Some people have the macabre affinity to visit the graveyard on every possible occasion. You find them flocking there on feast days, memorials and whenever they feel nostalgic about some loved one. Do you really need to visit the cemetery in order to be close to someone who passed into the next life? If that were the case, then it would follow that when you did not visit the graveyard, you forgot about that person. If the person who passed away is constantly on your mind and in your heart, you are actually taking him/her with you everywhere you go. When someone is buried into the ground, or by any other modern method, his spirit lives on. Fact is that spirit is liberated from the constraints of the flesh and its menial affinities into a boundless realm of eternal bliss. That person could be hovering around you, supporting you with prayers and feeling your constant, unfailing and sincere love. Honoring such person would not be through an hour’s visit to his grave, but rather through caring about what they held dear, completing their mission or fulfilling the goals they aspired for in their lives.
Someone will ask, a visit to the graveyard by a few women changed the history of mankind and declared the salvation of humanity, so how can you say that visiting the graveyard is not an important practice? Well, the answer is so simple. That particular visit was clearly justified. Because the holy body of the savior was removed from the cross in a hurry, after he died in order to celebrate the Passover. There were certain burial traditions, which were not fully carried out and had to be fulfilled out of respect, religious obligation and love. But the one most important single reason why that particular tomb had to be visited was that it would be found empty! It was not an ordinary grave of an ordinary person. This tomb was to become a portal to glory. Instead of finding the stench of death, they found the life-giving aroma of the risen Christ. Instead of finding the petrified flesh and bones of a dead carcass, they saw the angels and heard the enchanting declaration of a new life… bypassing the clutches of the old adversary and triumphantly re-entering into the glory of the lost paradise. No other tomb before, or since, can claim such power. This one tomb has turned all other graveyards and cemeteries into “sanitary disposal places” where we merely put away the earthly bodies, our loved ones no longer need for survival so that it does not become a hazard for those who still need such bodies to finish their own race to the portal of eternity.
Well then, here comes another question, How about visiting the graves of the saints?
This is very important, because the real question is why…not whether we should visit the burial places of the saints. Please don’t give me…because we honor them. Unfortunately this is the most widely spread accepted answer. So let me ask you, what good is it if you visit the grave of St. Mina “to honor him”, and then go out to stump on everything St. Mina endured martyrdom for? That is not to mention, that your visit to “honor St. Mina” was actually because you wanted to ask for his intercession in a certain crisis or request. You may counter by saying, that he already granted you the help you sought, and it was time to go back and “honor him.” In that case, your visit might be justified. But I am sure that St. Mina would be equally pleased – if not more grateful – if you honor him by doing the things he would want to do himself, like feeding and clothing the poor and needy and upholding the principles of the faith he paid for with his life. You see, the most important reason we should visit the tombs of the saints, is “to remind ourselves of their struggle, their courage, and their endurance in the face of every challenge” which would “hopefully” translate into emulating them and modeling our lives after their wonderful example. You don’t go there just because you want something. You go there, to spend a day in the company of that saint. Learn about him or her, replenish your fledgling morals, and re-energize your drive for eternal life. If your visit becomes an entertainment excursion like a sightseeing trip, then you have gained nothing and it becomes an offense rather than an honor to the saint you visit. Mind you, saints don’t treat us in the same way we treat them, because they have already transcended that basal human trait once they have already passed through the portal to glory. You know, it would be even better, if you have your patron saint go with you everywhere you go. If your patron saint is St. Mary the Holy Mother of Christ, then take her with you to learn modesty and generous love and endurance in every situation. Whenever you feel like faltering or stumbling, let her whisper in your ear, “remember when I was standing at the foot of the cross…I was in utmost agony…but my patience and pain were later converted into immeasurable happiness.” If your patron saint is St. Kyrollos, listen to him repeating in your ears, “Pray…pray…pray…those who pray are never confounded by the enemy.” Therefore, it is good to visit the burial places of the saints, and it is even far better to listen to them and emulate them. That is by far a greater manner to honor them.
Now I have a final question for you… and don’t shut this discussion off when you see it. Have you ever thought about your own grave? I don’t mean whether people will visit your grave. Of course you understand, I mean your own portal into glory. There are people who prepare by building ornate and magnificent edifices for themselves to “be laid to rest in peace.” Have you ever thought about it? Are you preparing a wonderful place for the carcass to cover its natural stench? Or you are preparing for your soul to soar with the saints you love and all other loved ones into eternal glory?
The empty tomb of the Risen Christ is a wonderful reminder to the wise and witness to the prudent, that past that portal, certainly there is what Saint Paul called, “what no ear has ever heard…what no eyes has ever seen…and what no human imagination can ever perceive…” This indeed is something to long for.
Picture of the entrance to the Holy Sepulcher in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem.