The Spirit of God Helps Every Christian to Pray.
There is a beautiful verse in the letter of St. Paul to the Romans:
“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groaning which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8: 26).
Here Paul insists that it is the Holy Spirit who empowers our weaknesses. The most important power we receive from the Spirit is strength to make a genuine prayer, to conduct a genuine worship. We always pray for others. The most significant way a person is helped by God is by sending His Holy Spirit upon him. Once the Spirit is with us, we receive all the power we need in our spiritual and temporal life. What kind of theological justification there is for denying the help of the Holy Spirit for a departed person who is praying to and adoring God? He is also in need of the Spirit to strengthen him and to help him to pray better, to worship God as He deserves to be worshipped. As we pray for our brethren on earth, we should also pray for the departed who stand in need of the help of the Spirit, which is the most crucial help one can give his diseased parents, brothers, and sisters.
In Orthodox ascetic theology prayer in the spirit is called prayer without words. It is the most sublime form of prayer, which can never be done without help from the Holy Spirit. Orthodox theology talks about three stages in prayer. The first one is reciting the words of prayer. This is what we usually do. The Second stage refers to reciting words of prayer with full understanding of the meaning of the words and with full concentration. This is what we ought to do in prayer when we conduct our earthly worship. The third stage is the prayer without words. This is done only when we are filled with the Holy Spirit. At this stage the believer is in union with God, and words do not make much sense, they are inadequate. This stage leads a Christian to mysticism. If a believer is still in his earthly life, this mystical experience is a foreshadow of what he would experience after his passage from this terrestrial life. In fact, the departed are in this stage of worship of God. They definitely need our prayers in order for the Holy Spirit to uphold them and sustain them in worshipping God while they are closer to Him. This help from their Church is the most crucial for them; and it is the greatest good that the Church can render them.
St. James in his general letter to the Church says: “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James: 4:17). In other words, having clearly known that our prayers are beneficial for the departed, it is a great sin to forget them in our prayers. Metropolitan Barnabas suggests that it is a sin of omission when we do not pray for our departed; it is our Christian duty.
The Departed Are Not Sleeping.
There is an erroneous assumption among Protestants that the departed are either silent or inactive until the second coming of Jesus. However, Orthodoxy does not find thus as a cogent position based on the Holy Scriptures or on the apostolic and patristic traditions of the holy Church. St. Paul clearly emphasizes that both the living and the departed equally have to please God. “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him” 2 Cor. 5:9). In order to do the deeds that please God, one needs the grace of God. In order for the departed to receive the grace of God, they definitely need the help of prayers. Yes, it is a sin of omission when we do not pray for our departed. In order for them to grow in grace as brethren in faith and as members of the same body of Christ of which the departed are also members, we have a spiritual duty to pray for them.
Orthodox theology finds another very sound evidence in the bible that the departed are not inactive and spiritually sleeping members of the mystical body of Christ. All Christians believe that Christ went down to Sheol to preach the Gospel to the sinners. We read in 1 Peter 3:19-20: “ … He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient…” What does this verse imply? Does it mean that the departed souls are spiritually sleeping? If they have an alert faculty to listen to the preaching of Christ, indeed they are not inactive or sleeping. We believe that Jesus preached to them the Gospel of reconciliation. Do not we pray for the conversion of physically living people who are disobedient to God? If so what is the justification for not praying for the departed who can still have the opportunity of more fully transforming to Christ? Yes, Christ is still interceding for them before His Father. If conversion was still possible for the departed spirits a day after the His sacrifice on the cross, how can we emphatically affirm that they do not merit conversion now, two thousand years after His sacrifice on the cross? Yes, we should pray for their transformation. It is a sin of omission to forget our departed brethren while we pray. Yes, there may be people who are still hard hearted, and not willing to repent. We do not know who they are. Of course, our prayers do not benefit them. However, Christian charity demands us to pray for everyone regardless of his / her aptitude for repentance, because we have no way of prejudging anyone’s destiny.