"But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord 'the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'. For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him." (Luke 20:37-38) "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself". (John 12:32) "In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know." (John 14: 2-4) "And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty... For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!" (1 Corinthians 15:14, 16, 17) Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him Who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls". (Hebrews 12: 1-3)
When I told my friend I was going to a Sister's funeral at Mount St. Macrina, he told me, "You are quite faithful in attending things and nurturing community." I teased him, saying, "The community of the dead". Then I realized, it is precisely what Mt. St. Macrina Cemetery is, the community of our faithful departed. I know most of the bishops, some of the priests, many of the Sisters, an assortment of individuals from a variety of parishes, and of course my own family. My father was buried thirty years ago on a sunny day in February. When my mom, my sisters and I visited a few days later, everything was under a blanket of snow. Since that time, I have been back many times- to place a mum at Pilgrimage, or a wreath at Christmas, to say "Happy Birthday", to light a candle, to pray, and to press a kiss to his name. I walk around greeting my friends who rest here awaiting the final Resurrection. My mom and sisters also love to walk around cemeteries where family, friends, and late fellow parishioners are buried. I often realize that I know more people who have passed than the ones who are still alive here.
Mt. St. Macrina is the home of our annual Labor Pilgrimage honoring the Mother of Perpetual Help, and it is also home to many whose eathly Pilgrimage has ended. How fitting it is that some of our historical figures should rest here: Notably, Bishop Basil Takach and Mother Macrina. How comforting it is to know that these beloved earthy remains lie in a holy place. How blessed they are to have the Sisters and so many visitors and Pilgrims pray for them. It is a good thing to pray for the dead as they are alive with God and are in relationship with each other, and are awaiting reunion with us.
The Church has always prayed for the dead at the funeral, on certain days after passing, on anniversaries, on the five All Souls Saturdays, and indeed in every Divine Liturgy. We sing "Eternal Memory" as a statement of our belief that our loved ones live in God's memory forever. Of course, some of our historical figues, our spiritual fathers and mothers, our family and friends lie in rest in other places. All cemeteries are "sleeping places" for now. Yes, even the cemetery is not our final resting place. Jesus said: "This is the will of My Father Who sent Me, that of all He given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise them up at the last day. And this is the will of Him Who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day". (John 5: 39-40)
Transfiguration Icon written by the hand of Tim Loya
St. Michael the Archangel Byzantine Catholic Church, Donora, PA