Funerals in the Orthodox Faith

With the first Christians and with all true Christians of today, the hope of resurrection makes the exit from this life an entry into a better one and, actually, into the domain of the highest aspirations of the true Christian. Christians, believing that “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19) and that it is destined to be resurrected after death and to be united in an incorruptible state with the immortal soul at the Second Coming of the Lord, used to bury their dead with all due honor. Accordingly, they washed the body, dressed it in white garments, and took it to Church singing Psalmic verses on the way.
The Orthodox funeral service of today goes back to the end of the 5th and the beginning of the 6th centuries in its main articulation and was later enriched by the eight sublime hymns of St. John of Damascus by which the ephemeral of this life and the eternity of the life hereafter are poetically described. The funeral service includes one Epistle Reading (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) and a Gospel Reading (John 5:24-31). In his celebrated passages to the Thessalonians St. Paul gives a definite account of what will happen to both the dead and the living at the time of the Second Coming of the Lord. The Gospel Reading deals with the words of the Lord Himself relating to eternal life as against the present one, and to the Last Judgment.
For the Funeral Service to be recognized (valid) by the Orthodox Church, the following must be met:
  • The Funeral Service must take place in a canonical Orthodox Church.
  • The Funeral Service must be celebrated by a canonical Orthodox Priest.
  • The Funeral Service must be celebrated according to the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church.
  • The Burial Service must be celebrated according to the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church.
  • When a person falls asleep in the Lord for reasons that are uncertain, a qualified medical examiner may, with the permission of the next of kin, perform an autopsy to determine the cause of death. In some states, this is required by law. In all cases, however, the Orthodox Church expects that the body of the deceased be treated with respect and dignity.
  • The Orthodox Faith affirms the fundamental goodness of creation, it understands the body to be an integral part of the human person and the temple of the Holy Spirit, and expects the resurrection of the dead. The Church considers cremation to be the deliberate desecration and destruction of what God has made and ordained for us. The Church instead insists that the body be buried so that the natural physical process of decomposition may take place. A Baptized Orthodox member who chooses to be cremated CANNOT be buried out the Church, out of a funeral home, or any other place. Additionally, a Memorial Services with Kolyva are not allowed to be held in the Church, inasmuch as the similarity between the “Kernel of wheat” and the “body” has been intentionally destroyed. A Trisagion (a brief prayer service) may be offered, if requested by the family.

 


 

Funeral Service at Holy Trinity Church

When a parishioner falls asleep in the Lord, a family member should contact immediately Fr. Chris so that the prayer of the Soul Leaving the Body may be offered, if possible. At this point, Fr. Chris will decide with the family when the Funeral service will be held.
The following steps must be taken in order for the Funeral service to take place:
  • Fr. Chris will determine whether or not the person who has fallen asleep is in spiritual and canonical good standing within the Orthodox Church for the Funeral service to take place in the Church.
  • Once good standing has been determined, the date and time of the Funeral service will be decided by Fr.Chris and the family.
  • Once the date and time have been determined, the date and time of the Trisagion ( a brief prayer service) which will be held the night before the Funeral at the Funeral Home will be determined.
  • The next day the Funeral Service will be held in the Church proper. A Funeral Service may be held in the Funeral Home but only with the approval of Fr. Chris.
  • Following the Funeral Service, the person who has fallen asleep will be taken to the cemetery for the Trisagion service at the grave site.
  • The Tradition of the Orthodox Faith is that following the Trisagion at the grave site a Makaria (Mercy Meal) is offered by the family at either a restaurant or a home for those who attended the funeral service. The Mercy Meal menu must include fish. The Makaria (Mercy Meal) is OPTIONAL.
  • Fr. Chris and the family will decide on the date of the 40 day Memorial either at the Mercy Meal or within the week following the Funeral Service.
A person who has fallen asleep cannot be laid out for viewing or kept within the Church proper the night before the Funeral.
A lay person cannot offer a eulogy within the Church proper at the Funeral service. A lay person may offer a eulogy either at the Funeral Home after the Trisagion service or at the Makaria (Mercy Meal).
The casket must remain open at the Funeral service which is held within the Church proper or at the Funeral Home. The casket may remain closed but only with the approval of Fr. Chris.

The Orthodox Church does not have “last rites”. The Church offers constant hope to its members and especially at the time near the falling asleep of a member. The Church, through Her Priests, offer prayers of healing and recovery of health to its member and especially at the time near the falling asleep of a member. The prayer of the Soul Leaving the Body is the only prayer offered and this only occurs when the member has fallen asleep in the Lord.

The Funeral Service is NOT a Sacrament within the Orthodox Church.