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Orthodox funeral and burial

Rdunbar123

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May not be the right forum but are there major differences in orthodox burial customs. For instance is there have to be a wake or viewing? Just trying to advance plan. Any requirement to be buried in a certain part of the cemetery.
 

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It's probably the right forum. A common question from converts. My experience with Orthodox funeral and burial customs is limited, but my observation is that things like a wake/viewing, newspaper obituary, etc. follow the prevailing customs of one's community. The Orthodox funeral service itself is quite unlike any Protestant or RC service. A brief memorial service will be said by the priest as soon as possible following the death, and then again at least once a day until the funeral (in my experience, immediately before a scheduled viewing). I suppose an Orthodox cemetery would be ideal, but not part of our reality around here. Cremation as you probably know is forbidden. A priest may not hold a funeral following cremation, or even if he has reason to believe that one will follow. Not sure if it's required, or just generally customary, but one should be buried facing east - looking towards the Second Coming of our Lord. When I told that last part to my daughter, she said, "How will you know?" I replied, "I'm not going to say whether I will know or not, but you will know - and you will remember my faith." She got the message.
 

RaphaCam

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On a side note, are church cemeteries common in American Orthodoxy? Never heard of one down here, there's an Orthodox mortuary in another city, but the reposed are buried in nearby cemeteries.
 

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I don't know if they're common, but they do exist. I think I have only seen one parish though where the cemetery is next to the church building.
 

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fwiw this thread might be worth a look...

http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,45738.0.html
 

Rdunbar123

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OP here, do you have to do a viewing ? Wife and I neither one are in favor. For on thing have to listen to insipid comments like how natural or good they look, no they look dead. Will skip this if we can
 

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Orthodox funerals are usually open casket and there is of course the "final Kiss" that is actually part of the burial service in which family and friends go to the casket and give a last kiss to the loved one. The kiss can range from an actual kiss of the loved one to kissing a cross they may hold or an icon they may be holding. For a beloved priest or bishop, many kiss their hand that offered them so many blessings. At one time, it was a common practice in heterodox funerals as well as Orthodox Christian funerals to kiss or hug those who had departed from this life, however with the American denial of Death in our culture, this has been lost in many heterodox funerals beyond the viewing and as such many converts feel uneasy about the Orthodox Christian practices.

My suggestion is talk with you priest so he may educate you on this beautiful and traditional practice.
 

Iconodule

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A viewing as something separate from the funeral rite has no particular religious significance, so I would imagine can be safely omitted.

My experience of Orthodox funerals is that they are extraordinarily moving and solemn. Even if you never knew the person, it's hard not to get choked up just listening to the hymns.
 

Agabus

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I suppose my biggest concern is that I get one at all should my wife and I go before our children are grown.

I guess it won't matter to me at that point, but I'm especially bummed at the thought that my family would find some Baptist who offered an altar call at the base of my coffin.

But we do know where we'll be buried at least, in a family cemetery that -- at last a portion of it -- has been blessed by an Orthodox priest.
 

Fr. George

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Whether or not you have a formal viewing session is entirely up to you (or, well, your kids / decision makers).  It's not necessary per se.  I know of some families who simply allowed people to come during the 30-60 minutes before the funeral service began, others who had no viewing at all (i.e. only the funeral).  You don't even have to have the people come to the internment if you don't want to.

We don't have specific guidelines re: tombstones, how you're dressed, what's in the casket with you (if anything).  These are left up to you.  In my mother's village, the tombstones have many names, since the graves are re-used by subsequent members of the family (the bones are exhumed a number of years after death and moved to an ossuary in the corner of the cemetery).

For other things we have customs that are largely holdovers from the old countries, i.e.
- Not waiting too long for funerals because the people weren't embalmed
- Wakes were when people would come to the home of the deceased where they were usually laid out in the parlor
- Most traditions have an open casket funeral (some do not, because of the tendency of the people to try and jump in with the deceased)
- A memorial meal is often held afterward, with the entree being fish (what Jesus ate after His resurrection).

