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Pastoral Letter on Christian Death and Funerals

Bishop Nicholas J. Samara
Melkite Eparchy of Newton

May 24, 2015
https://melkite.org/eparchy/pastoral-letter-on-christian-death-and-funerals

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.

Last edited by Tomassus; 05/24/15 05:26 AM.
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Thank you for sharing. These are important reminders!

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Excellent - thank you for sharing this!

Praying the psalms for the reposed is something that is forgotten in our part of the woods (Gospels are read for priests and bishops, correct?).

What an important and sobering thought that the present reality of the deceased person's soul before Christ and the need for earnest prayer are all what the funeral and funerary traditions should be about!

Alex

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I can forsee the unintended consequence being fewer Funerals in the Church.

Banning picture board displays at viewings is not the hill I would choose to die on.

There seems to be a great deal of confusion between small "t" tradition and the Great Tradition.

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It's a good thing for a Church to outline its theology and hoped-for praxis in the area of death, dying, and funerals. That said, the absolutely wrong time to do this teaching is at the time of the death of a member. Survivors tend to have raw emotions in many cases. The funeral director is often put in the middle of this communication of praxis because we usually have a "duty to counsel" either implied or spelled out in codes of ethics or professional practice. Believe me, having been on the receiving end of the emotion of a death in a family, when I say that this is a job for the clergy.

I've been in situations when the family and clergy have locked horns over praxis and it isn't pretty. I've had clergy walk out just prior to a scheduled funeral service over these types of issues and families who have had their last connection with the Church as a result.

I think it's about more than the funeral itself and more about catechising people in living according to Christian values so that questions about behavior at funerals is not experienced as an alien set of rules. The same might be said for the thread some time ago about proper behavior in a church at the time of a wedding.

Bob


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This is great. Does anyone know if there is an actual letter, or just these summary points?

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Numbers 7 & 8 also gave me pause, initially, because there are sometimes when a homily can be like a tapestry interweaving the faithful life of the deceased with the Epistle and Gospel; and, in those instances where the evidence of discipleship has been lacking a euology by the family can allow the clergy to concentrate solely on the appointed lessons.

But on further reflection, the rapidly shifting definition of what constitutes a "family" could create a potential minefield for the Church.

In my local newspaper's Obituary section today, the first listing was for a Greek Orthodox man whose survivor's included a son "and life partner [male name]". The very next listing was for a man whose survivors included "Niece N. and wife [female name]".

Permitting these self described "spousal partners" to speak would essentially bring the endorsement of the Church to relationships which She cannot bless.

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Bishop Nicholas has set an excellent example of the teaching charism of a bishop that should be much more prevalent.

Why are our bishops so afraid to teach?

Thomas, I agree with you. IF the public viewing is at the parish then photos and photo boards should be allowed, but if the viewing was at another location or exempted then they should NOT be posted in the church. With regard to the homily, it should focus the Christian view of death and the next life, but it should be equally cognizant of the parishioner who is being prayed for.


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