Orthodox Funerals


Orthodox Funerals

The Orthodox Funeral

Eligibility for an Orthodox Funeral:
Any parishioner in good standing with the Orthodox Church is entitled to an Orthodox funeral service. In other words, a person must be duly baptized/chrismated and properly married in the Church (if married). Orthodox Christians who have expressed in their wills the desire to be cremated may not have a funeral service in the church.

Trisagion Service
The “Trisagion” following the death of a person usually takes place the evening before the funeral at the wake (or viewing). In this Service we offer prayers entreating God to grant rest to the soul of the deceased and receive it in His Kingdom. The title “Trisagion” comes from the repetition three times of the opening phrase of the service, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us.”

The Trisagion service (or the more extensive prayer called “the Memorial Service”) may be repeated for a loved one in church or at the grave throughout the first year: usually at the fortieth day, 3rd month, 6th month, 9th month and one year. Subsequently, we do memorial services annually close to the anniversary of the death of the person and also on the Saturdays of the Souls at the beginning of Great Lent and the Saturday before the Feast of Pentecost.

Funeral Service
The Orthodox funeral service emphasizes the reality of death and the new life of the person with God. It is a positive service featuring prayers for forgiveness and the repose of the soul of the departed. Priests wear white to emphasize the anticipation of the Final Resurrection when the Lord comes in Glory. Funerals take place in the church sanctuary and are only allowed at a cemetery or mortuary chapel with special permission.

At the church, the priest begins the service by meeting the family, friends, and casket at the front door of the church (in the Narthex). While chanting “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy and Immortal have mercy on us”, he leads them into the sanctuary for the Funeral Service. The family sits in the front row on the right side before the icon of Christ on the iconostasion.

The open casket is arranged so that the face of the deceased looks East (towards the altar), the direction from which Christ will come again in Glory as the Sun of Righteousness and the Final Resurrection. The priest and chanters lead the bereaved in hymns, scripture readings and prayers, asking God to give rest to the soul of the departed and forgive all his/her sins. At the end of the service, the priest invites the people to “Come and pay their final respects to the one that was with us a short time ago.”

At the conclusion of the service, the priest pours oil on the body in the form of a cross, saying, “Wash me with hyssop and I shall be clean, cleanse me and I shall be whiter than snow.” He then pours soil (earth) on the body and says “You are earth and to earth you shall return”. The casket is closed and everyone exits in procession with the casket at the front.

The funeral continues at the cemetery. The priest again prays the “Trisagion Service” at the grave site, the casket is lowered into the ground and soil is brought to cover it and close the grave.

Makaria (The Meal of Blessedness)
After the burial, the mourners share a meal called the “Makaria” to celebrate the life of the deceased, emphasizing the blessedness of the Kingdom of God in which we pray the deceased has entered. This provides, also, an opportunity for the relatives and friends to refresh themselves and remember their loved one in an informal setting. Traditionally fish is served in anticipation of the Resurrection, remembering the encounter of the Risen Christ with the Apostles by the sea of Galilee, where He had prepared fish on a charcoal for them (John 21:1-14), as well as His encounter with the Apostles (Luke 24:41-43), where the Risen Lord Jesus asked for something to eat and they offered Him “broiled fish”, which “He took and ate before them”. In our parish, the ladies of the Philoptochos undertake the preparation of the Makaria meal for funerals.

Kollyva: The boiled wheat, known as kollyva, is a symbol of the Resurrection. When speaking of the Resurrection, our Lord said: “Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) see also the Preparation of Kollyva page on our website.

Related Issues to Death and Funerals

The Orthodox Church affirms the fundamental goodness of creation (and all created matter) and understands the body to be an integral part of the human person and the temple of the Holy Spirit, which is to rise again in the Final Resurrection and be reunited with the soul. The Church considers cremation to be the deliberate destruction and desecration of what God has made and ordained for us. Hence, the Church does not grant funerals, either in the sanctuary, or at the funeral home, or at any other place, to persons who have chosen to be cremated. Additionally, memorial services with kollyva (boiled wheat) are not allowed in such instances, inasmuch as the similarity between the “kernel of wheat” and the “body” has been intentionally destroyed.

Although nothing in the Orthodox tradition requires the faithful to donate their organs to others, nevertheless, this practice is not forbidden. Permission from the next of kin is always obtained prior to the recovery of organs and tissue. Telling your family ahead of time that you want to be an organ and tissue donor is the best way to ensure that your wishes will be carried out.


In order for an organ donation to take place the person must be pronounced legally dead. The death of a patient is determined when there is absence of cardiovascular and respiratory functions and no brain activity, including lack of function of the brain stem. If the tests done in the ICU show brain activity and blood flowing through the brain, the patient is in a coma. But if the tests show no brain activity or blood supply, the brain has been irreversibly damaged and will never function again. This is the point when the person is declared clinically dead and when organs may be removed.

The decision to donate a duplicate organ, such as a kidney, from a healthy person, requires much consideration and should be made in consultation with medical professionals and one’s spiritual father.

Suicide, the taking of one’s own life, is self-murder and as such, a serious offense to God. It may be evidence of lack of faith in the life-giving God and a rejection of His Mercy, Compassion and Love. Hence, if a person has committed suicide because he/she considers such an action rationally and ethically defensible, the Orthodox Church may deny that person a Church funeral. The Church, however, may grant a funeral service for one who has taken his/her own life if there is enough evidence that the person was suffering from mental illness or severe emotional stress and a physician has verified the condition of impaired rationality.