As to the things that may surprise you:
- Before the casket is locked - either at the church or at the cemetery, depending on the local tradition - oil and dirt/sand are poured in (with the prayers "Sprinkle me with hyssop and I shall be cleansed, wash me and I shall be whiter than snow" and "The Earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof; the world and all that dwell in it.  Earth you are, and to Earth you shall return," respectively).  Some people are taken aback by the "dirtying" of the person.
- Thomas already mentioned the Last Kiss.  It is a moving tradition, one that, while often very painful in the moment, helps tremendously in the long-term with grieving (as does the wake) - both from the perspective of the friend/guest/mourner and the perspective of the family.
- Generally speaking, there isn't an opportunity for people to speak at the funeral itself (many people love to give their testimonials).  The homily should be offered by the celebrant, and should be more about Christ and the Resurrection than it is about the person.  We usually direct people to have sharing time either at the wake or at the memorial meal.  They can be cathartic, and benefit from the natural informality that is possible by not speaking in the Church.
 

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Fr. George said:
For other things we have customs that are largely holdovers from the old countries, i.e.
- Not waiting too long for funerals because the people weren't embalmed
I've seen this discussed somewhat over the years, but is there an actual Church prohibition against embalming? I know about cremation, as was mentioned above, but I've also heard the assertion that embalming is also frowned upon.
 

Fr. George

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Agabus said:
Fr. George said:
For other things we have customs that are largely holdovers from the old countries, i.e.
- Not waiting too long for funerals because the people weren't embalmed
I've seen this discussed somewhat over the years, but is there an actual Church prohibition against embalming? I know about cremation, as was mentioned above, but I've also heard the assertion that embalming is also frowned upon.
I have never seen a prohibition on embalming; if there is one, it is being largely ignored in each place I've lived.  Often, though, it is harder to try and go the "natural" route than it is to be embalmed. (Thankfully there are groups that are trying to change that - offering clear direction on legal restrictions in each state, alternative places to order real wood caskets {that are usually very, very expensive}, and providing references for cemeteries and funeral homes that "do" embalming-less burials.)
 

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In Europe, embalming is practically unknown. I'm not familiar with British practice, but in Greece the deceased are kept in fridges until it is time to prepare them for the funeral, so the wake is carried out without the guest of honour, so to speak, in attendance.

I'm quite happy that green funerals are gaining traction in the UK. I couldn't imagine getting a better send-off than a wicker coffin and a tree growing out of my grave.
 

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Iconodule said:
I don't know if they're common, but they do exist. I think I have only seen one parish though where the cemetery is next to the church building.
Our parish has the cemetery next to the building. I've been trying to convince my wife to let me get plots there, but haven't been successful yet. I really hope I don't end up in some funeral home with a Methodist pastor droning on about what a good guy I was. I will totally come back and haunt someone for that if they try to pull that stunt.
 

Fr. George

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TheTrisagion said:
Iconodule said:
I don't know if they're common, but they do exist. I think I have only seen one parish though where the cemetery is next to the church building.
Our parish has the cemetery next to the building. I've been trying to convince my wife to let me get plots there, but haven't been successful yet.
A few of our parishes have cemeteries of their own; a number of others have an "Orthodox section" at a cemetery in town.  Most have neither.

FYI: Alexei Krindatch (official researcher for the US Assembly of Bishops - ACOBUSA) is actually studying this right now (we turned our Metropolis info in a few weeks ago).  I think they're planning on coming out with a guide to Orthodox cemeteries and Orthodox cemetery sections in the US in the near future.
 

