Falling Asleep in The Lord

The life and the body of every baptized Christian is considered sacred because it has on it the sign of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Chrismation, which he or she received on the day of Baptism. Also, a baptized person is considered part of the body of Christ, according to the teachings of the Bible. So, while a person is alive, the body and the soul live together; at the time of death the soul departs from the body to go to judgment and the body returns from where it was taken to the ground.

The body even at death is respected because it was the temple that carried the spirit. This is why, at the funeral service, the body is brought to the part of the church called the solea where he or she was baptized and married.

The Orthodox Church has rituals before and after death which can be traced to the Old Testament. First, when somebody is seriously ill and the doctors tell you that their days are numbered, you immediately call upon the priest and he reads some prayers. If the ill person has their mental capacity or is of sound mind, the priest will ask him or her to confess and then gives the person Holy Communion. These are called the last rites.

If a person is suffering and the end of their life is not coming easily, again the priest is called upon and he performs a special service where he commands the spirit to go to rest with the company of the angels and end the bodily suffering of the patient.

Funeral services in the church building are conducted for those who are Orthodox Christians in good ecclesiastical standing with the Church. In other words, only those who have been baptized and/or chrismated in the Orthodox Church, and have had their marriage blessed in the Church are eligible for an Orthodox funeral service in the church building. If there is a question, please contact Fr. John.

Should there be a death in the family, the following steps should be taken:

1. Immediately notify the family doctor or the County Medical Examiner (County Coroner) if the death occurred at home so he may examine the deceased and sign the death certificate. The body may not be removed otherwise.

2. Call the funeral director of your choice. If you do not have one, Vraim Funeral Home is owned and operated by a Greek Orthodox family of our community for three generations, and they are very familiar with our Greek Orthodox funeral customs and traditions, (610) 449-7770.

3. Inform Fr. John, (215) 635-0316, (843) 513-2514.

The church has no objection to autopsies for the sake of determining the cause of death or to further medical science, or to the donation of any body organs (eyes, heart, etc.) for transplants. However, because the human body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Orthodox Church insists that those who perform autopsies accord the utmost respect for the body.

Arrangements for the funeral service must be made with the priest in conjunction with the funeral director. No funerals are allowed on Sunday, the day of the Resurrection of our Lord.

Some families prefer memorial donations to flowers. Such being the case, special envelopes are available to the funeral director and family at the church office or in the narthex of the church. Acknowledgements to the donors are made by the church and a list is sent to the family.

In the event of suicide, funeral rites are usually not accorded the deceased, unless the family acquires a letter from the family physician stating the deceased was under treatment for psychotic or emotional disorder. The Church believes that no one is permitted to take the life of another, especially the life of oneself. Suicide is murder and consequently a grave sin. Committing suicide signifies a loss of patience, hope and faith in God. A person of faith does not lose hope, no matter how great the difficulties he or she faces. If there is a question, Fr. John should be contacted.

Various Christian groups, instead of burial, prefer the cremation of the dead, which was customary among many ancient peoples. The Orthodox Church, however, mindful of the fact that the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and inspired by the affection toward her departed children refuses to deliberately destroy the body, and has adopted the burial of the dead, as it appears in the catacombs, and in the graves of the martyrs and saints. Cremation, therefore, is contrary to the faith and tradition of our Church and is forbidden to Orthodox Christians. A church funeral is denied to a person who has been or will be cremated.

The Funeral Service

The death of a Christian not only affects the family, but also the entire Church, for we are all part of the Body of Christ. The Orthodox Funeral service, which expresses this fact, is not to be seen primarily as an opportunity to extol, in a sentimental way, the virtues of an individual. Rather, the various prayers and hymns emphasize the harsh reality of death, as well as the victorious Resurrection of Christ through which the power of death is conquered. The Funeral Service comforts those who mourn; it is also the means through which the Church prays for one of its members who has died in the faith of Christ. Orthodoxy views the end of physical existence only as the termination of one stage of life. God's love is stronger than death, and the Resurrection of Christ bears witness to this power.

The Orthodox funeral consists of three services. First, there is a vigil service after death, which is usually conducted at the time of the wake. This service is called the Trisagion Service. The Church prays to Christ "to give rest with the saints to the soul of Your servant where there is neither pain, grief, nor sighing but life everlasting.” While the Church prays for the soul of the deceased, great respect is paid to the body. Orthodoxy believes the body of the Christian is sacred since it was the temple of the Holy Spirit.

The body will share also in the final restoration of all creation. The Funeral service is continued at the church, where the body is brought on the day of burial. Ideally, the Divine Liturgy is celebrated. After the Funeral service, the congregation offers its farewell to the deceased, known as "last kiss". The Trisagion service is repeated at the graveside.

The Memorial Service

Death alters but does not destroy the bond of love and faith which exists among all the members of the Church. Orthodoxy believes that through our prayers, those "who have fallen asleep in the faith and the hope of the Resurrection" continue to have opportunity to grow closer to God. Therefore, the Church prays constantly for her members who have died in Christ. We place our trust in the love of God and the power of mutual love and forgiveness. We pray that God will forgive the sins of the faithful departed, and that He will receive them into the company of Saints in the heavenly Kingdom.

The Orthodox Church remembers the departed in the prayers of every Divine Liturgy. Besides this, there is a Memorial Service in which the Church also remembers the dead. According to tradition, the Memorial Service is offered on the  fortieth day after a death, as well as on the one-year anniversary of the death. In addition to these times, the Memorial service is always offered for all the faithful departed on four "Saturdays of the souls." These are: the two Saturdays preceding Great Lent; the first Saturday of Great Lent; and the Saturday before Pentecost. Please contact the parish office in advance to make arrangements.

When the Memorial service is offered, it is customary for the family of the deceased to bring a dish of boiled wheat to the church and place it on a table in the center of the nave during the service. The wheat 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). If you are not familiar with the preparation of the boiled wheat (known as kolyva), there is a lady in our community who can prepare it for you. Her name is Dea Papadopoulos and she can be reached at (267) 357-1085. The boiled wheat is shared with the community at fellowship hour.

On the day of the Memorial, please arrive at the church at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy at 9:30am. There will be a few pews reserved for you and your family; please identify yourselves to our parish council members-ushers who will assist you. If you wish Fr. John to visit the cemetery and offer graveside prayer (Trisagion), please let us know when you make the Memorial arrangements. There will also be a few tables reserved for your family and friends during our Fellowship Hour (Kalosorisma) in our Cultural Center. Coffee and refreshments are served each Sunday by our various ministries. Please let us know if you wish to sponsor the Fellowship Hour in memory of your departed relative. Please do not hesitate to contact the parish office (215) 635-0316 for further assistance.