Dying or Near Death
If a person’s health is declining quickly and death seems inevitable, the priest should be called as soon as possible. He can read prayers, hear Confession, administer Holy Unction, and offer Holy Communion if appropriate. If a person’s suffering is extreme and there is no reasonable hope of recovery, if the family wishes, the priest can read prayers asking God to take the dying person’s soul to end their suffering.
Almost all will work with you and the priest to make all arrangements for the deceased. They will help you in determining the wake, casket, cemetery, marker, obituary, and so forth. Families should be aware that they can honor their loved ones with modest, inexpensive arrangements.
Burial plot purchase is best if pre-arranged. Many cemeteries offer payment plans if burial is planned months or years in advance.
Giving gifts in memory of the dead is a centuries-old tradition. Giving to the church is very honorable. Designations to various ministries/projects within the parish can be done in advance or at the time of the funeral planning.
Commonly, a wake or viewing is done the night before the funeral at the mortuary. This is a time when people can express their respect and sympathy, especially if they are not able to attend the funeral service. The priest will attend and pray at the Memorial Service at a pre-arranged time. It is also an appropriate time for eulogies by family and friends in honor of the deceased.
Scheduling the service is very important and the priest needs to be consulted before any plans are set. Generally, funerals may be done on any day except Sundays (in honor of the Resurrection) or on Holy Saturday (in honor of Christ’s Descent into Hades).
Commonly, the priest will meet the family with the casket outside the church and escort the deceased into the nave. The casket will be placed on the solea with the deceased facing East (feet towards altar). The Orthodox Tradition is to have an open casket during the Funeral Service to acknowledge the reality of death and allow for last respects; including the “farewell kiss.”
After the final prayer, the priest usually offers a sermon to share the inspirational message of Christ’s teaching regarding life, death, and eternal life. He will also incorporate, where appropriate, important aspects of the deceased life to further personalize the message. After the sermon, the casket will be turned so that last respects can be made to the departed loved one. For time’s sake and respect for the Temple of God, personal sympathies to the surviving family should be avoided at this time. They can be expressed afterwards. The faithful are asked to return to their seats as the family comes forward to pay their last respects. Then the priest seals the body with wine (and oil) and, after the casket is closed, he escorts the deceased out of the church to the hearse with family and others following behind.
The burial service consists of a Memorial Service at the gravesite. Afterwards, the family may wish to stay for the lowering of the casket and the sealing of the vault. A burial site should be chosen that allows for the deceased to face East (feet towards the East) in expectation of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ
Dacha/ Memorial Luncheon
After the burial service, it is customary (but not required) to have a funeral luncheon called the Dacha. This can be done in the church hall or at another location. During the Lenten Seasons, on Wednesdays and Friday fish is served as the main dish because it was an ancient symbol for Christians and is considered an acceptable alternative during fasting periods. Outside of Lenten Seasons and days meat is allowed. The luncheon gives additional opportunity for those in attendance to share in their grief and remembrance of the deceased. The luncheon is also a very appropriate time for eulogies and expressions of honor by family and friends.
Parastos or Panikhida
Remembering the deceased in prayer to God is an important expression of love and faith. Memorial Services can be done at the time of death, the third day (in honor of the Holy Trinity and Christ’s three-day burial), the ninth day (in honor of the orders of angels) or any time the family feels the need. On the fortieth day, six months, and one-year Parastos or Panikhida is given. The memorial service is a longer memorial service that is typically done on the fortieth day or Saturday before the fortieth day. This memorial service requires Zito or Kolivo. Zito or Koljivo is the boiled wheat dish that symbolizes the seed of the body that has been placed in the earth to sprout forth new, resurrected life when all the dead are raised at the Second Coming of Christ.
Grieving is the process of dealing with loss. Usually, it is filled with sadness and loneliness as we begin life without our loved one. These emotions are normal but should not be without a general sense of hope in Christ’s love for us. Eternal life in heaven is our goal, and it is ok to rejoice that our departed loved one has left the toils of this life to rest with God. There are many customs about behavior and dress among various ethnic groups. However, the Church has no official teachings on grieving. Each person mourns the loss of a loved one differently. Relatives and friends should be careful not to impose expectations about grieving. This usually only complicates and prolongs the grief process. If your grieving is causing depression, debility, or dysfunction, seek out counseling with the priest and support groups.