Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
Grand Junction, Colorado

Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (AD 73)
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (AD 1922)
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver (AD 1979)

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When a Priest
Falls Asleep in the Lord
The Funeral Service of the Orthodox Church
Funeral Services


Meaning of the Orthodox “Service of Burial” sometimes referred to as the “Funeral Service”

In the Orthodox Church, the service celebrated when a person has fallen asleep is the «Ἀκολουθία Κηδείας» or “Service of Burial.” Its exclusive purpose is to consecrate the body of the deceased and bury it with respect in preparation for, and anticipation of its recomposition and resurrection at the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Obviously, then, if there is no body to bury (for example a sailor lost or buried at sea) or if the body has been or will be cremated, there can be no “Service of Burial.” In such cases a “Memorial Service” («Μνυμόσυνον») or the “Trisagion Service for those Fallen Asleep” («Τρισάγιον τὸν Κοιμηθέντων») is served instead.

The Orthodox Funeral Service is composed of deeply meaningful hymns, prayers, biblical readings, and symbolic acts. Most of the material that the Church uses for the Service of the burial of the dead refers not only to the dead but to the living as well. By studying the service we can orient ourselves in the direction of our natural destiny. The intelligent traveler studies the map and knows what road to follow. He reads the signs and is careful not to lose his way. “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).

The Orthodox Funeral Service celebrated today dates from the end of the 5th and beginning of the 6th centuries in its principal elements. It was later enriched by the eight sublime hymns of Saint John of Damascus (AD 676-749) by which the ephemeral of this life and the eternity of life hereafter are poetically described.

The hope and joy of the resurrection is expressed in the priest wearing white vestments during the funeral service. The best time to plan a funeral is before you die. This way you can communicate the type of care you would like to receive after death. A will or a living will is certainly appropriate for Orthodox Christians. If you are planning for an Orthodox Funeral service, keep the following in mind.

From very early in the Christian era, the faithful honored their beloved deceased by making contributions to the poor as a memorial in their name. This practice is prescribed in the Apostolic Constitutions, and it is eloquently spoken of by Saint John Chrysostom who wrote, “Do you wish to honor the departed? Honor him by giving alms and by doing works of benefaction.”

In contrast to the Orthodox tradition, the contemporary practice of “mourning” associated with death, is a later development that evolved as religion was viewed as an obligation of society or practiced to gain personal benefit. Beginning the Middle Ages, the bereaved began to express their love for the deceased by the erection of expensive and highly ornamented tombs and mausoleums. As Godlessness has increased in secular society, death has been regarded as a development full of tragedy for which there is neither remedy nor consolation.

In contemporary, secular, non-Orthodox society that service done when a person falls asleep is called a “funeral,” sometimes a “celebration of life,” and it is assumed that its purpose is to address and comfort the bereaved.

Who may Receive an Orthodox Funeral

The “Service of Burial” may be celebrated for any Orthodox Christian in good canonical standing (click here for more information) is entitled to a funeral service, with some exceptions. Individuals who are married outside the Orthodox Church, who are civilly but not ecclesiastically divorced, who have been or will be cremated, who have committed suicide, and certain other circumstances may not have a service in the Church. In some cases the Trisagion for the Deceased or the Memorial Service, but not the “Service of Burial,” may be read at a location other than in the church.

It is absolutely essential that every Orthodox Christian and their family members be fully informed regarding the Orthodox requirements for funeral services and burial.

If there is any circumstance that might preclude a funeral and burial, it must be discussed with tjhe parish priest as promptly as possible. If necessary, the parish priest may present these circumstances to the Metropolitan who may be able to exercise oikonomía in loosening the requirements if appropriate.

In the case of a non-Orthodox Christian who is not connected to any other faith community, the priest may be able, with episcopal permission, to celebrate a Service for the Deceased at a funeral home or some other venue to express the love and care of the church community.

Dying or Near Death

If a person’s health is declining quickly and death becomes imminent, the priest should be called as soon as possible. He can read prayers, hear Confession, administer Holy Unction, and offer Holy Communion if appropriate. If a person’s suffering is extreme and there is no reasonable hope of recovery the priest can, if the family so wishes, read prayers asking God to receive the dying person’s soul.

