Vol. 2 No. 5 - Feast of St. Nicholas 2007
No Silence in Heaven:
Remembering Remembrance Day
"Be ye doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." - James 1:22
If Hallowe'en is the fastest emerging Canadian celebration (to the chagrin of many), Remembrance Day is undoubtedly the fasted vanishing one. One need not consider the declining number of veterans at the local cenotaph each November 11th: one need only consider the declining crowds, largely bereft of youth, those who are there representative of only a segment of Canada's increasingly culturally complex population.
In public schools, the context of Remembrance Day has often been distorted: a generation of staff and students who do not carry memories of a world war too easily place Remembrance Day into the context of contemporary international politics. The poppy is replaced by pleas for world peace, or the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
Yet it is more than the poppy that is lost. The essence of the poppy - the essence of remembrance - is a fragile thing, which requires the care of each generation. Father Alexander Schmemman spoke of Orthodox Christianity being fundamentally an act of remembrance, of keeping faith with the generations before us in their witness to the saving Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet remembrance can be distorted into the darker tools of ethnic nationalism or opposition to the politics of other countries.
Such distortions can be mistaken for Orthodox Christianity, but in fact, they are frauds. While the whole liturgical life of the Church is a remembrance, perhaps the most obvious remembrance we observe is the commemoration of the dead, praying for the salvation of the souls of those who are reposed. This is an act of love, an act of remembrance.
One wonders how much of this remembrance remains in Remembrance Day. Traditional Remembrance Day memorials, with their roots in masonic ceremonies, mark the remembrance of fallen soldiers not with prayer for the souls, but with silence. Memories are reduced to the impressions that are left with the living, not the eternal memory of the reposed who stand before God. Like the poppies on the graves of fallen soldiers, such memories fade with the generations, and the day on which they are remembered fades as well.
Yet in Orthodox parishes across Canada, this memory is lost as well. In every priests service book there appears a Service of Prayer for Departed Soldiers - a service which is almost never used today. It is not as if those in Orthodox parishes in Canada have no memory of those who have died in war: ask any old Ukrainian, or Greek patriot, or Serbian nationalist, or convert of British descent about the stories they heard at their grandfather's knee (from an age when people took the time to listen). Greek faithful even set aside a day each October to remember such courage. Pious Serbians offer prayers for slain soldiers and faithful in their own holy region of Kosovo. Yet in Canada, where a generation of young people learn most of what they know about Remembrance Day from the public schools, most Orthodox parishes are silent, at the very time we should be bearing witness by praying for the eternal memory of fallen Orthodox soldiers, our response is too often the same as the masonic cenotaph rituals: silence.
The last generation that remembers the world at war is now passing away: the faces in our parishes and at our cenotaphs tell the tale. Yet for Orthodox Christians, the true practice of remembering the souls of the departed, is one of eternal memory, passed on from one generation to the next, and eternal in the Presence of God. When the practice of such a memorial for soldiers is missed in Orthodox parishes, we have truly become like the world.
In a decade or two, it may be that military bands and civil officials will cease to remember those souls departed in various wars. Our public schools have for the most part already forgotten. But Orthodox Christians, who wear the poppy or not, who carry living memories of fallen loved ones or not, will be able to answer with fullness of heart and voice: We will remember.
Father Geoffrey Korz, (Feast of St. Nicholas, 2007)
© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2007.