Russian Orthodox Funeral

Yesterday I went to my friend Nina’s mother’s funeral. I’ d not ever been in a Russian Orthodox church before, everything about the inside is foreign to a person coming from the Anglican tradition.

Church of Mary Magdalene – Mountain of Olives - flickr creative commons – Checco

Icons of saints decorated the pillars that hold up the roof. Candles can be offered at each icon. I was luck enough to arrive early and Father Nicholas showed me a little about the features of the church. For the first time in my life I saw saints’ relics.

The church did not have pews that I’m use to. The congregation stands, a few chairs are available for those who need them. Prior to the service starting every member of the congregation were given a candle, at the start the priest lit his candle, then used his candle to light those of the grieving family members, then they lit those of people adjacent to them and around the gathered people. The service consists of chanted prayers (in Russian and English) and musical chants. The congregation do not join in, except with the occasional crossing.

Icon, woman praying – from flickr creative commons – Boris SV

The casket is open and the priest often swung the incense holder over it. There is no eulogy, I asked Father Nicholas about this later and he said the orthodox tradition regards the prayers as more important than an eulogy, the service could be considered more important for the dead than the living. It was a sending on the way rather than a celebration of the life of Lidia.

At the end of the service, the family and several members of the congregation came forward for a final farewell, kissing or looking closely at Lidia’s remains. A signal from the family and the lid was put on and the casket wheeled from the church.

The heavens opened at the burial, the priest said it was a blessing from God, one of the congregation said God was crying tears for Lidia. By the time we got back to Nina and Irene’s house the weather had cleared.

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