Funeral Homes

In general, funeral homes are very sensitive to the religious traditions of families and their deceased loved ones. They will work with the family and the priest to make all arrangements for the deceased. They will also help in arranging for the “wake” (the Trisagion Service) the night before the burial, casket, cemetery, marker, obituary, and other needs. Families should be aware that they can honor their loved ones with modest, inexpensive arrangements. There is absolutely no need for a person to be cremated instead of being buried simply for financial reasons; in cases of need the family should speak with the priest.

Memorial Gifts

Giving gifts in memory of the dead is a centuries-old tradition. Giving to the church is very honorable. Designations to various ministries/projects within the parish can be done in advance or at the time of the funeral planning. These preferences can be advertised in the obituary and literature distributed to visitors.

The “Wake” or “Viewing”

The Trisagion for the Deceased is chanted by the priest the evening before the Service of Burial. This is commonly, but not altogether correctly, referred to in secular society as the “wake” or “viewing.” It may be done at the funeral home/mortuary, but would more correctly be done at the parish church. This is a time when people can express their respect and sympathy, especially if they are not able to attend the Service of Burial the following day.

The time following the Trisagion for the Deceased the evening before may be one appropriate time for eulogies by family and friends in honor of the deceased. These are usually delivered after the Trisagion, and the priest typically does not attend these insofar as they are not completely in keeping with Orthodox Tradition.

The ancient tradition of the Orthodox Church, a continuation of the Old Testament Jewish tradition, is for the faithful to take turns throughout the night, following the Trisagion, to continuously read the Psalter (the 150 Psalms in the Bible) over the casket of the one who has fallen asleep. This is especially appropriate if the Trisagion is held in the parish church and the body lies thee throughout the night. It is considered a great honor to be able to read the Psalms, and it is a most-sacred way to express love and respect for the one departed.

The Service of Burial

When scheduling the Service of Burial the priest absolutely must be consulted before any plans are set; funeral homes will generally not complete planning until a clergyman has been contacted. Generally, the Service of Burial may be celebrated on any day except as indicated below.

A beautiful tradition is for the priest to come to the church, or the funeral home/mortuary, in the morning before the Service of Burial to pray the Trisagion Service privately with the family.

When the body of the one who has fallen asleep is brought to the church, the priest will normally meet the family with the casket outside and escort the deceased into the sanctuary.

The casket will be placed on the solea with the deceased facing the East (feet towards altar). The Orthodox Tradition is to have an open casket during the Funeral Service to acknowledge the reality of death and allow for people to offer their last respects, referred to as the “last kiss.”

The priests and chanters pray the service and the worshippers are encouraged to join in the singing of hymns and responses. After the final prayer, the priest will offer a sermon focused on the resurrection which we await on tje Last Day at the Lord’s Second Coming. It is not the Orthodox tradition to eulogize the deceased, although the priest may incorporate, where appropriate, important aspects of the deceased perso}s life in his homily.

After the sermon, the casket will be turned parallel to the altar so that last respects can be made to the departed loved one. For the sake of time, and out of respect for the church, which is a Temple of God, personal sympathies to the surviving family should be avoided at this time. They can be expressed afterwards at the Makaría. The faithful should return to their seats as the family comes forward to pay their last respects.

Then the priest seals the body with oil and sand, the casket is closed and the priest escorts the deceased out of the church to the hearse with family and others following behind.

Interment (Burial at the Cemetery)

For the interment (burial) service at the cemetery, the priest chants the Trisagion for the Deceased at the grave. Afterwards, the family may wish to stay for the lowering of the casket and the sealing of the vault.

When choosing a burial site (grave) consideration should be given to permit the body of the deceased to face East (feet towards the East) in expectation of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Makaría, or Funeral Luncheon

After the burial service, it is customary (but not required) to have a funeral luncheon called the Makaría. This can be done in the church social hall or at another location. Fish is served as the main dish in remembrance of the fact that Christ Himself ate broiled fish after His resurrection (Luke 24:41-43). In addition, fish was an ancient symbol for Christians and it is also an acceptable food during fasting periods.

The luncheon gives more opportunity for those in attendance to share in their grief and remembrance of the deceased. The luncheon is also a very appropriate time for eulogies and other expressions of honor by family and friends.

Memorial Services

Remembering the deceased in prayer to God is an important expression of love and faith.

The Trisagion Service is read by the priest at the time of death (bedside at home or in the hospital), on the third day (in honor of the Holy Trinity and Christ’s three-day burial), the ninth day (in honor of the nine orders of angels), the fortieth day (in honor of Christ’s 40 days on earth after His Resurrection), at three months, six months, nine months, one year, or any time the family feels the need.

