Guidelines for Funerals
The Church has no specific rules determining the length of time between death and the burial. Interment varies according to the climate, civil ordinances, customs, and circumstances, and may be held immediately following death, or after a number of days.
The hour of interment is also not fixed; it may be at any time during the day to accord with cemetery regulations and parish needs.
It is assumed that, unless the death was an accidental or untimely one, the priest has been ministering to an aging person, or one suffering from some ailment or sickness, and has prepared the person for death through participation in the Mysteries of Penance and Holy Eucharist.
The priest should read the Prayers at the Departing of a Soul and passages from Holy Scripture. Merely to be present at the bedside of one’s spiritual child and not minister with audible prayer is unworthy of the priesthood.
If the priest was not at the bedside of the dying parishioner at the time of death, he must make contact with the family, offering to assist them through the time of grieving and mourning.
The Service for the Departed (panikhida) is sung on the eve of the burial whether the body is in the temple, funeral home, or elsewhere.
The body of the departed may be brought into the temple at any time prior to the time of the Funeral Service, whether days before or on the day thereof.
According to traditional practice, the casket is open from the first Service for the Department (panikhida) until the conclusion of the Funeral Service. The deceased is made in the image and likeness of God; the physical body is not to be shunned or rejected because it is in an altered state. To view the body at the funeral home but not in the church is illogical.
The casket is positioned so that the feet of the departed are toward the iconostasis. Thus, the person, if alive, would be standing facing the Holy Altar.
The Funeral Service is usually served in the temple on the day of the burial.
The Divine Liturgy may be celebrated on the day of the Funeral Service. This takes place before the Funeral Service. Celebration of the Divine Liturgy is precluded during the Great Fast when the weekday liturgy is not celebrated.
The Funeral Service and burial is generally not officiated on Sunday or Pascha. If the Funeral Service is scheduled for Monday, the body may be brought into the temple only after the service of Vespers on Sunday evening. There may be circumstances for which immediate burial may be necessary, and in this case pastoral discretion is to be used.
Between the day of Pascha and the Sunday of St. Thomas, the Funeral Service follows the Typicon for these specific days of celebration.
An Orthodox clergyman may not take part in a service for a non-Orthodox deceased person even if that person is related to a parishioner. If invited, however, he may offer some words of consolation at the graveside or funeral meal.
Non-Orthodox clergy may not be invited to participate in the Funeral Service or offer any form of homily or public statement in the temple, or participate in the graveside service. The officiating priest, however, cannot control what takes place after the Orthodox service of burial has been concluded in a public cemetery.
Prayers for the dead are usually offered immediately after the burial at the memorial meal, on the third, ninth and fortieth day after death, and every year thereafter.
Saturday is the usual day for a memorial service. It can be scheduled immediately before the Vigil or Vesper Service. In this way, the prayers for forgiveness and repose preceding these services are illumined through the proclamation of the Lord’s Resurrection in the hymns that are sung in the following services. However, the Service for the Departed (panikhida) may be served after the Sunday Divine Liturgy if the hierarch has given his blessing for this to take place at that time.
The Church has set aside definite days on which remembrance of the dead should take place. Among these are Meatfare Saturday, the second, third and fourth Saturdays of the Great Fast, the Saturday preceding Pentecost, and St. Demetrius Saturday.
In addition to these specific times, the faithful may have the names of the deceased remembered at the Proskomede and during the Divine Liturgy.
Memorial services are not permitted on feast days or from the Nativity of our Lord to Theophany, and from Palm Sunday to the Sunday of St. Thomas.
The rector is responsible for entering into the metrical book the required information about burials.
*Suicide: The act of suicide is a profound tragedy affecting a parish. It necessitates prayers for forgiveness for the sake of the departed and exhorts the members of the parish community to repentance and sorrow. The Orthodox Church normally denies a Church burial to a person who has committed suicide. However, factors bearing on the particular case may become known to the priest who must share this information with the diocesan hierarch; the hierarch will consider the factors and make the decision concerning Funeral Services.
**Cremation: The practice of cremation is not a Christian one and is to be discouraged. Cremated remains are not to be brought into the temple for a burial service or for any other reason. Although cremation is not encouraged, and the Funeral Service over cremated remains is denied, the remains may be buried only with the hymn Holy God…