Memory Eternal, A Teaching Unit on Bereavement (Lesson Four: Why the Body matters and why we have relics)

Lesson 4: Why the Body matters and why we have relics.

“The mystery of death is a door though which the soul, having parted with its body, enters eternity.
Monk Mitrophan


  1. Ask students to share their legacy stories from last week’s lesson
  2. Students discuss: what happens when we die?

The soul is separated from the body, after which the soul remains by itself while the body is committed to the earth and disintegrates into various components… Having separated, the soul passes over into the realm of beings like itself, into the spiritual angelic realm; and depending on whether it has gained good or bad qualities, joins either the good angels in heaven or the evil angels in Hades.
– (See Luke 23:43) How Our Departed Ones Live, by Monk Mitrophan


  1. Show an icon of a guardian angel.

One of my daughter’s best friends, Lily, asked me pointed questions about Mary Evelyn’s death. She wanted to know her last words, if she hurt, and what it was like when she died. Lily loved Mary Evelyn and wanted to share these moments in the only way she could. I didn’t remember Mary Evelyn’s last words, but my husband later told me what they were: Where are we going? He was carrying her into her own little bedroom.

The day she died, she was able to walk in the morning but faded throughout the afternoon. We realized something was changing with her and so her daddy, her brother, and I each whispered our goodbyes in her ear while we still had the opportunity. She died right after that, with a big gasp as her spirit left her body. I’ve been told that children with cancer and other terminal illnesses often wait until the parents say goodbye or tell them it’s okay to go before dying.

Right after she died, we prayed the trisagion prayers for her. We called the other people in the house into her room and we all prayed for her soul. If she was floating around above her body the way so many people say they do when they die, then that’s what she saw and heard. After the prayers we cried. She was gone, but only gone to another room, or another dimension. I know she is near me in the communion of saints; maybe she is closer to me than before and I just can’t feel it, but I still cry.

When Christians die, angels are there. They do not die alone, they leave this world and enter the next with the loving guidance and company of angels.

I told Mary Evelyn that her guardian angel would greet her in the next life. We have a family friend, Cindy, who loves Mary Evelyn as if she were her daughter. It’s a special relationship. Two weeks before she died, Mary Evelyn asked Cindy if she was really her guardian angel. We talked about how Cindy was not her guardian angel, but that she did some of the things her guardian angel might do if the angel had a body. Every night throughout her life, Mary Evelyn prayed a little prayer to her guardian angel.

Do you pray for your guardian angel each day? Your guardian angel loves you and is with you, now and throughout your life.

It was originally from the Jews that the Church inherited this belief in the ministry of the Guardian Angels. The Psalmist had declared, “The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them” (Psalms 34 [33]:7). And again, “He will give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways” (91 [90]:11)
– Fr. Reardon

People have many questions about death. In this lesson, we will discuss some of the common ones. If you have questions we haven’t discussed, you’ll have a chance to ask them at the end of the lesson.

Why do Orthodox Christians say he reposed or fell asleep? Because that is what Jesus said.

In the law every one who toucheth a dead body was considered impure, but these are not dead. For from the time when He that is Himself life and the Author of life was reckoned among the dead, we do not call those dead who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection and in faith on Him. “Concerning the Honor Due to the Saints and Their Remains”
– St. John of Damascus

What happens to the body? Why do we not need to be afraid of what happens to our body? Without the soul, the body has no life. Your soul is your life. It is your soul that lives forever. Your body is made up of atoms that change continually. The cells in your body replace themselves within ten years -only the DNA stays the same.

Then why does the body matter? Why do we venerate the bones of saints? Why are some saints incorrupt? Because of the soul. When God inhabits the soul, His spirit, His grace, His blessing permeates the entire person, including his body and even his clothing and other objects that he or she used for prayer and worship. You cannot contain the Spirit of God. It permeates all that will receive it. If one lived a life nurturing to the Spirit of God, then the Spirit permeated his body and soul. When the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ–God, is consumed, it blesses and permeates not only our soul, but our bodies also. That is why respect for the body matters. Sins against the body (adultery, suicide, self-harm) are very harmful, because they are disrespect for the Spirit of God that dwells in us.

More on relics:

The pious veneration of holy relics, based on their miraculous nature, originated from Divine Revelation. Even in the Old Testament God deigned to celebrate with miracles the holy relics of certain of those who were well-pleasing to Him. Thus, by the touch of the holy relics of the Prophet Elisha, a dead man was resurrected. The tomb and bones of this Prophet, who had prophesied to Jeroboam the destruction of idolatrous altars, were greatly revered in Judea. The Patriarch Joseph also left a testament to the sons of Israel to preserve his bones in Egypt and, during their exodus, to carry them to the promised land
– Genesis 50:25

Speaking of the miraculous power of holy relics, Saint Ephraim the Syrian relates the following concerning the holy Martyrs: “Even after death they act as if alive, healing the sick, expelling demons, and by the power of the Lord rejecting every evil influence of the demons. This is because the miraculous grace of the Holy Spirit is always present in the holy relics.”
– The Place of Holy Relics in the Orthodox Church by St. Justin Popovich

What happens to the soul? The soul never dies. Death on the earth is only a passage to another kind of life. A life in Christ. Read Luke 16:19-31. Our lives on this earth matter. From the time of our birth, baptism and chrismation, our actions either bring our soul closer to Christ or further away. The path we take matters. Once we fall asleep in Christ, we cannot undo what has been done. How then do we prepare the soul for its life with Christ?   What does the soul need? Money? Cars? Houses? Nice clothing? A beautiful body? No. A soul that is ready for heaven is one that has been fed with prayer, service to others, the sacraments (particularly confession and the Eucharist), worship of God, kindness, study of God’s word, telling others about Christ and His Church. These are heavenly riches. These things are what prepares your soul to meet God. A soul like this comfortably rests in God arms. A bankrupt soul flees from God’s love. His love feels like the sun burning your skin…you hide because it hurts. Is the sun bad? No. The sun is always warm. God is always love. His love never ceases. How we respond to that love depends on how we have lived in our lives on earth. Make it count.

Questions? You can write them down or ask them and we’ll do our best to answer them.

Activity: make a little card for the prayer to a guardian angel. Decorate the card and keep it for use at home.


Orthodox Tradition, Vol. VII, No. 1, p. 9. Translated from the Serbian by the Reverend Gregory Telepneff.

How Our Departed Ones Live, Monk Mitrophan, translated by Archpriest John Shaw. Sheridan Books: Chelsea Michigan 2005.

Fr. Patrick Reardon regarding Guardian Angels in the Book of Tobit.

“O angel of Christ, holy guardian and protector of my soul and body,
forgive me everything wherein I have offended you every day of my life,
and protect me from all influence and temptation of the Evil One.
May I never again anger God by my sins.
Pray for me to the Lord, that He may make me worthy of the grace of the All-Holy Trinity,
and of the blessed Mother of God, and of all the saints.

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