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Generally, embalming should be avoided. If you read up on what they do it's really barbaric and does not preserve the remains for more than a few days anyway. We are supposed to return to dust as the scriptures say. Embalming desecrates the body which was the vessel of a holy soul (and we hope) a saintly person. Would you dare to cut into the body of a Saint, and drain out the blood and throw that away?
However, because of the wishes of families, and when people must travel far to the funeral, or to transport the body across state lines most priests will allow embalming. Also, in most states in the USA, embalming is required if the person had a serious communicable disease in order for the casket to be open at the Orthodox funeral.
Makers of Orthodox wooden coffins can be found online or perhaps find an Amish cabinet maker.
I think is is very nice when the "viewing is in the church either the night before or right before the funeral service. (Saves money too) In my state, Missouri, the body must not be left alone when not at the funeral home, so we have had people take turns all night reading the Psalms over the body. This is a beautiful custom and no doubt also brings comfort to their soul as well, which it is believed lingers near the body for a while.
 

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CarolS said:
Generally, embalming should be avoided. If you read up on what they do it's really barbaric and does not preserve the remains for more than a few days anyway. We are supposed to return to dust as the scriptures say. Embalming desecrates the body which was the vessel of a holy soul (and we hope) a saintly person. Would you dare to cut into the body of a Saint, and drain out the blood and throw that away?
However, because of the wishes of families, and when people must travel far to the funeral, or to transport the body across state lines most priests will allow embalming. Also, in most states in the USA, embalming is required if the person had a serious communicable disease in order for the casket to be open at the Orthodox funeral.
Makers of Orthodox wooden coffins can be found online or perhaps find an Amish cabinet maker.
I think is is very nice when the "viewing is in the church either the night before or right before the funeral service. (Saves money too) In my state, Missouri, the body must not be left alone when not at the funeral home, so we have had people take turns all night reading the Psalms over the body. This is a beautiful custom and no doubt also brings comfort to their soul as well, which it is believed lingers near the body for a while.
Unfortunately some states have more restrictive oppressive laws regarding embalming. In the state I live in if the body is not buried or cremated within 48 hours of the time of death it must be embalmed. My state also requires that a funeral director is "hired." Even if the family does all the body preparations, transport, and provides their own coffin; the body can't be buried without a sign off from the Medical Examiner and a licensed funeral director.
 

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Bob2 said:
CarolS said:
Generally, embalming should be avoided. If you read up on what they do it's really barbaric and does not preserve the remains for more than a few days anyway. We are supposed to return to dust as the scriptures say. Embalming desecrates the body which was the vessel of a holy soul (and we hope) a saintly person. Would you dare to cut into the body of a Saint, and drain out the blood and throw that away?
However, because of the wishes of families, and when people must travel far to the funeral, or to transport the body across state lines most priests will allow embalming. Also, in most states in the USA, embalming is required if the person had a serious communicable disease in order for the casket to be open at the Orthodox funeral.
Makers of Orthodox wooden coffins can be found online or perhaps find an Amish cabinet maker.
I think is is very nice when the "viewing is in the church either the night before or right before the funeral service. (Saves money too) In my state, Missouri, the body must not be left alone when not at the funeral home, so we have had people take turns all night reading the Psalms over the body. This is a beautiful custom and no doubt also brings comfort to their soul as well, which it is believed lingers near the body for a while.
Unfortunately some states have more restrictive oppressive laws regarding embalming. In the state I live in if the body is not buried or cremated within 48 hours of the time of death it must be embalmed. My state also requires that a funeral director is "hired." Even if the family does all the body preparations, transport, and provides their own coffin; the body can't be buried without a sign off from the Medical Examiner and a licensed funeral director.
We had a similar issue with a family death last year. Funeral and visitation were in a church on family property, funeral was completely planned and led by family members and burial was in a family cemetery in a grave that we dug, but still had to pay for the funeral home.
 

