Saying Goodbye to a Loved One

Observing Etiquette at Orthodox Catholic Funerals

Death and funerals invoke different practices around the world, and to some extent, within religions. For those who observe Catholicism, death means passing from the present life into the afterlife, which makes the funeral incredibly symbolic. In order to understand how orthodoxy affects the funeral process, it's worth examining how Greek and Portuguese individuals approach such occasions.

What happens immediately after the death?

The time between death and a Greek Orthodox funeral should last between two to three days, but this sometimes extends to a week. Greek Orthodox practices are very similar to other orthodox churches, which means they can act as an example of what typically happens. It is usually the case that families can view the body the night before the event, and it is rare that relatives will choose cremation over burial, as the Catholic church frowns upon cremation. Some Portuguese families may opt for a direct burial, in which case no embalming or visitation takes place. This, however, is not the norm.

What are Orthodox funeral ceremonies like?

Even those relatives that aren't close to the deceased may choose to attend the ceremony, which means Greek and Portuguese funerals are often large affairs. A hearse transports the body from its resting place to the church, where the priest follows a set ceremony. This often involves saying a Trisiagon service, which includes the use of The Divine Liturgy and the inclusion of several hymns. Families have the opportunity to customise the funeral service through speeches and choosing specific hymns. While those who are Catholic receive Holy Communion, those who do not observe the faith opt out but may receive a blessing as part of the communion procession. 

Are there any funeral customs that non-Orthodox attendees need to make themselves aware of?

The nature of funeral customs can vary between sects and countries. For example, at many Orthodox funerals, it is appropriate to say "May his/her memory be eternal" to the direct relatives when expressing sympathy. Those who attend a Macedonian Orthodox funeral may expect to stand throughout the service unless a health condition prevents them from doing so. In many Orthodox churches, the mourning period following the service lasts for 40 days.

If you are attending the funeral of an Orthodox friend, approaching the event as though it is a sombre affair and having respect for their traditions is essential. While present at the funeral, following the lead of the deceased's family will stand you in good stead when it comes to appropriate behaviour. Talk to a place that offers Orthodox funerals in Earlwood for more information.