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The sorokoust, or forty divine liturgies (i.e., eucharistic services), is a series of orthodox liturgical commemorations celebrated in memory of a dead person.

The number forty derives from the Orthodox tradition that it takes the soul forty days to reach the throne of God. Because of the similarity in sound, it is sometimes thought that the term is connected to the Russian sorok, "forty," and usta, "month," but in fact it derives from the Middle Greek sarakoste, "forty" (ancient Greek thessarakoste ). The forty liturgies are part of the standard Orthodox ritual for the dead, corresponding genetically and functionally to the Catholic tricenarius, or thirty masses. A tale from the Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great (590604) about the helpfulness of the thirty masses for the souls of the departed (bk. IV, chap. 57) appears in Greek and Russian manuscripts with the number changed to forty. The first Old Russian sources that mention the sorokoust date from twelfth-century Novgorod. Canonical texts decry the practice of arranging for sorokousty in advance of a person's death or even of celebrating them while the person is still alive. Last wills and testaments from Muscovite Russia frequently provide for comparatively small donations to be distributed by the departed's executor to as many as forty churches where sorokousty were to be celebrated for the departed. A more limited version of the sorokoust , a commemoration in the regular liturgy for forty days, is still practiced in the early twenty-first century in Russian Orthodox churches.

See also: orthodoxy; russian orthodox church; sinodik


Steindorff, Ludwig. (1994). Memoria in Altrußland. Stuttgart: Steiner.

Ludwig Steindorff

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