Information & Chat > Russian, Ukrainian & FSU Culture and Customs

Death and funeral traditions

(1/3) > >>

One of our highly esteemed members has lost a dear family member this week and for some perhaps there are questions about what happens, and why, in Russian traditions when someone passes.

The first thing we acknowledge is that while Orthodox traditions are much the same throughout the world, there are people of other faiths in Russia from Muslim to Jewish to Evangelical/Charismatic to those who had no belief in God. I apologize in advance if it seems that the bulk of this feature is centered on Orthodoxy, with some coverage of Islam, but those two groups are most represented and especially Orthodoxy in Russia, Ukraine, and the near-abroad.

The Orthodox traditions on death are closely aligned in many cases with Jewish traditions. That is natural as Christianity was birthed in the Jewish world and also because Jewish culture and philosophy was a powerful influence in many parts of the world at the time. Yet there are distinct differences in the way Orthodox Christians and the Jewish faith view death and the afterlife and so our coverage will centre primarily on the Orthodox and with some coverage of Islamic tradition in Russia.

The singing of "memory eternal" is very recognizable part of the tradition. This song is a prayer and consists of just two words: "memory eternal" or "Вечная память" in Russian.

Scheduled memorials are a part of the funeral process in the first year. That has a dual design of offering prayers for the departed and also easing the surviving family into the adjustment of life without their loved one. Memorials are performed at 3 days, 7, 14, 30, 90 days, 6th month, and 1 year.

If an Orthodox Christian is near death a priest arrives to hear final confession and give Holy Communion if the individual is conscious. One difference here from the Roman Catholic tradition is that the rite of Holy Unction is not a part of Orthodox traditional last rites. The priest reads a group of prayers designed to recall the need for repentance and offer hope in the belief of the soul's transition from earthly life to the hereafter. This is often done at the bedside and is called the "Office at the Parting of the Soul from the Body."

Special prayers are offered for those who have suffered for great lengths of time and this is called a service "For One who has Suffered Long".

After death the "First Pannikhida" (панихида) is celebrated. It is a short Orthodox memorial service. Afterward the body is washed and clothed for burial. In accordance with Acts chapter 9:37, this is considered a final act of love and if possible is performed by the family and friends of the departed.

For what we call a "Wake" in Western culture, in Orthodox lands the wake is a period of visitation of family and friends accompanied by the continuous reading of the Psalter (the Old Testament/Jewish book of Psalms) over the body. Clergy, along with family members and friends take turns in reading the Psalter. During the wake brief memorials (Panikhidas) are read and sung, after which the reading of the Psalter continues. Anyone can read and it is common for the family and friends to take turns reading the psalms throughout the night up until it is time for the body to be transported to the church or grave site.

The priest places a crown ("phylactery") ion the deceased's head. This is a thick strip of paper with the Trisagion written. A small icon of Christ, the Theotokos, the deceased's patron saint, or a cross is placed in the right hand and a prayer rope may be placed in the left hand.

The Orthodox cross, above, has a distinct "footrest" at the bottom.

An Orthodox prayer rope is woven with either 100 or 50 knots for laymen. Monks use ropes with hundreds of weaves/knots as they pray continuously through the day. The beads seen above are optional on this 50 knot rope and woven in at intervals to make it easy to count. When using a prayer rope the Orthodox believer prays the Jesus Prayer over and over, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

During the "wake" there is the reading from the Psalter which is done continuously except when a brief service known as the Trisagion Service is conducted. The reading from the Psalter continues afterward.

The Trisagion Service:

Opening doxology by officiating priest.

The singing of the hymn “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us” accompanied by other brief prayers which conclude with the Lord’s Prayer.

The singing of a series of hymns, called “troparia,” in which we implore God to grant eternal rest to the departed.

A Litany for the departed, with the faithful responding “Lord, have mercy” three times after each petition.

The final blessing, in which we ask God to grant the departed “rest in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

The closing exclamation: “Grant eternal rest, O Lord, to the soul of Thy departed servant ______, and make his/her memory be eternal,” to which the faithful sing “Memory eternal.”

(Text from the Orthodox Church in America;

Thanks for the info Mendy.

My wife just landed in Kharkiv and skyped me from her mobile.

I just learned his funeral is tomorrow.

You are welcome, Muzh. I'll continue with the other parts soon. My God give peace to your wife and family.


[0] Message Index

[#] Next page

Go to full version