On the Saturday before Pentecost we commemorate all departed pious Christians, with the idea that the occasion of the coming of the Holy Spirit not only consists of the economy of the salvation of man, but that the departed also participate in this salvation. Therefore, the Holy Church, sending up prayers on Pentecost for the enlivening of all the living through the Holy Spirit, petitions for grace of the Holy Spirit also for the departed, which they were granted while they were still living, and was the source of eternal blessedness, because ‘all souls are enlivened through the Holy Spirit.’
The Holy Church appeals to us, ‘Let all of us pray to Christ, today as we remember the dead of all ages’: ‘Your servants who rest in Your courtyard, and in the bosom of Abraham, from Adam even until today who have chastely served You, fathers, and our brothers, friends, together with relatives’, ‘forefathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, from the first and even up to the last’, every rank and generation’, ‘kings, priests, bishops, monks and novices’, ‘husbands together with wives’, ‘those departed at sea, or on land, or in the rivers, wells, or lakes, or in the trenches’, ‘in the mountains, on travel’, ‘in the deserts, or in the cities’, and ‘any place’, ‘in vain pursuits, cut in half by lightning, both from deathly abomination, and any wound’, ‘dying from Divine foreboding, all mortal thunder sent down from Heaven, the cracking of the earth, the rising storms of the sea’, ‘to be carried away by hailstones, snow and increased clouds, or killed by a brick, or covered over with earth’, ‘unexpected death of the pious, and from every stream of fallen trees, iron, or rocks’, ‘was food for an animal, either birds, or reptiles’, ‘who died from poisonous bites by the enwrapping of snakes, from being trampled by horses, from strangling and hanging by the simple-hearted’, ‘who You have allowed, O Lord, to die form a sudden unexpected fall’, ‘all who repose, O Lord, piously repose’, ‘Our Savior, deliver all the faithful departed from the ever burning fire and the never ending darkness, the gnashing of teeth, and the unending torment of worms, and every torture’, ‘Arise on the Last Day with glory’, ‘grant me Your heavenly Kingdom’.
Synaxarion by Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos
Since it often happens that certain believers suffer death prematurely, in a foreign land, at sea, or trackless mountains, on precipices, in chasms, in famines, wars, at sea, conflagrations, and cold weather, and all manner of other deaths; and perhaps, being poor and without resources, they have not been vouchsafed the customary psalter readings and memorial services, moved by love for mankind, the divine Fathers ordained that the Orthodox Catholic Church make commemoration of all people, a tradition which they inherited from the Holy Apostles, in order that those who, due to some particular circumstance, did not receive the customary obsequies individually, might be included in the present general commemoration, indicating that whatever is done on their behalf confers great benefit on them.
We always commemorate souls on Saturday, because savvation (Sabbath) means “rest” in Hebrew; and since the dead have rested from worldly and all other cares, we offer supplications for them also on the day which means “rest”. It has become customary for us to do this every Saturday. The Fathers, knowing well that what is done on behalf of the reposed, that is, memorial services, almsgiving, and Liturgies, affords them great respite and benefit, allow the Church to do so on both an individual and a general basis, a tradition which they received from the Holy Apostles, as Saint Dionysius the Areopagite tells us.
To what the Church does on behalf of souls benefits them, is clear from many sources, but especially from an incident in the life of Saint Makarios, who was in the habit of praying for the departed and had besought God to reveal to him whether any benefit was conferred on them thereby. Finding the desiccated skull of an impious pagan on the road that he was traversing, he asked whether the souls in Hades experienced any consolation. The skull replied: “We receive great respite, Father, when you pray to God for the departed.” Saint Gregory the Dialogist even saved the Emperor Trajan through prayer, though he was told by God never again to make entreaty for one who was impious. In addition to this, through the prayers of the Saints and Confessors, the Empress Theodora snatched the God-hating Theophilos from torments and saved him, as we know from ecclesiastical history. Saint Gregory the Theologian, in his funeral oration for his brother Caesarios, states that supplications for the departed are beneficial for them. In one of his homilies on the Epistle to the Philippians, the great Saint John Chrysostom says: “Let us think of some way to benefit the departed; let us given them whatever assistance we can, by which I mean almsgiving and offerings to the Church on their behalf; for this affords them great profit, gain, and benefit. Indeed, not in vain or haphazardly have these practices been prescribed; it has been handed down to the Church of God by His all-wise Disciples, that the Priest should commemorate the faithful departed at the dread Mysteries.” Saint Athanasius the Great says: “Even if one who has died in the true Faith has vanished into thin air, call upon Christ God, and do not avoid lighting oil lamps and candles at his grave; for these things are acceptable to God and bring great recompense.” Observe these things, therefore, whether the deceased is a sinner, so that you might obtain for him forgiveness of his sins, or a righteous man, so that you might gain additional rewards.”