The Memorial Service (Μνυμόσυνον) is a σλιγητλυ longer service that is typically done on the forty day αννιωερσαρυ. The Μemorial Ρequires Kolyva, boiled wheat that symbolizes the seed of the body that has been placed in the earth to sprout forth new, resurrected life when all the deceased are resurrected at the Second Coming of Christ.

Scheduling Memorial Services on Sundays, or other days, in the church must be arranged directly with the priest. Additional ways to honor the beloved deceased on that day include baking the prósforon, bringing flowers and candles, providing refreshments for fellowship hour, and visiting the grave site.

Other Considerations

Embalming: Although contrary to Orthodox Tradition, it is not prohibited since it is an accepted nonreligious practice which slow the natural decomposition of the body after death prior to a funeral. It is not, however, mandatory under most circumstances under civil law. The body should be buried as soon as possible or it can be cooled to slow decomposition until burial. The funeral home can advise family members regasrding city, county, and state requirements.

Organ Donation: Donating organs upon death is not a prohibited practice for Orthodox Christians. Usually wishes must be expressed ahead of time in a will or to family members.

Donating Body to Science: This not prohibited if the body is treated with respect, kept intact, and made available for burial after being used. See your priest for more information.

Autopsy: This is not prohibited and may be required by law to determine circumstances of death.

Suicide: In principle suicide is considered self-murder. As such, it precludes celebrating the Service of Burial or any other service in the church. However, in the case of extenuating circumstances – typically when the person is suffering from a mental illness – the priest can submit a request to the Metropolitan (Diocesan Bishop) for oikonomía to be exercised and an exception to be made.

Cremation: This is the incineration or burning of the deceased body until most of it is consumed and the skeleton bones are ground up and given to the family as “cremains” or inaccurately as “ashes.” The Orthodox tradition respects the human body as created in the image of God and as a temple of the Holy Spirit. Thus the Orthodox Service of Burial, can not be conducted for those who have been, or will be, cremated.

Remembering the Deceased: Honor and love can be expressed by visiting the grave site, lighting candles at church and at home, donating to the church and other causes, submitting their name to the priest for prayers during services, baking the prósforon, and scheduling Memorial or Trisagion services.


Grieving is the process of dealing with loss. Usually, it is filled with sadness and loneliness as we begin life without our loved one. These emotions are normal but should not be without a general sense of hope in Christ’s love for us.

Eternal life in heaven is our goal and it is completely appropriate to rejoice that our departed loved one has left the struggles of this life to rest with God. There are many customs about behavior and dress among various ethnic groups. However, the Church has no official teachings on grieving. Each person mourns the loss of a loved one differently.

Relatives and friends should be careful not to impose expectations about grieving. This usually only complicates and prolongs the grief process. If your grieving is causing depression, debility, or dysfunction, seek out counseling with the priest and support groups.

Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Pastoral Guidelines for Funerals

Funeral services are permitted on any day of the year, except for Sundays and Holy Friday, unless permission is granted by the Archbishop or Metropolitan.

Memorial services may not be chanted from the Saturday of Lazarus through the Sunday of Thomas, on any Feastday of the Lord or any Feastday of the Theotokos.

Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver
Administrative Guidelines for
Funerals, Filing Death Certificates, and Celebrating Memorial Services


I. Authority, Click here.

II. Forbidden Days, Click here.

III. Celebration of the Funeral Outside an Orthodox Temple, Click here.

IV. Burial Traditions and Customs, Click here.

V. Celebration of the Funeral for the Non-Orthodox, Click here.

VI. Cremation, Click here.

VII. Suicide, Click here.

VIII. Autopsies and Medical Research, Click here.

IX. Memorial Services and the Trisagion for the Dead, Click here.

Procedures for Submitting Death Certificates, Click here.


