A Guide to Orthodox Christian Funeral Customs and Traditions

The Orthodox Christian Church, also referred to as Eastern Orthodox or Greek Orthodox Church, is the second-largest Christian Church. And although the Church can be found all over the world, Orthodoxy is mainly practiced in Greece, Eastern Europe, and Russia. Orthodox believers share a lot of their beliefs with the rest of the Christian Churches, acknowledging Jesus Christ as God, His resurrection, and finally His return. Many people have compared the Orthodox Church to the Catholic Church. However, both churches differ in many of their beliefs and views of the afterlife. 

As you prepare yourself to attend an Orthodox funeral service for the first time, we hope you find this quick guide about Orthodox funeral customs and traditions helpful in developing an understanding of how they remember and honor those who have passed.

The Orthodox View of The Afterlife

The Eastern Orthodox Church believes in the resurrection of the deceased, and when the time comes that soul and body will be reunited. They do not consider humans’ main purpose is to meet their final destination in heaven after death, but rather that those who pass meet with God until the final judgment when all who have died will be resurrected like Christ. 

Like most Christians, they believe that the body is returned to earth and decomposes, but that the soul is not lost. The Orthodox Church does not believe in purgatory (a common belief of the Catholic Church). Ratherm, they believe that the body is immediately reunited with God upon their passing

Preparation of The Body and Wake

After the death of someone in the faith, a common and unique tradition of the Orthodox Church is the preparation and washing of the body. Traditionally, family members prepare the body by bathing and clothing immediately after death for it to be laid in bed and blessed by the priest. Then, they proceed with a three-day wake. Wakes are very commonly practiced by orthodox believers. It usually starts with the First Panikhida in which family members remain by the bedside of the deceased, typically reciting from the Book of Psalms. 

Traditionally, all of the body preparations and washing is arranged by the family before the wake takes place. However, many modern families are now opting to have a funeral home take care of the body preparation, before the wake begins. The wake is not restricted to just family members; loved ones and friends are also invited to pray or deliver a eulogy. 

Trisagion Service

Apart from the Panikhida prayer that marks the beginning of the wake period, a Trisagion service is usually led by a priest before the funeral ceremony. The Trisagion service may also take place after the funeral service at the graveyard. The Trisagion is a standard hymn of Divine Liturgy adopted by most Orthodox Churches and involves a triple invocation of God. The Trigasion can also be a service itself dedicated to the family a day before the funeral in which attendees pray and sing hymns imploring for the peaceful rest of the deceased.

How Long Are Orthodox Funeral Ceremonies?

Orthodox funeral ceremonies are typically held two to three days after the day of death and can last 30 to 90 minutes. The Church ceremony usually lasts about one hour while the burial service lasts around 30 minutes.

More Orthodox Funeral Service Traditions

Like most of their practices and general services, Orthodox funeral ceremonies tend to be very organized with specific customs and traditions. Another common tradition involves the chanting of Psalm 119 which is a beautiful and eloquent Psalm that usually marks the beginning of the funeral ceremony.

Once Psalm 119 has finished being chanted, the Evlogitaria follows which refers to a set of hymns that are sung after the praise has been delivered. Then comes another hymn referred to as the Kontakion. As the Kontakion is chanted, the priest passes by with some incense over the deceased, attendees, altar table, and altar table.

The ceremony continues with more hymns and readings of Scripture. The ceremony usually ceases with a litany and prayer for the deceased done by the priest, and a dismissal prayer after the final message of hope is said. Orthodox funerals usually close with an encouraging message about the resurrection of the dead and eternal life.

When the time comes for the burial, family members usually approach the casket to say their last goodbyes, and the Trisagion hymn is then sung again as the procession begins.

What Do You Wear to an Orthodox Christian Funeral Service?

When attending a Greek Orthodox Funeral, you can expect those attending to be dressed in dark, modest clothing. Men usually wear suits while women wear dresses. It is often encouraged for men and women to cover their arms and legs. Choose to wear something modest and conservative, avoiding bright colors and open toes, unless informed otherwise.

Attending an Orthodox Funeral Service

Orthodox Christians are generally known and admired for their passionate faith and hopeful outlook on the afterlife. They are strongly rooted in their traditions, continuing to uphold a number of their traditions and customs that have been passed from generation to generation in modern times. As a guest, expect to abide by these traditions and show respect as they take place throughout the ceremony. As a form of sympathy, you can choose to send flowers as a funeral gift; especially white flowers which are considered the most appropriate for Orthodox believers during a period of mourning.

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