Greek Orthodox Funeral Service Rituals

Greek Orthodox Funeral Customs

A Greek Orthodox church and bell tower near Fira town on the island of Santorini

The Greek Orthodox Church was formed in 1054 by the “Great Schism” when the church in Rome (now referred to as the Catholic or the Roman Catholic Church) broke away from the Orthodox Church, which was ruled by the patriarch of Constantinople (now Istanbul). “Greek” refers to the original founders who spoke Greek and used Greek philosophy to express their faith.

Today, the divisions resulting from the Great Schism include the Antiochian, Carpatho-Russian, Greek, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches which follow the languages and cultures of their founders. Although many Orthodox beliefs remain the same, the defining principle of Orthodoxy is the belief that the teachings of Jesus and the twelve apostles represent truth.

In Greek Orthodox Church beliefs, death separates the soul from the body. The experience takes on the quality of the behavior, character, and communion with God. Later, with Christ’s coming, final judgment will result and each soul will spend eternity in Heaven or Hell.

It is customary for members of the Greek Orthodox church to hold a wake the night before the funeral. Loved ones and friends will be invited to speak about the deceased and a priest may preside over the Trisagion (Thrice-Holy) service. The funeral service will include hymns, prayers, and readings from the bible. The priest may also offer a sermon and speak about the deceased. The casket will likely be open.

At the funeral service, guests can greet the family with the phrase, “Memory Eternal” or offer condolences. There is usually an open casket, but viewing the body is optional. Believers may kiss an icon or a cross that lies on the breast of the deceased, but non-believers are not required to do so. Then the priest leads the service and reads from selected texts. Non-believers are expected to stand with the congregation and participate. At the graveside, each guest places a flower on the casket.

Many Orthodox funerals are followed by a funeral luncheon where fish is served. The lunch is not required.

Greek Orthodox Quick Reference Guide
Length of Service30 – 60 minutes
Flowers?Yes (See our Sympathy Flowers)
Dress Code? (Men/Women)Dark & Somber / Men: Jacket & Tie
Recording Devices?No
Source of Readings?The Divine Liturgy
Open Casket?Usually
Return to Work? (Days)7
No. of Days to Mourn?Depends
Cremation?Cremation is prohibited
Body/Organ Donation?Permitted

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