Marriage is unique among the Mysteries of the Orthodox Church insofar as it is the “original mystery” instituted by God in the garden of Eden before the fall. For this reason, unlike the other Mysteries, there are no references to sin in the Order of Marriage (except the Order of Second Marriage) as there are in the other services. Marriage is the Divinely-ordained normative estate of mankind, and the married couple is considered the foundation of society. The administrative regulations for Marriage are many, reflecting its sacramental, social, and civil implications. Since weddings usually involve a great deal of preparation and expense on the part of the couple and their families, Priests shall make every effort to ensure that all necessary ecclesiastical administrative forms are completed and submitted, so that a license can be issued in a timely manner. There should be no cause for a hurried administrative process, or to send documents via overnight delivery services. The issuance of an Episcopal License to Marry by the Metropolitan to the Priest performing the wedding indicates the theological and ecclesiological fact that all sacramental authority originates from the Metropolitan and that no Mysteries or other services are celebrated in his Metropolis without his blessing. The requirements associated with the administration of this Mystery reflect the civil and legal ramifications of Marriage. The procedures specified in these guidelines shall therefore be rigorously and exactly followed to ensure correct processing of the Affidavit and timely issuance of the Episcopal License to Marry.

Return to Topics Index, click here.


I. Authority

  1. 1. Since all authority to conduct the sacred Mysteries and all worship services issues from the Metropolitan, the Mystery of Marriage must be celebrated by a Priest belonging to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese according to the Liturgical Tradition of the Orthodox Church.

Return to Topics Index, click here.

I. Authority

  1. 1. Since all authority to perform the sacred Mysteries and worship services issues from the Metropolitan, Funerals and Memorial Services must be celebrated by a Priest belonging to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese according to the Liturgical Tradition of the Orthodox Church.

Return to Topics Index, click here.

II. Forbidden Days

  1. 1. Funerals are permitted on all days except Sundays, since all Sundays of the year, except those on which a major movable feast may fall, celebrates the resurrection of the Lord.
  2. 2. If a funeral must out of absolute necessity be celebrated on Sunday, the Priest shall request an exception from the Metropolitan.

Return to Topics Index, click here.

III. Celebration of the Funeral Outside an Orthodox Temple

  1. 1. If the funeral can not be celebrated in an Orthodox church (temple), such as may occur in areas of the Metropolis where no Orthodox church exists, the Priest shall request an exception from the Metropolitan; if time constraints prevent contacting the Metropolitan prior to the funeral, the priest shall exercise his own judgment, and notify the Metropolitan after the fact.

Return to Topics Index, click here.

IV. Burial Traditions and Customs

  1. 1. According to Orthodox tradition, following the example of the early Christians as evidenced by the catacombs and tombs of the saints – and indeed following the events associated with the burial of our Lord – the dead shall be buried in the ground or in a suitable tomb.
  2. 2. It is a pious custom that the dead be buried with their heads to the West and their feet toward the East; this is in accordance with belief that the dead will rise up on the Day of Judgment, the Second Glorious Coming of our Lord, facing the East.
  3. 3. Only the body of a Bishop, Priest, Deacon, or monastic may remain in the church overnight; this may sometimes be referred to as “laying in state.”

    1. a. The Trisagion Service for a layman is normally celebrated the evening before the funeral at the funeral home; it may also be held the previous evening at the “wake.”
    2. b. If circumstances dictate that the last Trisagion Service be held at the church, it should take place one hour before the actual Funeral Service.
  4. 4. On the morning of the funeral, two practices may be followed:
    1. a. The Priest may celebrate a Trisagion Service at the funeral home with the family, then proceed to the church with the deceased and the family. The Funeral Service will then take place upon arrival at the church.
    2. b. The deceased may be brought to the church early on the same day, and the Priest may celebrate the Trisagion Service. Family and friends may then be afforded an opportunity to pay their respects for a period of time before the Funeral Service begins.
    3. Note: These services must be in accordance with the guidelines established by the Holy Archdiocese.

Return to Topics Index, click here.

V. Celebration of the Funeral for the Non-Orthodox

  1. 1. In accordance with the Encyclical of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, dated 20 October 1869, an Orthodox Priest may conduct the funeral for a non-Orthodox person if no clergyman of their denomination is available and if requested by the family of the deceased.

Return to Topics Index, click here.

VI. Cremation

  1. 1. Mindful of the fact that the human body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, cremation is not permitted. In addition the body of the deceased must not be violated in any way but must be allowed to return to its natural elements in a normal way.
    1. a. The Priest shall not conduct a funeral service if the body is cremated prior to, or will be cremated after, the funeral.
    2. b. In the event that the family is insistent upon cremation, the following guidelines shall apply:
      1. (1) No funeral service in the Church (Temple), nor in any other location, is permitted.
      2. (2) A Trisagion Service may be celebrated for the forty-day Memorial at the church.

Return to Topics Index, click here.

