In the case of an impending death
Last Rites: If possible, a person should receive the sacraments of Confession, Communion, and Holy Unction before the time of their death. There is a Canon of Supplication to the Mother of God which we sing for the soul of a person as it is ready to depart from the body. There is also a service we may sing after the departure of the soul which is in effect, the first memorial service. These are typically done at the side of the person if possible. Please do not hesitate to call at any time of the day or night if a loved one should repose, and preferably, beforehand, so that your priest maybe with you and them. Ideally, your Parish Priest will already be aware of the situation and on heightened alert, awaiting your call.
What do I need to tell my funeral director?
The Parish Priest will need to coordinate with you and your Funeral Director/provider as soon as possible. There are two funeral homes near the Parish itself with which we have most often dealt and can recommend them to you. If your loved one departed out of state (including Maryland of the District of Columbia), or you wish to bury them outside of Virginia, there may be additional logistical issues with which the director can assist you.
Orthodox Cemeteries: At this time, there are no uniquely Orthodox cemeteries in the immediate DC area. The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (ROCOR/MP) has a section reserved in the Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, DC, complete with a memorial chapel, in which may have available plots (www.stjohndc.org). Our Episcopate (www.roea.org) maintains a cemetery at the headquarters in Grass Lake, MI, and most monasteries also have cemeteries with space available.
Burial: The Orthodox Christian method of interment is through burial, not cremation. The funeral service presumed a body to bury and there is no service to be said over “cremains.” Whenever possible, the service should be offered with the body in the Church.
Does the Orthodox Church allow cremation?
Burial: The Orthodox Christian method of interment is through burial, not cremation. The funeral service presumed a body to bury and there is no service to be said over “cremains.” Whenever possible, the service should be offered with the body in the Church. For more information why, visit here:
What about visiting hours/lying in state/wake services?
Visitation: traditional Orthodox visitation of the departed lying in state can be done not only in the funeral home but also the church (and in some countries, at home!) If done in the church, then it is traditional also to leave the coffin in the sanctuary throughout the night in anticipation of the funeral service in the morning. In those circumstances sometimes friends and family keep vigil and read the Psalter through the evening as well, in imitation of the vigil on Holy Friday. If visitation is held in the church we encourage families to set up a reception area in the social hall as the sanctuary is not an appropriate place for socializing with others after greeting the family and offering condolences.
The Wake Service (Rom. Saracusta; Rus. Panakhida): The evening before the funeral during visitation there is a special memorial known as the Wake, which takes approximately 20-30 minutes, and is usually held toward the end of the evening’s visitation period, either at church or funeral home.
What does the funeral service involve?
The funeral service is usually held in the morning of the day of the interment but this may not always be so. The departed is brought in the casket/coffin to the church and placed before the altar facing it. The service entails prayers for the forgiveness of their sins, meditation on the meaning of life and death, and proclamation of hope in the resurrection—which celebrates their eternal life in Christ. The end of the service includes an opportunity for “the final kiss” in which each person present may personally say farewell to their departed brother/sister in Christ. The deceased should also have a simple cross and/or icon with them in the coffin before closing. The casket is then closed and carried solemnly to the hearse and hence to the place of burial. The funeral service in the church runs approximately 45 minutes to one hour. Families may also request a Liturgy to be served prior to the funeral service (an additional 1 hour).
What does interment involve?
The burial proper typically follows immediately after the funeral service as the faithful gathered process to the graveside for the completion of the service. If the burial is taking place on another day (due to out of state interment or because of other requirements (e.g. burial at Arlington National Cemetery)) the service will be concluded on sight with a simple dismissal at the hearse. The graveside service itself is simple, taking only about 10 minutes. Some Orthodox traditionally prefer to stay for the filling in of the grave and, depending on the cemetery, may actually participate in some fashion. The leaving of flowers on the coffin or in the grave are also common expressions of love for the departed.
May there be mercy meal after the funeral?
