FAITH ROUNDTABLE

Praying for the dead

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In Holy Orthodoxy we don’t do Halloween. That’s not because we find the whole idea offensive—more about that below—it’s just because we use a different calendar.

You see, the English word Halloween is a contraction of All Hallow’s Eve. A ‘hallow’ is a holy person, a saint, so All Hallow’s Eve is the night before All Saints’ Day, which falls on November 1. That’s when Christians in the West have traditionally prayed for the departed.

However, in Holy Orthodoxy, All Saints’ Day is celebrated in the spring. And it actually moves around a little because it always falls sixty days after Easter, and, each year, Easter is on a different Sunday. So, historically, Christians in the East have observed the Day of All Hallows in the spring; Christians in the West have done that in the fall, but everyone was doing the same thing; everyone was praying for the dead.

And Christians have been doing that since the beginning of recorded history. Currently, a lot of folks have been duped into thinking that Halloween was originally some kind of pagan festival for the dead that was just reformatted by Christians. And, historically, there are indications that ancient peoples like the Celts and the Picts and the Scots had some sort of fall celebration, but there is no actual evidence that the celebration had any connection with the departed. In fact, the first time that idea was even suggested was in the early 1900’s. So, as far as the historical record is concerned, Halloween has been a Christian observance for as long as anyone can remember.

But if that’s the case, why are so many Christians here in Texas so freaked out by the whole concept?

Well, most of the Christians that get wound up over Halloween are Protestants, and Protestants don’t like to deal with The Past. The Past is a challenge for Baptists and Presbyterians and Methodists and Bible Church folks because what that history shows us is that, right from the beginning, Christians have been praying for the dead—and that makes Nazarenes and Lutherans and Episcopalians really uncomfortable, because they don’t believe that Christians can pray for the departed.

So, for the Churches of Christ and the Assemblies of God and non-denominational types, it’s just easier to ignore The Past. But when you do that then you end up doing some pretty foolish things: like confusing an ancient Christian feast with a modern theory about an unknown pagan festival or offering a Christian alternative celebration for a holiday that has been Christian for as far back as anyone can remember.

Now, if you’re reading this and you’re a Protestant, you’re probably wondering how it’s even possible to pray for the dead. And I would love to explain that to you. However, our editor, Mr. Nick Brothers, is publishing a weekly newsletter, not a theological journal. So, if you want to discuss how Christians pray for the departed, just get in touch with me. I look forward to hearing from you.

Father Aidan Wilcoxson is the pastor of St John’s Orthodox parish (www.theforerunner.org); he can be reached at fraidan@austin.rr.com.

Halloween

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