An Explantation of the Byzantine Rite Liturgical Practice of Observing All Souls Saturdays



“The Holy Fathers were convinced that the commemoration of the departed by alms and sacrifices (Divine Liturgies) brings great com­fort and benefit to them.”


O Church, equally observed in the West as in
one of the most venerable traditions in the East,
is the commemoration of the departed
in our liturgical prayers. lt is the constant teach­ing
of the Church since Apostolic times (cf.
Synaxarion) that the departed can be helped by
our prayers, offerings and good deeds. St. John
Chrysostom (d. 407) in speaking of the faithful
departed reminded his people:
“Let us assist them according to our
power. Let us think of some advantage for
them, small though it be, but let us assist
them. How and in what way? By praying for
them, by asking others to pray for them, and
by constantly giving (alms) to the poor in
their behalf!” (HOMILY ON PHILL. 3, 4)

lt is of great consolation for us, the surviving
friends and relatives of our faithful departed, to
be able to help them and thus remain united to
them by a bond of everlasting love. St. Ambrose
(d. 397), preaching at the commemoration of Em­peror
Theodosius on the fortieth day after his
death in 395, consoled his survivors with the
“… I love the man (Emperor) and I will not
abandon him until, by my tears and prayers, I
shall lead him into the Holy Mountain of God
(Ps. 2:6), where there is life eternal!”

1. The custom of offering prayers and sacrifices
for the departed comes to us from the Old Testa­ment.
Holy Scripture praises the custom as holy
and wholesome or pious, as is written in the
li Book of Maccabees, ch. 12, v. 45: “lt is therefore,
a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the
dead that they may be loosed from sins.” ln the
Catholic Church, the commemoration of the dead
is considered as one of the main works of mercy.
St. Paul prayed for his devoted friend Onesiphorus
that the Lord “grant him mercy” as he stands
before God’s judgment seat. (lI Tim. 1 :18)
All the early Liturgies of the Church, including
the most ancient one, the Liturgy of St. James,
contain a prayer for the departed. ln the Liturgies
of St. Basil the Great (d. 379) and St. John
Chry­sostom (d. 407) prayers for the deceased are also
included. St. John Chrysostom interprets this in
these words:
…. Not in vain did the Apostles order that
remembrance should be made of the dead in
the awesome Mysteries (i.e. the Liturgy). They
knew that great gain resulted to them (the
deceased), and great benefit. For when the
whole assembly (of the people) stands with
uplifted hands and that awesome Sacrifice
lies displayed, how shall we not prevail with
God by our entreaty for them? And this we
do for those who have departed in faith!
The Apostolic Constitutions (IV c.) prescribed
that during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy,
the deacon should remind the faithful to pray for
the deceased, saying:
… Let us pray for our brethren that are
fallen asleep in Christ, that God, the Lover of
mankind, Who has received their souls, may
forgive them every voluntary and involuntary
sin, and may be merciful and gracious to
them, placing them in the land of righteous­
ness . . . where there is no pain, sorrow or
lamentation. (APOST. CONST., VIII, 41)
Therefore, the Fathers of Vatican lI rightly
decreed that the Church “from the very first
centuries of Christianity has cultivated the
mem­ory of the dead with great piety” and “offered
prayers for them.” (cf. Constitution on the Church,
n. 50.)

2. ln the Byzantine Rite, we commemorate the
deceased every day at the Divine Liturgy
imme­diately after the Consecration with the petition:
“Remember, O Lord, all those who have departed
in the hope of resurrection unto eternal life …
N.N. … , and grant them rest where the light of
Your face shines.” (Liturgy of St. John Chrysos­tom)
ln our liturgical calendar, Saturdays are ded­icated,
in a special way, to prayer for the de­
ceased. Following St. John Damascene, the
Syn­axarion supplies us with this reason:
“The Sab­bath (Saturday) in Hebrew means rest,
since on that day God rested from His work. (Gen. 2:2-3)
We make a remembrance of the deceased on that
‘day of rest’ for they are ‘resting’ from all their
earthly cares.”  When commemorating our de­parted,
we constantly implore God to give them
eternal rest (O. SI. Vičnyj pokoj) since, accord­ing
to the Scriptures, to enter into God’s rest
means to join Him in an eternal life of happiness.
(Heb. 4:3-11; Apoc. 14:13)  St. Ambrose explains
this by saying: “lt is a great rest which fulfills the
prayer of the living, a most glorious promise.”
(Or. on Theodosius, 37)
ln accord with this, the Byzantine Church has,
since the ninth century, established a special day
of prayer for the departed popularly known as
“Za dušna Subota” (Gr. Psycho-sabbaton;
psyche-soul) which literally translated means
Souls Saturday. Since the Synaxarion calls for
the “universal commemoration” and prayer for
“all the souls departed in the faith,” fittingly then,
in English, we call these Saturdays – All Souls

