggar. I walked past him, ‘knowing’ that he would simply spend any money on booze. I looked over my shoulder and there (as I knew she would be) was my dear sister, stooping down to this poor man, speaking tenderly to him, and giving him some money. In the same book by Saint Paisios that I’ve just mentioned, he speaks clearly about not judging or assuming that a beggar is anything other than a beggar needing help. Even if he does, probably inevitably, take your alms to the off-licence, if you speak tenderly to him, he will remember you and what you have done. His conscience is his own affair.
And so today I knew that I would be travelling into the city to celebrate the Liturgy. I knew that I would pass some beggars. I felt ‘quickened’ in my spirit that I wanted to represent my daughter Judi, and do something for her as if she were still present.
After she was killed in the car accident an old man came to our house. Judi used to work part-time on the deli at the Co-op. This old man told me that once he had wanted to buy some cheese at the deli but couldn’t afford to buy it. So Judi had taken the cheese and marked it as a reduced item at a fraction of its price. Yes, I know she shouldn’t have done this, but her active compassion for this pensioner was the overriding factor to me. It certainly was to him. He had taken the bother of walking all the way up our steep road to come and tell a grieving father of a kind deed done to him by my deceased elder daughter.
After the Liturgy I was walking back to the train station. I purposefully had reserved a £2 coin to give to a beggar in Judi’s name. I was still a little unsure and was wrestling a bit in my conscience. But I was aware of the grace of the Holy Spirit in my heart. Then I saw him: a young beggar man sitting on the pavement. He was in his mid-twenties. He had cuts on his face and arms. I walked past him still unsure whether or not what I wanted to do was right. After about a hundred feet I stopped. I walked back towards the young beggar. I took the meagre two pound coin out of my wallet. I stooped down to him and put my hand on his shoulder. He looked alarmed. I looked into his eyes and said, ‘My friend, I would like to give you this from my daughter Judi.’ ‘From your daughter?’ he replied, as we shook hands. ‘Yes’, I said. ‘Have a really good day’. For those brief moments our mutually Christ-loved humanities merged together as one, dissolving those apparent aspects that separated us. A great joy entered my heart. Not a whiff of any attempt to ‘purchase’ any favour from God by a good work. This was simply an innocent act of pure love for my Judi, on behalf of her and the inspiration that she was and still is to me.
We don’t need to work everything out. We can analyse things to death and crush the life out of them by formulating doctrines and prescribed behaviour. I will carry on this practice until I too leave this old world. I will not do it by rote or automatically every time I see a beggar. But I will do it regularly and prayerfully in full communion of the Holy Spirit and with all the saints, including, and especially, my Judi. Since the triumph of the resurrection, death no longer separates us from those reposed in Christ. Is Judi conscious of this act today? I hope and believe she is. The Holy Spirit is the one Spirit who pervades both the living and those who sleep in the Lord.