Funeral Traditions for Various Orthodox Churches

Jun 20, 2010 | 10 comments

Russian Orthodox ChurchThis post highlights general funeral practices for various Orthodox churches besides Greek Orthodox: Antiochian Orthodox, Carpatho-Russian Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox and Ukranian Orthodox. The actual practices of individuals, families, and congregations may vary.

Treatment of the body: Embalming is accepted. The body is usually viewed during the funeral. Cremation is frowned upon and is cause for the Church to deny holding an Orthodox funeral. A wake or viewing may be held at the mortuary the night before the funeral, an appropriate time for eulogies by family or friends, and a priest may hold a Trisagion Service.

Funeral or memorial services: The Orthodox funeral ceremony is usually held in the church of the deceased or a funeral home within two to three days of the death. The ceremony can from 30 to 60 minutes, and is usually not part of a larger service.

In the American Carpatho-Russian Church, the Eucharistic liturgy is often celebrated in addition to the funeral service at the discretion of the family, a ceremony of up to 90 minutes. The officiants include a bishop, the chief celebrant, a priest, who may be the chief celebrant or the assistant to the bishop, and the deacon, sub-deacon and altar server, all of whom assist the bishop or priest.

In most Orthodox churches, only officiating bishops and priests use a text at a funeral ceremony. A program will be distributed indicating the order of the ceremony. A traditional greeting for the family in the Antiochian Orthodox church is “May God give you the strength to bear your loss.”

Do’s and Don’ts: Sign the guest book. Ushers will advise where to sit. If arriving late, enter quietly. It is not appropriate to take pictures or record the service (both audio and video). Stand when the congregation stands up. Kneel only if it does not violate a visitor’s own religious beliefs. Pay your respects to the bereaved family. When viewing the body, which is optional, approach and pause briefly in front of the casket. A Christian might also cross himself or herself and kiss the cross or icon resting on the casket.

Interment: Attending the interment is optional for guests. At graveside, there is a brief prayer ceremony. The officiating priest or bishop usually puts soil on top of the casket formed in the shape of a cross and each person present places one flower on the casket or spreads the soil. The flowers usually come from those sent to the church for the funeral and then conveyed to the cemetery with the casket.

Post-Event Reception: It is appropriate to briefly visit the bereaved at home after the funeral. Religious objects that a visitor may see there are icons – two-dimensional artistic images of saints; a lighted candle; and burning incense. A Meal of Mercy is often given in the church hall, a restaurant, or the home of the deceased shortly after the burial. At the homes of members of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, usually coffee, pastries and/or fruit are served.

Gifts: Upon learning about the death, telephone or visit the family to offer condolences. A traditional greeting to a member of the Antiochian Orthodox Church is “May his [or her] memory be eternal.” Flowers may be sent, or the family may suggest memorial contributions be made in lieu of flowers. It is also appropriate to send food to the home of the bereaved either upon initially hearing about the death or after the funeral.

Mourning period: The bereaved usually stays home from work for one week and may avoid social gatherings for two months. In some cases, widows may avoid social events for a full year.

Mourning customs: Mourners usually avoid social gatherings for the first 40 days after the death and may also wear only black clothing during that time period. A memorial service is held on the Sunday closest to the 40th day after the death. A memorial service is then held annually on the anniversary of the death.

Notes: If there is a Eucharistic liturgy celebrated at a funeral, guests who are not Orthodox do not partake in Holy Communion.

This information is included in A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die by Gail Rubin, author of The Family Plot Blog. The book, which includes funeral traditions for many major faiths, is available in print and ebook formats at, and at

Please post a comment to let me know if you find this information helpful, or if there are specific details you were looking for that this post did not address.

A Good Goodbye