It is important for us from time to time to stop and ask questions about our faith, customs, and practices. One of these is the closing short prayer concluding the funeral service, parastas, and the panachida: Vichnaja pamjat, memory eternal. The correct understanding of this short prayer will result in a correct understanding of our faith.
It could be that some people think that by singing this prayer we would simply be reliving a memory in this world. The late Bishop Nikolai [Velimirovic] commented on such thinking and would remark: "Could there be something eternal upon the earth, where everything is passing like a wedding?" Indeed, if we wished the deceased person to be remembered in this world "eternally," what we would wish to him would be worthless; for this world is nearly to its own end. Even if someone is remembered to the end of time, but his name is forgotten in heaven, what does he have?
Bishop Nikolai tells us: "It is correct to think and desire for the deceased one to be remembered in eternity in the eternal life, in the kingdom of God. That is the real meaning of vichnaja pamjat, "memory eternal." For this sort of attitude we have the advice of our Lord, on the occasion when his disciples boasted saying, "Lord, even the devils are obedient to your will." The Lord told them not to be joyous about that, but instead to "...be glad because your names are inscribed in heaven," meaning that the disciples are known in heaven, the kingdom of light and life.
There is frequent mention in the Holy Bible about how the names of the righteous ones are inscribed in the Book of Life, while the names of the unrighteous are eradicated and forgotten.
From the story about the Rich Man and Lazarus we see that the Lord mentions the name of Lazarus, however the name of the rich man is omitted. This means that Lazarus entered the kingdom of heaven, while the unrighteous man lost the kingdom, as well as his life and his name.
From this we may learn that the Church not only teaches but practices the remembrance in eternity of the faithful ones. We must bear in mind that countless people passed through this life without noise or notice, but they secured for themselves an everlasting name in the kingdom of heaven, where there is neither death nor change. We are advised to bear in mind this understanding and attitude whenever we hear or sing the short prayer vichnaja pamjat.
adapted from "Lord, Teach Us to Pray" by V. Rev. Fr. Vojislav Dosenovich
St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church, Omaha, NE
original at: serbianunity.net