VII. Suicide

  1. 1. Willfully committing suicide indicates loss of patience, faith, and hope in God; it is an unforgivable sin because it is basically a person’s rejection of the life given to him by the Holy Spirit.
    1. a. The Priest shall not celebrate a funeral service if the person committed suicide.
      1. (1) The Trisagion Service for the dead may be recited, at the funeral home.
    2. b. If a physician certifies in writing that the person had lost his/her sanity, the Metropolitan may authorize a funeral after this certificate has been received at the Metropolis Office.

Return to Topics Index, click here.

VIII. Autopsies and Medical Research

  1. 1. Whenever medical necessity requires an autopsy of the deceased, the Priest should verify wherever possible that due respect be accorded to the body, and that the body is not mutilated or vital parts missing.
  2. 2. A body shall not be given strictly for medical research or experimentation.
    1. b. In the event that a body is given over for medical research or experimentation, the following guidelines shall apply:

      1. (1) No funeral service is permitted.
      2. (2) The Trisagion Service for the dead may be recited on the fortieth day.

Return to Topics Index, click here.

IX. Memorial Services and the Trisagion for the Dead

  1. 1. The Trisagion for the Dead is customarily served on the following occasions:
    1. a. At the departure of the soul from the body.
    2. b. The evening of the “wake” before the funeral.
    3. c. On the morning prior to the funeral.
    4. d. On the eighth day after death.
    5. e. On the fortieth day after death; a Memorial Service (Μνυμόσυνον) should, however, be served instead. (Boiled wheat – kolyva – always accompanies a Memorial Service).
    6. f. On the first-year anniversary of death; a Memorial Service (Μνυμόσυνον) should, however, be served instead. (Boiled wheat – kolyva – always accompanies a Memorial Service).
    7. g. On the third-year anniversary of death.
    8. h. On all subsequent Saturdays of All Souls.
  2. 2. The Memorial Service (Μνυμόσυνον) is normally served on the four Saturdays of all Souls (Ψυχοσάββατον); i.e.:
    1. a. The Saturday before Meatfare Sunday
    2. b. The Saturday before Cheesefare Sunday
    3. c. The Saturday before the First Sunday of Lent (which has evolved into a Ψυχοσάββατον, although it is the day celebrating of the Feast of Saint Theodore the Recruit and the miracle of the wheat wrought through his intercessions).
    4. d. The Saturday before Pentecost.
  3. 3. Although Saturdays throughout the year are normally designated for the commemoration of the departed souls, a Memorial Service (Μνυμόσυνον) or a Trisagion for the Dead may be served whenever appropriate according to the judgment of the priest, in response to the expectations of the faithful.
  4. 4. When a Memorial (Μνυμόσυνον) is served, – other than on the four Saturdays of all Souls – it begins with four Evlogitaria for the Deceased (Τῶν Ἁγίων ὁ χορός..., Ἀνάπαυσον, ὁ Θεὸς..., Δόξα..., Τὸ τριλαμπὲς..., Καὶ νῦν..., Χαῖρε σεμνή...) and the Hymn “Μετὰ τῶν Ἁγίων...” followed by the Troparia commencing “Μετὰ πνευμάτων δικαίων...”
  5. 5. When a Trisagion is served it begins with the Troparion, “Μετὰ πνευμάτων δικαίων...” when it is held at the end of the Divine Liturgy; otherwise it begins with “Εὐλογητὸς ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν...”
  6. 6. Kolyva (boiled wheat) shall always be placed in front of the Icon of Christ at a Memorial Service (Μνυμόσυνον).
    1. a. If no Kolyva is prepared the Memorial Service (Μνυμόσυνον) shall not be served, but rather a Trisagion Service.
    2. b. If Kolyva is prepared the Trisagion Service shall not be served, but rather a Memorial Service (Μνυμόσυνον).
  7. 7. The Memorial Service (Μνυμόσυνον) is never permitted between Palm Sunday and the Sunday of Saint Thomas, inclusive. If necessary, the Trisagion for the dead may be recited at the cemetary or at the home of the deceased.

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  1. 1. Whenever an individual dies, the Priest shall complete the Form “Δήλωσις Ἀποβίσεως – Death Report” (click here) and submit it to the Metropolis Office.
  2. 2. All deaths shall be recorded in the appropriate Parish Register.
  3. 3. The parish may wish to make a photostat copy of the “Δήλωσις Ἀποβίσεως – Death Report” (click here) for its local records.

Return to Topics Index, click here.

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