But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those
who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For
if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with
Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the
Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will
by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend
from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the
trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are
alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to
meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore
comfort one another with these words. (1 Thess. 4:13-18)
The Church has no specific rules determining the length of time between
death and the burial. Interment varies according to the climate, civil
ordinances, customs, and circumstances, and may be held immediately following
death, or after a number of days.
The hour of interment is also not fixed; it may be at any time during the
day to accord with cemetery regulations and parish needs.
It is assumed that, unless the death was an accidental or untimely one,
the priest has been ministering to an aging person, or one suffering from
some ailment or sickness, and has prepared the person for death through
participation in the Mysteries of Penance and Holy Eucharist.
The priest should read the Prayers at the Departing of a Soul and passages
from Holy Scripture. Merely to be present at the bedside of one’s spiritual
child and not minister with audible prayer is unworthy of the priesthood.
If the priest was not at the bedside of the dying parishioner at the time
of death, he must make contact with the family, offering to assist them
through the time of grieving and mourning.
The Service for the Departed (panikhida) is sung on the eve of the
burial whether the body is in the temple, funeral home, or elsewhere.
The body of the departed may be brought into the temple at any time prior
to the time of the Funeral Service, whether days before or on the day thereof.
According to traditional practice, the casket is open from the first Service
for the Department (panikhida) until the conclusion of the Funeral
Service. The deceased is made in the image and likeness of God; the physical
body is not to be shunned or rejected because it is in an altered state.
To view the body at the funeral home but not in the church is illogical.
The casket is positioned so that the feet of the departed are toward the
iconostasis. Thus, the person, if alive, would be standing facing the Holy
The Funeral Service is usually served in the temple on the day of the burial.
The Divine Liturgy may be celebrated on the day of the Funeral Service.
This takes place before the Funeral Service. Celebration of the Divine
Liturgy is precluded during the Great Fast when the weekday liturgy is
The Funeral Service and burial is generally not officiated on Sunday or
Pascha. If the Funeral Service is scheduled for Monday, the body may be
brought into the temple only after the service of Vespers on Sunday evening.
There may be circumstances for which immediate burial may be necessary,
and in this case pastoral discretion is to be used.
Between the day of Pascha and the Sunday of St. Thomas, the Funeral Service
follows the Typicon for these specific days of celebration.
An Orthodox clergyman may not take part in a service for a non-Orthodox
deceased person even if that person is related to a parishioner. If invited,
however, he may offer some words of consolation at the graveside or funeral
Non-Orthodox clergy may not be invited to participate in the Funeral Service
or offer any form of homily or public statement in the temple, or participate
in the graveside service. The officiating priest, however, cannot control
what takes place after the Orthodox service of burial has been concluded
in a public cemetery.
Prayers for the dead are usually offered immediately after the burial at
the memorial meal, on the third, ninth and fortieth day after death, and
every year thereafter.
Saturday is the usual day for a memorial service. It can be scheduled immediately
before the Vigil or Vesper Service. In this way, the prayers for forgiveness
and repose preceding these services are illumined through the proclamation
of the Lord’s Resurrection in the hymns that are sung in the following
However, the Service for the Departed (panikhida) may be served
after the Sunday Divine Liturgy if the hierarch has given his blessing
for this to take place at that time.
The Church has set aside definite days on which remembrance of the dead
should take place. Among these are Meatfare Saturday, the second, third
and fourth Saturdays of the Great Fast, the Saturday preceding Pentecost,
and St. Demetrius Saturday.
In addition to these specific times, the faithful may have the names of
the deceased remembered at the Proskomede and during the Divine Liturgy.
Memorial services are not permitted on feast days or from the Nativity
of our Lord to Theophany, and from Palm Sunday to the Sunday of St. Thomas.
The rector is responsible for entering into the metrical book the required
information about burials.
B. Non-Orthodox Persons
Membership in the Body of Christ, His Holy Church, is defined by participation
in the Holy Eucharist. Inasmuch as a person, by refusing to partake of
the Divine Body and Blood of Christ during his/her lifetime, has chosen
freely not to be incorporated into the Body of Christ, unless there is
reason to assume that the person has returned to Christ at the end of his/her
earthly existence, that person will not be buried from the temple.
