Pastoral Letter on Christian Death and Funerals

Bishop Nicholas J. Samara – Bishop of Newton

Major Catechetical Teaching Points

  1. Cultural development sometimes veers away from Christian thinking: Funerals are not about memories and reminiscences of the departed, but rather focus on the reality of their present life in Christ and prayers for their “good defense before the awesome Judgment Seat of Christ.”
  2. Encourage the faithful to notify clergy of someone’s illness so that prayers for the sick may be offered. The mystery of Holy Unction is not just for one who is dying, but a healing remedy for the living.
  3. Funeral Services: Trisagion at the Funeral Home, Funeral in church, Graveside Prayers.
  4. Respect at the Funeral Home for the departed and the family. Offering condolences should not turn into a “free- for-all” visit with friend and acquaintances. Instead encourage the reading of the Psalms or Gospels throughout the viewing.
  5. If viewing is at Church: no pictures or slide shows of the departed are permitted. An atmosphere of prayer is to be maintained in the church. The church is not a place for social gatherings but a house of prayer. Psalms and/or Gospels must be read during the entire duration of the viewing. No piped in music, please!
  6. The Possibility of evening Funerals and morning Trisagion at the church or directly at the grave without the procession of cars.
  7. No eulogies by laity or clergy are permitted. The homily should focus on the “end” of earthly life and the beginning of the new life to which we are all called, being restored through the resurrections of Christ.
  8. If family members wish to speak, the ideal time is at the mercy meal, not at the funeral service or Trisagion.
  9. No music other than funeral chants is permitted; nor are any services by fraternal organizations permitted in church.
  10. Simple mercy meals, not extravagant dinners.
  11. Memorials with Kolyva (sweetened boiled wheat) or sweetened bread.
  12. Development of Bereavement Ministry among the parish laity to assist with service and even mercy meals.
  13. Simpler caskets–no need for outrageous costs, which can be a sign of vanity. These are of no avail for the deceased.
  14. Cremation: the Church upholds the ideal of burial as the traditional, preferred practice. If cremation is chosen and is not motivated by reasons opposed to Christian faith, we still recommend that it is done after the funeral. Cremated ashes may never be scattered or taken home; they must be buried or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium.
  15. Donations to the church or charities can be recommended. If flowers are given, they can be used in front of the icons after the funeral.
  16. The Funeral Service with open coffin is our traditional rite, so that the body may be anointed with oil and sprinkled with ashes; and the custom of the last kiss may be observed at the conclusion of the service.