Funeral Etiquette for a Greek Orthodox Church

by Justin Mitchell
The Orthodox Church has very particular rules for how the dead are recognized and commemorated.

The Orthodox Church has very particular rules for how the dead are recognized and commemorated.

The Greek Orthodox Church, also known as the Eastern Orthodox Church, has very specific rituals, traditions, and rules of etiquette for saying farewell to the dead. These funeral rites cover the logistics of how to handle the deceased's body as well as how family and friends act before, during and after the funeral.

Orthodox Church Rules on Burial

The Greek Orthodox Church, like all Orthodox Churches, forbids cremation. According to the Church's Holy Canons, the body of the deceased must be returned to the earth. Usually, the body of a member of the Orthodox Church is placed in a coffin and buried in a grave.

Office of the Burial of the Dead

An Orthodox funeral service is called the ''Office of the Burial of the Dead.'' It is similar to the Great Saturday Matins service, which marks the burial of Christ. Particular hymns and Bible verses are used, many of which discuss the life, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus Christ. The church bell summons mourners to the service. Family members wear black, but casual mourners are not required to do so, though they should not wear bright colors.

During the Funeral

Basic logistics must be followed to properly observe an Orthodox funeral. The coffin must be carried into the church feet first and placed in the center of the nave. The casket must be open, with an icon of Christ or a patron saint placed on the forehead of the deceased. In addition, a hand-cross is put near the head. Once the hymns and prayers are finished, friends are allowed to walk by the casket to give their final respects, usually by kissing the icon or the cross. Mourners are also welcome to leave flowers. Relatives must be given extra time if they require it.

Before and After Funeral

Certain liturgical rites must be performed before and after the death of an Orthodox believer. Before a person dies, the Office of the Parting of the Soul from the Body is performed by the person's bedside. If that person's illness or infirmity is drawn out, another rite is performed asking God to make the person's departure as easy as possible. Once the funeral service is over, the priest recites another burial rite at the site of burial. These rites must be performed by an Orthodox priest.

After the Service

According to Orthodox doctrine, the "deep mourning" period goes on for 40 days after the funeral for the family of the deceased. The family may have a meal of boiled fish and mourners are invited directly following the service to share the meal. Guests must not to bring flowers or sweets to this feast. During the 40-day mourning period, men wear black armbands and neckties, and women wear black. Visitors are welcome, but sweets and flowers are not appropriate gifts during this mourning period.

Parastas (Panichida)

All Orthodox Churches hold special memorial services at established times after a death. These are called Parastas or Panchidas. The first of these happens the evening before the funeral. Another follows nine days after the funeral, and an even bigger one comes after the 40-day mourning period. This marks the ascension of the spirit to heaven. At these services, a dish of boiled, sweetened wheat called koliva or kolivo is served, along with coffee and brandy. Each participant of the memorial service is provided with a small portion of the koliva. Participants are also given lit candles to represent the hope of Christ's resurrection. These services can recur for several years after the death.

About the Author

Justin Mitchell has been a writer since 2009. In 2002, he received a B.A. in theater and writing from the University of Northern Colorado. Mitchell worked as an ESL teacher in Europe and Asia before earning a master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York. He has written for the "New York Daily News" and WNYC.org, among other outlets.

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