The burial service of such a person should only be a Service for the Departed
(panikhida), including scripture readings for the dead. The priest
may be vested in the epitrachelion.
If a priest is asked to bury a non-Orthodox person, he must consult with
his diocesan hierarch, and with the hierarch’s blessing bury the person
according to the service prescribed in the Book of Needs.
D. Members of Masonic and
Other Secret Fraternal Societies
The act of suicide is a profound tragedy affecting a parish. It necessitates
prayers for forgiveness for the sake of the departed and exhorts the members
of the parish community to repentance and sorrow.
The Orthodox Church normally denies a Church burial to a person who has
committed suicide. However, factors bearing on the particular case may
become known to the priest who must share this information with the diocesan
hierarch; the hierarch will consider the factors and make the decision
concerning Funeral Services.
The Church does not intend to control or prohibit others from executing
particular rites after the Funeral Service which may take place after the
priest leaves the burial site after committing the body to the ground.
If a parish priest is aware that a member of his flock is a Freemason,
he should make it a pastoral concern to speak privately with the person,
showing the incompatibility of Orthodoxy with Freemasonry.
When a communicating member of a parish falls asleep in the Lord and that
person is also a member of one of these societies, the priest will show
love and concern for the deceased. In his counseling of the bereaved family
he must not be hostile, but must inform the family that only the Funeral
Service for an Orthodox Christian will be served.
Patiently and tactfully, and with discretion, he will state that no words
or symbols other than those of the Orthodox faith can be introduced into
the church or the funeral home.
F. Autopsy and Organ Donation
The practice of cremation is not a Christian one and is to be discouraged.
Cremated remains are not to be brought into the temple for a burial service
or for any other reason.
Although cremation is not encouraged, and the Funeral Service over cremated
remains is denied, the remains may be buried only with the hymn Holy
The priest should be sufficiently informed to help guide the faithful in
this area of medical procedure. Some people think that they cannot refuse
an autopsy to be performed on a loved one. No one is obliged to give approval
for this procedure.
Unless there is a specific legal reason, such as determining the cause
of death, an autopsy ought to be avoided. The desire for scientific information
through experimentation is not enough reason to merit an autopsy. Nevertheless,
this is a decision that the family itself must make. The Church is concerned
that respect for the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit be maintained.
Donation of body organ(s) after death may be allowed as long as respectful
care is exercised toward the body before, during, and after the extraction
operation. Care must be taken that the organ(s) are given as a gesture
of altruism, free of any commercial overtones.
The Church does not consider the sharing of organs as a lessening of the
presence of the Holy Spirit in the deceased, or as a transmigration of
part of the donor to the recipient. A healthy person not in expectation
of imminent death may donate non-vital organs as long as his/her quality
and integrity of life is not diminished or endangered.
In the encyclical On Spiritual Life in the Church, a section on the
Temptation of False Ecumenism states that Orthodox Christians must be concerned
about an understanding of ecumenical activity which is wrong: i.e.
To believe that true ecumenism requires us to deny that the fullness
of grace and truth abides in the Orthodox Church; to confess that the Orthodox
faith is partial, incomplete and now without errors; to admit that Christ
Himself is but one of many spiritual teachers in human history, Whose way
is not unique, Whose truth is not perfect, Whose grace is not full, and
Whose life is not eternal and divine.
We see the genuine ecumenical movement as working toward this goal,
i.e., organic Christian unity. We sincerely believe that we fulfill our
ecumenical duty as well as our responsibility as the Episcopate of the
Orthodox Church in America by calling all men to follow the way toward
Christian union and the unity of the Christian Church which can be fruitful
and can lead, by the Grace of God, to some positive results.
(See Christian Unity and Ecumenism, Encyclical Letter,
Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America, 1973.)
On the basis of what we hold in common with non-Orthodox citizens, we may:
• present a common witness to faith in God and defend this wherever
it is threatened or denied,
• support the right of believers to propagate their faith and to conduct
religious education and mission,
• coordinate the possibilities and efforts in the work of serving those
in need of help and assistance, joining with all those who work for the
good of others,
• be united in affirming of the Christian ideal of the human person
as a creature made in the image and likeness of God, and
• work together to support the desire to achieve true Christian unity
in the truth and love of God.