Mor Ephrem

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Agabus said:
Bob2 said:
CarolS said:
Generally, embalming should be avoided. If you read up on what they do it's really barbaric and does not preserve the remains for more than a few days anyway. We are supposed to return to dust as the scriptures say. Embalming desecrates the body which was the vessel of a holy soul (and we hope) a saintly person. Would you dare to cut into the body of a Saint, and drain out the blood and throw that away?
However, because of the wishes of families, and when people must travel far to the funeral, or to transport the body across state lines most priests will allow embalming. Also, in most states in the USA, embalming is required if the person had a serious communicable disease in order for the casket to be open at the Orthodox funeral.
Makers of Orthodox wooden coffins can be found online or perhaps find an Amish cabinet maker.
I think is is very nice when the "viewing is in the church either the night before or right before the funeral service. (Saves money too) In my state, Missouri, the body must not be left alone when not at the funeral home, so we have had people take turns all night reading the Psalms over the body. This is a beautiful custom and no doubt also brings comfort to their soul as well, which it is believed lingers near the body for a while.
Unfortunately some states have more restrictive oppressive laws regarding embalming. In the state I live in if the body is not buried or cremated within 48 hours of the time of death it must be embalmed. My state also requires that a funeral director is "hired." Even if the family does all the body preparations, transport, and provides their own coffin; the body can't be buried without a sign off from the Medical Examiner and a licensed funeral director.
We had a similar issue with a family death last year. Funeral and visitation were in a church on family property, funeral was completely planned and led by family members and burial was in a family cemetery in a grave that we dug, but still had to pay for the funeral home.
How bizarre.
 

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Hopefully Orthodox funerals in the states will become easier as green funerals become more popular. Fortunately funeral directors aren't required in Arkansas, but you have to be embalmed if you aren't going to be buried within 24 hours, or are going to be transported by train or airplane. 48 hours if you're going to be cremated, but we all know that's out of the question.
 

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Aeschere said:
Hopefully Orthodox funerals in the states will become easier as green funerals become more popular. Fortunately funeral directors aren't required in Arkansas, but you have to be embalmed if you aren't going to be buried within 24 hours, or are going to be transported by train or airplane. 48 hours if you're going to be cremated, but we all know that's out of the question.
I read it the other day, and Arkansas allows you to skip the embalming if you avail yourself of refrigeration. The logistics get difficult, though.
 

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How funerals were done until very recently in the Eparchy of Arad, which preserves rather well all sorts of customs specific to the Orthodox Church in Hungary prior to 1918.
Note that the last kiss was never given to the dead body, but to the cross. Everyone kissing the cross also leaves some money on a plate.
also, unless you were a priest or some local notability, the whole funeral took place at home, not in church.
 

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Having recently gone through the process of a non-embalmed funeral... I'm not sure I'll ever be satisfied with the U.S. "usual" ever again. We had such intimacy with the deceased - not only in the preparation of the body (which we did), but time. He wasn't spirited away by the funeral home within the hour of passing, only to be seen again at the viewing and the funeral - we spent abundant time, weeping, praying, reading the scriptures, tending to him, and engaging deeply in our mourning process. It was beautiful; a whirlwind in a sense (everything taking place in just a tad over 16 hours, thanks to dry ice), but also in its way slow, deliberate, prayerful.
 

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My uncle and mother were not embalmed. We had to have the casket closed during the public funeral, but, otherwise, when we were alone with them, we (family) could open the casket, place an icon, cross, etc. inside... touch and say goodbye.

...and we were alone with both of them (a decade apart) all night, locked inside the church with the casket, reading the Psalms over them... and napping on the benches, to awaken and read more...

I would not exchange that experience for anything. It was a final act of earthy love shown to them... and was truly an intimate experience...

One sort of loses a fear of death at that point... the whole mindset changes. It is no longer the death of childhood spooky stories and movies... but, one gains an Orthodox understanding...
 

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I was at my mother's bedside for her passing from this life. God gave me the gift of allowing me to read prayers and psalms as she was leaving this world. The priest finally showed up afterwards for last prayers. We stayed with her body until the funeral home picked her up. She was not embalmed.
 
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