Greek Funeral Service Rituals

Funerals in Greece from Past to Present

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

In Greek, the word for funeral also means to take care of someone, and fittingly, the traditional funeral rites of Greeks past and present are marked by a caring tribute. The history of a Greek funeral is filled with tradition, but has seen a few changes from ancient to modern times.

Greek Burial and Cremation

Beginning in about 3000 B.C. the most common burial practice was interment. Cremation upon a pyre depicted in classic Greek tales did not appear in burial customs until around 1100 B.C. Experts believe this was an influence brought to Greece from the Eastern culture. Following that, cremation and burial were practiced until interment became the only burial practice during the Christian era.

While these traditions can be traced back to Homeric times, in many cases, the same four parts of the funeral are still carried out to this day:

The Four Parts of the Homeric-Era Funeral

  1. Disposition
  2. Transportation
  3. Planting of Grave Flowers
  4. Dinner for Mourners

Disposition of the body in ancient times included placing the corpse on the funeral bed. Today, it includes placing the body of the deceased in the casket. In Greek funerals, the casket is always open, and the disposition takes place in the deceased’s home. Another interesting part of Greek funeral traditions includes the corpse being watched by his or her dearest loved one throughout the night before burial. And though it’s no longer done today, professional mourners were once hired to sing songs of mourning with the family.

Following disposition, the body of the deceased is transported to the church and then to the burial site. Before the casket is closed, the family would offer a final kiss to the departed and special items of importance to the deceased may be placed in the casket. The following funeral procession is a quiet affair.

Following burial the Greeks traditionally plant flowers around the burial site. This practice was originally carried out to purify the grounds, which is still practiced in modern times. Following the funeral, mourners return to the home to share a dinner. Archaeological findings suggest that the dinner may have also taken place at the grave during ancient times.

Additional ceremonies take place days after the burial. Even today, memorial services are conducted after 40 days, and 3, 6, 9, and 12 months. The length of mourning time varies and is up to the family.


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