Of a Certain Sinner Who Died

St. Pachomius the Great ca. 292-346

And it came to pass once that Abba Pachomius went to another monastery to visit the brethren who were there, and as he was on his journey he met the funeral of a certain brother of the monastery who was dead, and [the monks] were going to the funeral and were singing as they went; and there were also among them the parents of the man who had died. Now the brethren saw from a distance the holy man coming towards them, and they set down the bier upon the ground so that he might come and pray over him. And when the blessed man had come, and had said a prayer, he commanded the brethren not to sing any more psalms and hymns over him; and he also commanded them to bring the garments of him that had died, and they brought them, and in the presence of them all he ordered the men to burn them; then, when they had been burned he commanded that the dead body should be taken and buried without any further singing.

Then the brethren, and the parents, and kinsfolk of him that was dead threw themselvs down at his feet and entreated him to permit them to sing over him, but he remained unmoved; and the parents of the dead man said unto Abba Pachomius, ‘What hast thou done, O Father? This is a new thing, and thou art sending away our son away in an unlawful fashion. It befitteth not thy holiness to display such a want of compassion unto this dead man, and morever, this savage cruelty is like to bring about sorrow. Even an enemy who seeth the dead body of his adversary knoweth how to shew pity many times over, although his disposition be unutterable and immovable. We have seen a new sight with you, O Christians, the like of which hath never been seen, even among the barbarians. through this want of compassion [on thy part] thou hast made to cling to the family [of the dead man] a disgrace which shall never be blotted out. Would that we had never seen this day! For then our house, which hath ever possessed an untarnished name, would not have inherited disgrace. Would that our poor son had never come into thy savage hands! For then he would not have bequeathed unto us this everlasting sorrow. We beseech thee now, since thou hast caused even his clothes to be burned, to allow a Psalm to be said over him.’

Then the Abba Pachomius answered and said unto them, ‘O my brethren, in very truth I have more compassion upon him that lieth here than ye have, and because, like a father, I am shewing exceeding great care on his behalf, I have commanded these things to be done. Ye would take care of the body which is visible, but I strive for his soul [which is invisible]; for if ye sing Psalms over him he will receive the greater torments, and a reckoning will be demanded from him because of the Psalms which have been sung, for he departeth not with the power of the Psalms upon him. If then ye wish to make an addition to his everlasting sufferings, sing Psalms; but I tell you, of a truth, that if ye do indeed sing Psalms over him, he will certainly suffer more pain because of them, and he will curse you. And because I know what will benefit his soul I take no care for his dead body whatsover; for if I permit ye to sing Psalms, I shall to be found to be in the sight of God as one who [striveth to] please the children of men, because of the sake of gratifying men I have treated with contempt that which will benefit the soul which is about to be punished in judgment. For because God is a fountain of grace He seeketh excuses upon which He can hold in order to pour out upon us the abundant streams of His grace; if then, we, who have been held to be worthy by God to become acquainted with the art of divine healing, do not apply the binding up which is suitable to the wound, we shall, like those who despised [God], hear that which is written, “Those who despised [God] saw, and marvelled at the wonderful thing, and were destroyed.” For this reason then, that is to say, that we may lighten his punishment, I entreat you to bury the dead man without any singing of Psalms; for the good God knoweth that in return for this slight which hath come upon him, we are giving him rest and calling him to life. Had he listened unto me on the several occasions on which I admonished him, he would never have come to this pass.’

And when the blessed man had said these things they carried him to the mountain without the singing of Psalms, and he was buried. And the holy man passed several days in that monastery in admonishing and teaching each one of the brethren the fear of God, and the way to strive rightly against the Calumniator, and against his arts, and wiles, and guile, and how in short time, by the might of the Lord, we shall be able to bring to naught beforehand the things which are cared for by him. (The Paradise of the Fathers Vol. 1. pp. 287-289. The Rule of Pachomius at Tabenna Chap. III “Of a Certain Sinner Who Died”)