“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.” – I Corinthians 13: 4-8
Dearly Beloved in the Lord,
Christ is Risen!
Truly He is Risen!
As many of you know, almost a year ago, my family and I moved back to Salt Lake City from Northridge, California, after serving the parish of St. Nicholas. While living in that community for a solid decade, our children learned to equate two things, which most people would never associate or connect: Memorial Day and Greek Dancing.
You see, their annual Greek Festival takes place every year on Memorial Day Weekend. I always marveled at the fact that hundreds of faithful volunteers would give up their long (and well-earned) weekend to opperate their Festival. Tireless, energetic, enthusiastic and loving people come together to support their church, celebrate their heritage and share their culture.
This weekend, I pray for the stamina, well-being and health of many, old friends whose eyes will be filled with the smoke of BBQ grills, or whose hands will be cramped from the wrapping of a million gyros, or whose backs will be strained from three months of baking and three days of serving.
But now that we have returned home, we have the opportunity to reabsorb the meaning and purpose of Memorial Day in an entirely different context. I have to say that the idea of placing flowers on my father’s grave, on that specific day while praying for his blessed and departed soul, is a source of comfort that has been sorely missing in my for many years.
It feels like this is where I should be, where we all should be, on Memorial Day.
This Holiday began in the mid-1860’s as an opportunity to commemorate those who were lost while serving in the American Civil War. Though this was very much a northern-states tradition, our entire Nation began to embrace the custom after World War I, when it had evolved to include all Americans lost in any war. It was an opportunity to thank those who offered up the ultimate sacrifice for the ideals of a free world, and for the protection of our great Nation. Then, of course, it continued in the minds and hearts of each of us to include any member of our families who have passed from this life to the next.
Memorial Day is a day of solemnity, appreciation, longing, hope, loss, but mostly, love.
Of course, love!
In our Orthodox Tradition, we memorialize the dead simply for the fact that we love them. We have hope in our memorial prayers because of God’s love towards us. “The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have drawn you with loving kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3). We stand at the graves of our loved ones, knowing that our physical presence; that is, being close to them, affords us great comfort.
And even though we may always continue to mourn their departure, our hope in the Resurrection, in time, eclipses our sadness and allows us the hope of reunification in the Kingdom. In the span of time, we literally pass from a spiritual darkness to a prayerful light.
God loves the departed, so he preserves them, while bestowing upon them, and us, an eternity of life and glory. We love them so we continue to express our devotion through our visits to the cemetery. The deceased love us, so they continue to pray for our deliverance as they reside ever closer to God, united with Him in spirit while awaiting the General Resurrection and the fulfillment of God’s plan for salvation.
Death is an ugly distortion of our reality. We were created to be perfect, eternal, glorious and joyful. Death robs us of our human dignity and forcibly, albeit temporarily, separates the body from the soul.
On Memorial Day, we draw near to the graves of our erstwhile beloved, but communicate tenderly and intimately with their gentle souls. They hear us. They feel us. They return the favor and offer their supplications unto God in Heaven. We mourn our losses, but, nevertheless, share in the prize.
St. Paul counsels us “not to mourn as those who do not have hope.” He advises us to never despair over the dead, because “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
This coming Monday, Memorial Day, I will be at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, from 9:30 am to 1:00 pm, with the intention of praying for the repose of your dearly departed loved ones who await their full glory in Christ. This is my new, and tenderly-embraced Memorial Day Tradition. This is my new practice for the Day. This is how the Greek Orthodox people of Salt Lake City celebrate the weekend – in committed prayer.
I will cherish this opportunity to stand beside each of you, and offer our Orthodox Trisagion Prayers of hope, mercy, triumph, life, light and…love.
Christ’s love Crucified.
Christ’s love Resurrected.
Remaining in that Very Love,