The time of my departure was approaching. One evening I sat in the Garden of the monastery with Dr. Rosov, Fr Vassian (Fr Symeon), Fr Isaiah, and Fr Poemen, the sacristan. We discussed the book by Soloviev. “The story which impressed me most, Fr. Vassian” (Fr Symeon), I said, “was that entitled ‘Advocates from Beyond the Grave.’ ”
“What is written there?” Fr Vassian asked, meditatively stroking his beard. “The story is simple enough,” I answered. “In the reign of Nicholas I, when Bishop Parthenius Chertkov, brought up in the great aristocratic family of Naruishkin, occupied the See of Vladimir (1821-1849), one priest, a certain Fr. Abbacum, occupied the poorest parish in the diocese. The son of a sexton, he married a poor girl and they lived in great poverty.
Fr.Abbacum was a mighty man of prayer and particularly loved to pray for the dead. He had a special notebook, where he entered the names of all the dead of whom he might have heard. He mentioned them not only during the proskomedia (prayers in preparation for the Divine Liturgy), but also in his private prayers, morning and evening. For this reason his prayers lasted for hours.
“This often displeased his wife, who used to say, ‘You should give up those long, supplementary prayers and instead help me at the house garden, etc., for I am very tired. You are neither a monk nor a recluse. If you want to pray so long, go to the Bishop and ask for a better parish where we could afford servants. Then you may pray as long as you like.’
“Fr. Abbacum used to respond by saying that prayer is the first duty of a priest and must not be neglected. Concerning a better parish, Fr. Abbacum thought that it was unseemly to beg for one from his Bishop. They should wait with patience, until he offered such a post. His wife reluctantly agreed.
“Meanwhile, the best parish in the diocese became vacant. It was in a large and rich industrial town. Over two hundred applications were made to the Bishop. Among the applicants were professors of the Seminary, Rural Deans, Masters of Divinity, and mitered Archpriests. Nearly all the applications were accompanied by letters of recommendation from prominent clergymen and laymen, including the Governor of the Vladimir Province himself. After looking through all those applications, the Bishop, failing to come to any decision, went to bed.
“Hardly had he closed his eyes when he saw before him a large crowd of people, of both sexes and of various ages and stations, who respectfully begged the Bishop to appoint Fr. Abbacum to the vacant parish. The Bishop knew nothing of Fr. Abbacum’s existence. The Bishop woke, crossed himself, and went to sleep again. The same crowd appeared again before him with the same request. “‘Who are you,’ the Bishop asked, ‘and why do you like Fr. Abbacum so much?’
“‘We are dead people who were forgiven by God and entered the Kingdom of Heaven thanks to the prayers of Fr. Abbacum,’ the crowd answered and disappeared.
“The next morning the Bishop called in the Secretary of the Consistory and asked him to find out at what parish there was a priest named Abbacum and to invite him to come to Vladimir. There was only one Fr. Abbacum in the diocese. One day his Rural Dean came to him with an order to appear before the Bishop as soon as possible.
“‘Did you commit some mistake or misdeed, Father?’ the worried Dean asked him.
“‘No, I don’t remember any such thing,’ Fr. Abbacum answered. ‘I go with a clear conscience, except I have no money for the trip.’ The Dean lent him the money.
“‘Within a few days Fr. Abbacum appeared before the Bishop, who at once recognized him from the dream. ‘Well, Fr. Abbacum,’ the Bishop said, ‘the best parish in my diocese is vacant and 200 applications have been sent in for it. Many prominent persons recommended the applicants, but your advocates from the other world were the strongest of all. I appoint you Pastor of that parish, and when I too shall go the way of all flesh, I beg you to pray for me.’ The Bishop then told Fr. Abbacum of his dream.
“God alone knows the future,” Fr. Vassian said, “but we should pray for the dead. They are truly our advocates. We request the canonized saints to implore the mercy of God for us. But there are many unknown saints who may help us. It is a good and honorable thing to pray for the dead.”
As Orthodox Christians we often neglect our Christian responsibility of praying for the dead. Sadly in many of our parishes it is only the priest with a handfull of people who attend the All Soul Saturday Liturgies which are held during the Lenten Season and at the time of the Feast of St. Demetrios. As the above true story attests, prayer for the departed, which is a sign of our love for the members of the Church Triumphant is pleasing to God. In response to our heartfelt prayers for the departed, Our Lord, will in turn show his mercy upon our departed loved ones and us . Attend Soul Saturday Liturgies in your parish each and every time they are offered and you will be richly blessed