Greek Orthodox Funeral Service

A Greek Orthodox funeral service for loved ones who have passed away does not focus on the death but rather on the life of the deceased person. 

It begins with the Panikhida, a prayer service in memory of the departed. The main part of an Orthodox funeral consists of prayers and hymns with chanting interspersed between scripture readings (examples below). A final act called “The Committal” includes an Epistle and Gospel reading followed by closing remarks after which is offered a final prayer with laying on of hands over the coffin by members present.

Coffin at a funeral service in a cemetery  funeral service stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

These last two acts are referred to as “requiem“.

An Eastern Christian burial service normally takes place at a church or cemetery; if it is said at home, only close family members will attend. A funeral takes place in the morning, in the presence of a priest or deacon if possible. It is usually followed by a burial at a cemetery.

The body is carefully washed and groomed, wrapped in white linen (for Eastern Christians), and placed in an open casket to be viewed before interment.

The Greek Orthodox Church holds that it is not proper for mourners to go to bed on the night of their beloved one’s death, nor should they keep vigil but rather keep Sunday as “a day of joy”.

What To Wear

Typically both men and women dress entirely in black during funerals; this tradition also applies to weddings for widowed people who never remarried, regardless of gender.

Black clothing is worn also in Eastern Orthodox weddings. Widowed bishops may wear white vestments, but the normal practice if a bishop dies while in the office is to have him buried wearing his episcopal vestments. A widow does not remarry and traditionally would be expected to wear black for the rest of her life.

Greek Orthodox Funeral Service process:

The Funeral Service begins with a Panikhida (memorial service) at the house where the departed died or, when possible, at home or another visitation point beforehand. If it takes place in an Orthodox Church, only close family members will attend; others are encouraged to join after the funeral service has been completed.

In some cases, there may be many long lines of people waiting outside the church who cannot get in to take part.

The priest will sprinkle rosewater on the coffin and make the sign of the cross over it, then cense it three times. The Panikhida consists of Psalm 118, Psalm 90, passages from the Gospel readings at the Divine Liturgy, prayers for the departed written in church memorial books called “Synaxaria”, and/or psalms composed by various saints or clergy during fasting periods to help give peace to a suffering soul.

During this time friends and relatives bring to mind good memories they have shared with the departed. Before leaving for church, all who are attending will share something that has happened since their last visit with their loved one which made them smile so as not to be sad when they are remembering the good times.

Following the service, everyone goes to a meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner depending on local custom and location) hosted by the family at their house.

The main part of an Orthodox funeral consists of prayers and hymns with chanting interspersed between scripture readings. A funeral consists of several “hours” according to Eastern Christian tradition:

While both male and female friends wear black clothing as a sign of mourning during funerals, widowed women traditionally wear black for the rest of their lives. Widowers may remarry but there is often some level of stigma attached; those who never remarried are encouraged to wear white vestments if they become a bishop upon the death of his wife.

There is a specific order in which the clergy and faithful enter, stand, sit, chant and leave a church service. Such an honour guard of one or more clergy may be present to carry the coffin of a departed loved one into the church.

The funeral procession begins with family members carrying candles from the place where they have been keeping their vigils over the casket before taking it to the Church. In Greece, traditional foods such as boiled wheat are sometimes offered at funerals.