Orthodox Funerals

The Greek or Eastern Orthodox Church

The Orthodox Church (also known as the Greek or Eastern Orthodox Church) is the second largest Christian church. Unlike other Western Christian beliefs, Heaven and Hell are viewed in a more abstract way. Those who love God experience his eternal presence as Heaven and for those who do not love God, they experience his eternal presence as a Hell.

Preparing the Body

When death is imminent, a priest will hear the final confession and administer Holy Communion. After death, the priest will say prayers for the release of the soul.

The body is then washed and dressed by family in the presence of a priest. The priest will sprinkle holy water on all four sides of the casket and the body will then be placed inside.

It is traditional to have a wake, usually lasting three days, but sometimes only one. The wake starts with the First Panikhida (a prayer service for the deceased) and continues with family and friends reading aloud from the Psalter (Book of Psalms) and reciting other Paikhidas.

The Funeral Service

Traditionally, the body is transported to the church in a procession led by the cross, with the priest walking in front of the casket with the censer. The Trisagion hymn is recited (this is done at the end of the wake if there is to be no procession). The casket is then opened and a wreath with the Trisagion printed on is placed on the deceased’s head and cross or small icon of Christ is placed in their hand or alongside them. A bowl of Koliva (a dish of wheat and honey) and a lit candle are placed by the top of the casket. These items symbolise the cyclical nature of life and the sweetness of Heaven. 

Mourners receive a lit candle on entering the church and they stand throughout the service. The priest will lead the Divine Liturgy and the Dismissal and recite “Memory Eternal”.  Holy Communion may also be offered. The mourners then approach the coffin to pay their last respects to the deceased, kissing the icon or cross in the casket. As the casket is closed and taken to the cemetery the Trisagion is recited again.

At the cemetery the priest performs a short burial service, pouring olive oil and earth in the shape of a cross on the coffin, and in some traditions, pouring wheat in to the coffin too. The Trisagion Hymn is once again sung.

After the Funeral

After the funeral, mourners gather for a reception (“Makaria”) where they reminisce and share stories, and acknowledge the part the person played in their lives or community. A meal called a “mercy meal” is eaten.

A mourning period of forty days is observed. During this time, the third, ninth and fortieth day have special significance. Close relatives may stay at home for one week after the funeral and may avoid social gatherings for two months. After the mourning period, memorials are celebrated at three, six and nine months, then each year until at least the seventh anniversary. Widows and widowers wear black clothing throughout the one year mourning period and regularly recite Panikhidas.

What to Wear

Modest clothing in dark colours is expected.

Acceptable Practices

Cremation is forbidden.

Embalming is acceptable.

Organ donation is largely acceptable (although the heart is more controversial) as long as there is written consent.

Suicide is not recognised and those who commit suicide may not have an Orthodox Funeral.

For more information, please see:

Orthodox Churches in the UK

Find a Church UK

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