3. ln the Byzantine Liturgical Year there are five
All Souls Saturdays – namely, Meat Fare Saturday,
the Second, Third and Fourth Saturdays of the
Great Lent, and Pentecost Saturday.
Meat-Fare Saturday as a special day of prayer
for the deceased can be traced down to the sixth
and seventh century, the time when the Typikon
of St. Saba, known as the Jerusalem Typikon,
had developed. The Synaxarion, which is the
liturgical description of the feast or commemora­tion,
of this day is based on the oratory treatise,
On Those Who Died in Faith, which is ascribed
to St. John Damascene. (cf. Migne, PG. 95, 247-
278) On Meat-Fare Sunday we liturgically
com­memorate the Last Judgment (Mt. 25:31-46).
Therefore, on the previous day, we, in our charity,
intercede with the merciful Judge for the de­
ceased that they be placed at His right hand
when He will come to judge the Iiving and the
When the Triodion, the liturgical book for the
Easter [Paschal] cycle, was basically compiled
during the ninth century, the Second, Third and
Fourth Sat­urdays of Lent were also dedicated to
the com­memoration of the dead. The reasons for
desig­nating these days were: 1) to make up for the
a-liturgical days of the Great Lent since in the
Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, which is pre­
scribed for Lent, there is no commemoration of
the dead; 2) to remind us of our own death and
make our penitential exercises during Lent more
meaningful; and 3) to give us an opportunity to
practice good deeds in behalf of our faithful
departed and renew our love for them.
On Pentecost Saturday we commemorate “all
the departed souls since Adam” (cf. Pentecosta­rion).
By the Descent of the Holy Spirit, com­memorated
on Pentecost Sunday, the economy of
our salvation was completed. Since the will of
God is that “all men be saved” (I Tim. 2:4), there­
fore the day preceding this Feast is set aside as
a day of prayer for all the deceased so that they
be included in the salutary work of Christ.

4. From the beginning of Christianity, local
churches kept registers of their living members
as well as those who departed. These registers
were folding tablets made of wood, ivory, or
precious metals artistically decorated with
carv­ings and bound together by rings. They are
known as diptychs, taken from the Greek word
díptychon, which means anything folded in two.
These were used in Church to commemorate the
living and the dead at the Divine Liturgy since
the fourth century.
ln the Byzantine Church, these diptychs played
an important role since the names of the heretics
and the excommunicated were removed from
them and, by the same token, these were exclud­ed
from the liturgical prayers. They came into
disuse sometime during the fourteenth century
and, eventually, they were replaced by official
lists of the deceased members of individual fam­ilies
issued by the pastor. These were called
Hramoty, from the Greek: grammata, meaning a
written letter or document. The list of the de­ceased
members of a family made in booklet form was
called a Pomjanik, taken from the Old Slavonic:
pomjanuti, meaning to remember, and
was used at the services for the deceased.
The custom of announcing the names of the
deceased during the liturgical services, as stated
above, can be traced back to the first centuries of
Christianity. Already in the fourth century, the
practice was strongly defended by St. Epiphanius
(d. 403) as a “firmly established tradition” in the
Church. ln his Panarias, he writes:

. . . Concerning the ritual of reading the
names of the deceased, what can be more
useful or suitable; what can be more worthy
of admiration? (PANARIOS 75, 8)

This venerable custom was transmitted to us
by our ancestors as a part of our beautiful spir­itual
heritage. Every year, just before Meat-Fare
Saturday, the families give the lists of their de­
parted loved ones (Hramoty) to the pastor with
the request that they be mentioned at the services
held for the deceased on the All Souls
Saturday. And St. John Chrysostom assures us
that: ” It is a great honor to be worthy of mention,
while the celebration of the Holy Mysteries is
going on.” (Homily on the Acts 21, 4) Members
of the family are encouraged to attend these
ser­vices on the All Souls Saturdays for by their
presence and by their personal prayers and
re­ceiving Holy Communion they strengthen the
bond of love with their departed loved ones and
indeed keep their memory everlasting!

5. St. Gregory of Nazianz (d. 390), after celebrat­ing
the funeral services for his brother Caesarius,
concluded his eulogy with the following words:
“Part of my funeral gift is now completed. The
remainder we will pay by offering every year, as
long as we live, our honors and memorials for
him!” (Oration VII, 17) We also should emulate
St. Gregory by remembering our departed loved
ones, especially during the All Souls Saturdays,
as long as we live, and point out to those coming
after us the wholesomeness of this beautiful and
praiseworthy custom of praying for and
remem­bering our departed loved ones.

ln the burial service according to the Byzantine
Rite, the Church places the following words on
the lips of the deceased, as we sing the hymns
prescribed in bidding our departed loved one our
final farewell:

… Come all you that love me and bid me
farewell, for I shall no longer walk with you
nor talk with you, since I am going to my
Judge, Who shows no favors and rewards or
punishes everyone according to his deeds.
Therefore, I beg and implore all of you, pray
for me continually to Christ our God that, on
account of my sins, I may not be doomed
into the place of affliction, but rather be
granted a place where the light of life is

(Ascribed to St. John Chrysostom)
O God of all spiritual and corporeal be­ings,
You trampled death, broke the power
of Satan and granted life to the whole world;
now, O Lord, grant also rest to the soul of
Your departed servant N. in a place of light,
freshness, and peace, where there is no
pain, sorrow, or mourning. As a gracious
God and loving mankind, forgive him (her)
every transgression committed by him (her)
in word, deed, or thought, since there is no
man alive who has not sinned. You alone
are without sin and Your justice is everlast­ing
justice, and Your word is always the truth.
For You are the resurrection, the life and
the rest of Your departed servant N., O
Christ our God, and we render glory to You,
together with Your Eternal Father, and Your
most Holy, gracious, and life-giving Spirit,
now and ever and forever. Amen.
“He (the Priest) acts as an ambassador on
behalf of the whole city-even on behalf of the
whole world-and prays that God would be
merciful and forgive the sins of all, not only of
the living, but also of the departed.”
(St. John Chrysostom,
Byzantine Leaflet Series
With Ecclesiastical Approbation March, 1977

Pittsburgh, Pa. 15214