OCA GUIDELINES FOR FUNERALS & BURIALS
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thess. 4:13-18)
- 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 Departure (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.
- Membership in the Body of Christ, His Holy Church, is defined by participation in the Holy Eucharist. Inasmuch as a person, by refusing to partake of the Divine Body and Blood of Christ during his/her lifetime, has chosen freely not to be incorporated into the Body of Christ, unless there is reason to assume that the person has returned to Christ at the end of his/her earthly existence, that person will not be buried from the temple.
- The burial service of such a person should only be a Service for the Departed (panikhida), including scripture readings for the dead. The priest may be vested in the epitrachelion.
B. Non-Orthodox Persons
- If a priest is asked to bury a non-Orthodox person, he must consult with his diocesan hierarch, and with the hierarch’s blessing bury the person according to the service prescribed in the Book of Needs.
- 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.
D. Members of Masonic and Other Secret Fraternal Societies
- If a parish priest is aware that a member of his flock is a Freemason, he should make it a pastoral concern to speak privately with the person, showing the incompatibility of Orthodoxy with Freemasonry.
- When a communicating member of a parish falls asleep in the Lord and that person is also a member of one of these societies, the priest will show love and concern for the deceased. In his counseling of the bereaved family he must not be hostile, but must inform the family that only the Funeral Service for an Orthodox Christian will be served.
- Patiently and tactfully, and with discretion, he will state that no words or symbols other than those of the Orthodox faith can be introduced into the church or the funeral home.
- 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…
F. Autopsy and Organ Donation
- The priest should be sufficiently informed to help guide the faithful in this area of medical procedure. Some people think that they cannot refuse an autopsy to be performed on a loved one. No one is obliged to give approval for this procedure.
- Unless there is a specific legal reason, such as determining the cause of death, an autopsy ought to be avoided. The desire for scientific information through experimentation is not enough reason to merit an autopsy. Nevertheless, this is a decision that the family itself must make. The Church is concerned that respect for the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit be maintained.
- Donation of body organ(s) after death may be allowed as long as respectful care is exercised toward the body before, during, and after the extraction operation. Care must be taken that the organ(s) are given as a gesture of altruism, free of any commercial overtones.
- The Church does not consider the sharing of organs as a lessening of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the deceased, or as a transmigration of part of the donor to the recipient. A healthy person not in expectation of imminent death may donate non-vital organs as long as his/her quality and integrity of life is not diminished or endangered.