The following is from “Life After Death” by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos. He is discussing the treatise by St. Gregory of Nyssa “Concerning infants snatched away prematurely”. There is great debate and worry over the state of the souls of unbaptized infants. Understanding the nature and purpose of baptism is key to understanding this:
“How will the infant be judged or where he will be sent, since he did neither evil nor good in his life? St. Gregory says that the problem is not to be put in this way since it is not a matter of justice, but of a natural state of the health or illness of human nature. […]
This teaching of St. Gregory of Nyssa gives us the opportunity of underlining here that the soul of a man is not impure at birth, but pure. Man from his birth experiences illumination of the nous. Therefore we see that even infants can have noetic prayer, corresponding of course to the images and representations of their age. When a person is created his nous is in a state of illumination. We have observed many times that there are infants who pray, even in their sleep. A monk of the Holy Mountain says that when small children turn their attention in some direction and laugh without a reason, it means that they see their angel. What happens in the lives of saints, for whom it is altogether natural to be with the angels, happens in little children.
Therefore orthodox theology does not teach what theology in the West says, that man inherits the guilt of the ancestral sin. For we believe that at birth a person has a pure nous: his nous is illuminated which is the natural state. The inheritance of the ancestral sin, as we said in another place, lies in the fact that the body inherits corruptibility and mortality, which, with the passage of time, and as the child grows and passions develop, darkens the noetic part of his soul. Indeed the developed passions linked with corruptibility and mortality and darkness of the environment darken the noetic part of the souls of children.
There is the problem of what happens at holy Baptism. That is to say, since infants have a pure nous which is in a state of illumination, and they have noetic prayer, then why do we baptise them?
The answer, as we see in the whole patristic tradition, is that by holy Baptism we are not getting rid of guilt from ancestral sin, but we are being grafted on to the Body of Christ, the Church, and are acquiring the power to conquer death. This is how we understand the baptism of babies. We baptise them so they may become members of the Church, members of the Body of Christ, that they may pass over death, overcome the garments of skin, decay and mortality. That is to say that as they grow, whenever the nous becomes darkened by passions and the darkness of the surroundings, they may have the ability to conquer death in Christ, to overcome the passions and to purify the noetic part of their souls once more. [emphasis mine]
The deepest purpose of Baptism for both infants and adults is to attain deification, which is achieved only in Christ and in the Church.
Since this point is quite crucial, I may be permitted to quote the words of St. Gregory of Nyssa about the purity of the souls of infants: “Whereas the innocent babe has no such plague before its soul’s eyes obscuring its measure of light, it continues to exist in that natural life; it does not need the soundness that comes from purgation, because it never admitted the plague into its soul at all”. The infant nous is pure, it has not been ill, it is distinguished by health and the natural state and therefore is not prevented at all from partaking of the divine Light.
The fact is that the infants who depart from life prematurely neither find themselves in a painful state nor become equal to those who have struggled to be purified by every virtue. They are in God’s Providence. …The journey to God and participation in the uncreated Light is a natural state of the soul, and infants cannot be deprived of this, because by the power of divine grace they can attain deification.
An article from the OCA website: October, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month
Remember, O Lord, Lover of Mankind the souls of Thy departed servants, infants who died accidentally in the wombs of Orthodox mothers from unknown cause, either from difficult birth, or from some carelessness and who therefore did not receive the Mystery of Holy Baptism. Baptize them, O Lord, in the sea of Thy compassions, and save them by Thine inexpressible grace. Amen.
The following prayer may be used by the priest for the spiritual and physical healing of the mother who has suffered a miscarriage.
O Sovereign Master, Lord our God, Who wast born of the all-pure Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, and as an infant was laid in a manger: do Thou Thyself, according to Thy great mercy, have regard for this Thine handmaiden, N., who hath suffered miscarriage of the child conceived in her. Bring comfort to her in her suffering, and grant her, O Loving Lord, health and strength of body and soul. Preserve her from every snare of the evil one, from all despondency and inward torment. Send a radiant angel to guard her from every assault of sickness and weakness. Cleanse her and heal the disorder of her womb. Restore her to health and forgive her sins. In Thy mercy comfort the mind of Thy handmaiden and bring her peace. For unto Thee are due all glory, honor and worship, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Remember, O Lord, Lover of Mankind the souls of Thy departed servant,
A Rite of Burial for Miscarried or Stillborn Babies
Priest: Blessed is our God, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.
Choir: Amen. Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. (thrice)
Reader: Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
O Most-holy Trinity, have mercy on us. O Lord, cleanse us from our sins. O Master, pardon our transgressions. O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for Thy name’s sake.
Lord, have mercy. (thrice)
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
The Litany for the Departed
Priest: Have mercy on us, O God, according to Thy great mercy, we beseech Thee, hearken and have mercy. Lord, have mercy. (thrice)
Again we pray for the repose of this blessed child. And that, according to his word, He will graciously vouchsafe unto him (her) his heavenly kingdom. Lord, have mercy. (thrice)
That the Lord God will establish his (her) soul where the just repose. Lord, have mercy. (thrice)
The mercies of God, the kingdom of heaven, and rest with the saints for him (her) and for ourselves ,let us entreat of Christ, our King Immortal, and our God. Grant this, O Lord.
Let us pray to the Lord. Lord, have mercy.
O Lord Jesus Christ our God, who hast promised to bestow the kingdom of heaven upon them that have been born of water and of the Spirit, and in spotlessness of life have been translated unto thee, and hast said, Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven: We humbly entreat thee that thou wilt give unto thy servant, the spotless child, now departed from us, the inheritance of thy kingdom, according to thine unfailing promise. And grant that we may continue in innocency of living, and make a Christian ending of our life, and attain to an abode in the heavenly mansions, with all thy Saints.
For thou art the Resurrection, and the Life, and the Repose of all thy servants, and of thy servant, this child, now taken from us, O Christ our God; and unto thee do we ascribe glory, together with thy Father who is from everlasting, and thine all-holy, and good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Choir: More honorable than the cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim, without defilement thou gavest birth to God the Word: true Theotokos, we magnify thee.
Priest: Glory to Thee, O Christ God, our Hope, glory to Thee.
Choir: Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen. Lord have mercy. (thrice) Father, bless.
Priest: May He who rose from the dead, Christ our true God, through the prayers of His all-pure Mother; of the holy, glorious and all-laudable Apostles; of our holy and God-bearing Fathers; and of all the saints; establish the soul of His servant who hath been taken from us, in the mansions of the Righteous; give him (her) rest in Abraham’s Bosom, and number him (her) among the Just; and have mercy on us, forasmuch as He is good and loveth mankind.
Priest: Grant rest eternal in blessed repose, O Lord, to Thy servant who is fallen asleep, and his (her) memory to be eternal.
Choir: Memory eternal. (thrice)
UPDATE: Holy Trinity OCA church in NY has a pregnancy loss resource page up now that includes services for memorial and burial of miscarried or stillborn infants.
Review of “An Orthodox Pastoral Approach to Miscarriage” by Fr. Peter J. Gillquist
If you would like to see some examples of burials, please see the links below*:
Kh. Patty: Constantine +
*If you would like to add yours, please contact me.