Mercy/Memorial Meal (Rom. Pomana): Orthodox Christians traditionally hold a memorial meal after the funeral as an offering in memory of their beloved departed. The St. Mary social hall room is available for this and other related receptions/refreshments. Please note that if it is a fast day, Lenten observation must be followed at the Church.
When do Orthodox Christians perform memorial services?
Post-Funeral Memorials: At various times after an Orthodox Christian departs this life, it is desirable to remember them in prayer. For the first forty days after death they are remembered by name in the Liturgy, and on the 40th day a special memorial is served (Gr.: Parastasis). Different customs are observed across Orthodox countries. At St. Mary’s we encourage the tradition of offering a braided egg bread (rom. Colac- a challah-style ring) and boiled wheat (coliva) often sweetened with sugar, candies, etc. according to desired recipe. This bread and wheat are lifted rhythmically up to the heaven by all those in attendance during the final hymn, “Memory Eternal,” in the Romanian Orthodox practice that we follow. A similar service is also served typically on the 6 month and one year anniversary. Families may wish to hold these memorials on continuing anniversaries as well. These occasions, starting with the 40 day memorial, are also good times to offer memorial meals (pomane, see above) as well. Throughout the the year there are also "Memorial" or "Soul" Saturdays on which memorials are held for all the departed of the parish and those they wish to commemorate.
May we have a memorial on a Sunday morning?
Because Sunday is the day of Resurrection and a time for joyful celebration, we typically do not serve a memorial at the end of liturgy unless it is for a parishioner who has recently fallen asleep, or for our parish anniversary and the yearly remembrance of those founders departed this life or other special circumstances. Otherwise, it is recommend to request a memorial for just before the liturgy (starting 20 minutes before liturgy begins), especially if a memorial meal (pomana) will be served after liturgy. Saturday evenings, are also traditional, or if need be after the liturgy has been dismissed (during fellowship hour and church school) if you are not anticipating a large attendance. There are also a number of Memorial Saturdays (Soul Saturdays, Saturdays of the Dead, etc.) during the year on which memorial services are served for all those remembered in the parish lists and any additional lists you wish to submit.
What about the blessing of graves?
Blessing of Graves: On the Sunday after Pascha (St. Thomas Sunday) it is traditional to visit the graves of our loved ones. Throughout the year, the Parish Priest is available to visit the graves with you as well to offer a short memorial graveside.
Blessing of Headstones/markers: Monuments for Orthodox Christians are traditionally in the form of a Cross, or have a Cross clearly engraved upon them. There is a separate service for the blessing of the monument, which is often served many months after the burial so that the grave can be subside and solidify, at the time of the placing of the monument.
What about funerals for non-members and/or non-Orthodox?
Funerals for Non-Orthodox: We are honored to help and pray for those who fallen asleep outside of the Orthodox faith. There is a funeral service for non-Orthodox departed that may be served. Please contact the Parish Priest if you have need.
Note: Catechumens who are preparing to be received into the Orthodox Church and pass away before that is possible are buried as if fully Orthodox.
Funerals for Non-Member Orthodox: We are honored to help and pray for our brothers and sister in Christ from other parishes. Please contact the office if you are in need of assistance in this respect.
Special circumstances: Bright Week
If someone should be so blessed as to repose during the week of Easter, the Church remembers them in a special, Bright Paschal version of the burial service.
Special circumstances: Children and Stillborn
Recognizing the tragedy of losing a child and the teachings of the Lord on their innocence before Him, the funeral service for young children is different than that of adult lay people or older children who have begun coming to confession, and does not focus on the forgiveness of sins as much as the recognition of God’s infinite mercy. Likewise, since the standard funeral service has as its primary purpose prays for forgiveness, and we do not believe the unborn who die do not suffer the stain of any personal sins, the service for remembering and interring them is of a different nature, with an eye to bringing healing and peace to the parents who have lost a child. There are also prayers for the convalescence of a mother after a miscarriage that are done separately. See also this article concerning miscarriage and healing.