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Religious Views On Cremation: Eastern Orthodox

Religious Views On Cremation: Eastern Orthodox

The passing of a loved one is a challenging time in anyone’s life. Dealing with a whole range of emotions as your process your loss can be all-consuming. However, in the middle of this deeply emotional time, it is also necessary to start making practical arrangements. Planning a funeral and making crucial decisions to honor your loved one’s memory as best you can is essential. 

There are many tasks to complete when planning a funeral, but one of the most crucial is deciding on whether to choose a cremation or a burial for your loved one.

Deciding on whether to choose a cremation or a burial can be a difficult decision to make if your loved one never expressed their preferences. One of the most important factors influencing the choice between a burial or a cremation is a person’s religion.

Understanding your loved one’s religious beliefs is vital, as it is likely to be a deciding factor when establishing whether to choose a cremation or burial. What happens to the physical body after someone dies is the subject of strong beliefs among many religions. For some religions, there is no clear guidance that states whether or not cremations are acceptable. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, the choice between a cremation or a burial is a matter of personal preference. However, for other religions, such as Judaism, cremations are not usually permitted. But how about Eastern Orthodoxy? What views does this religion have on the subject of cremations and burials? 

Here we will discuss the popularity of cremations and explore whether in Eastern Orthodox cremation is permitted.

Are Cremations Now More Popular Than Burials?

In recent years, cremations have become increasingly popular, and the number of cremations has started to exceed burials. The cremation rate in the United States of America is steadily rising. Figures from the Cremation Association show that in 2021, the cremation rate had reached 57.5 percent.

Many people choose cremations as they are often less expensive than a burial and do not require the purchase of a burial plot and headstone. 

What Does the Eastern Orthodox Church Believe Happens After Death?

The Eastern Orthodox Church is a Christian religion followed by more than 220 million people, making it the second-largest Christian faith in terms of baptized members. The Eastern Orthodox Church has its roots in the Christianity of the Eastern Roman Empire. 

Practicing members of the Eastern Orthodox Church are mainly found throughout Eastern Europe. Eastern Orthodoxy is the primary religion in the following countries:

Greece, Cyprus, Ukraine, Russia, Republic of North Macedonia, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Republic of Belarus, Georgia, Republic of Serbia, Republic of Bulgaria, and Montenegro. However, Eastern Orthodoxy is also practiced in the United States of America but is not as prevalent. Figures from Statista show that in 2021, 0.5% of the US adult population identified as Orthodox Christians.

Due to the areas where Eastern Orthodoxy is most widely practiced, the religion features elements of Slav, Greek, Middle Eastern, and Russian cultures.

Eastern Orthodox Church Fresco

Members of the Eastern Orthodox Church believe that followers enter Paradise after death, and when death is imminent, preparations for this begin. When a loved one is close to the end, followers of Eastern orthodoxy will send for a priest. When the priest attends to the dying, they will first administer the Holy Communion. Following the Holy Communion, the priest will also listen to the dying person’s final confessions in preparation for them departing.

After death, the priest will conduct ‘Prayers for the Departure for the Soul’ in preparation for the deceased soul being released into Paradise. Friends and family that are present will then wash the body and then dress it before placing it in the casket.

Unlike other branches of Christianity, Eastern Orthodox Churches conduct a wake before the funeral service. The start of the wake usually occurs during the First Panikhida. The First Panikhida is a prayer service delivered to the mourners by the priest. Further Panikhidas may then also be delivered, and friends and family members may read from the Book of Psalms.

Traditionally, Eastern Orthodox wakes would last for three days. However, it is now more common for Eastern Orthodox wakes to last for one day.

Eastern Orthodox memorial service itself features strong elements of penance. Penance is a strong feature of Eastern Orthodox services, and funerals are no exception. As well as featuring prayers for the deceased, Eastern Orthodoxy funeral services also serve as a reminder to the living of their own mortality and that their time spent on Earth is brief.

Memorial services are traditionally conducted on the third, ninth, and fortieth day following death. Memorial services are also conducted after three months, six months, and on the first and third anniversary of the death. If family and friends wish, memorial services can take place each year on the anniversary of their loved one’s death.

Does the Eastern Orthodox Church Permit Cremation? 

The Eastern Orthodox Church has strong views regarding cremation. While many other branches of the Christian faith permit cremations, the Eastern Orthodox Church does not. Eastern Orthodoxy believes in the sanctity of the body and that it is just as important as the soul and is needed for resurrection. 

While there is nothing to stop an Eastern Orthodox Christian from being cremated, the church would prevent them from having a funeral service if they did so.

Should You Choose Cremation or Burial?

For followers of Eastern Orthodoxy, cremation is often not considered acceptable. For other people, there are many positive reasons for choosing cremation. Cremations are not only often cheaper than burials, but they also offer the chance to keep your loved one with you at all times. Having cremation jewelry made from the ashes of your loved one provides a lasting keepsake that you can treasure forever. 

The decision to choose a cremation or a burial is very much a matter for personal consideration. But, with cremation rates continually rising, it seems that it is now the preferred option for many people.

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