(See Christian Unity and Ecumenism, Encyclical, page
A. Ecumenical Organizations
on Various Levels
B. Lay Participation in Ecumenical
Orthodox participation in Councils of Churches or Ministeriums is acceptable
with the blessing of the diocesan hierarch.
Participation and cooperation in work for the good of society in such areas
as educational opportunities, morality, responsible citizenship, Christian
charity, social services, and other areas of concern to the community are
Educational enrichment of members of a community through seminars, lectures,
cultural programs and the like are beneficial for the better understanding
Orthodox services may be celebrated at which non-Orthodox are present,
i.e., Vespers, Service of Intercession (moleben), etc., but the readings,
hymns, and responses must be led by Orthodox Christians. Non-Orthodox choral
groups may not be invited to give the responses or sing the hymns of the
Although a service of prayer may be tailored for a particular occasion,
it must be clearly demonstrate that it is the prayer of the Orthodox to
God for the spiritual enlightenment and well-being of all the participants.
C. Ecumenical Religious Services
If the laity become involved in ecumenism, they must be well-grounded in
the Orthodox faith and ecclesiology and possess at least a rudimentary
knowledge of comparative theology, discipline, and practice. The parish
priest must inform the faithful in these matters. Ongoing diocesan and
parochial educational programs should be tailored to these needs.
On the local level of ecumenical encounter, it is necessary to state the
difference between dialogue and official representation on behalf of the
Church, and local, informal discussion on various topics and concerns.
Any clergyman or lay person representing the Church in an official capacity
must have the blessing of his/her diocesan hierarch.
Although non-Orthodox clergy may not deliver a sermon in an Orthodox church,
they may be invited to give lectures or presentations in the educational
facilities of the church, In any case, the diocesan hierarch is to be consulted
for his blessing.
With the knowledge and blessing of his diocesan hierarch, an Orthodox clergyman
may deliver a sermon in a non-Orthodox church which will in no way compromise
the tenets of the faith and Orthodox Tradition.
Non-Orthodox clergy present for a liturgical service in an Orthodox church
may be afforded a place of honor in the body of the temple, but not in
the sanctuary or on the cleros.
If a parish sponsors an open house for the local non-Orthodox community,
a non-Eucharistic service, such as Vespers, Matins, or a Service of Intercession
(moleben) may be served. Appropriate explanations for the benefit
of the non-Orthodox guests should be part of the preparations.
If non-Orthodox groups have been invited or make themselves present for
a scheduled service, sufficient time should be devoted to explanation and
orientation prior to the worship service. The distinction between communing
members of the Church and those who are present as guests should be made,
along with an invitation to those present to enter into the spirit of the
Care must be taken to explain liturgical actions, symbols, and terminology
of the Church for they are not always self-evident or immediately understood
The same care should be taken to promote good understanding of what is
being celebrated by explaining the structure of the services and the various
themes being considered and celebrated within its context.
If non-Orthodox are present for the Divine Liturgy, it is prudent to announce
who is permitted to partake of the Eucharist prior to its distribution.
Even after offering this specific information, it should not be presumed
that the guests will necessarily understand or heed it. Therefore, it is
prudent for the priest to ask one or more questions of a person he does
not know to ascertain his/her Orthodox standing.
In any case, the priest is reminded that he is the guardian of the Eucharist.
Deacons who have been given the blessing to distribute the Eucharist to
the faithful must defer to the priest in uncertain situations.
Non-Orthodox clergy present in the church on the occasion of a wedding,
funeral, baptism, or another similar event may not participate in any part
of the service.
However, in the czse of a wedding, non-Orthodox clergy may offer a prayer
or blessing at the reception or at another appropriate time outside the
A non-Orthodox clergyman may offer a prayer at the graveside, as is the
custom pertaining to military honors, American Legion, VFW, or prayers
recited by Union or Fraternal organization representatives. If possible,
these should be scheduled prior to the final Orthodox service of interment.
Ecumenical services are frequently very different from Orthodox services.
Before asking the diocesan hierarch to give his blessing, the Orthodox
participants should review the text of the service so they can determine
whether or not an Orthodox presence might be misconstrued. Mere presence,
without active participation in such a service, may be viewed as an affirmation
of all that is stated, implied, and proclaimed.
If the content of the service compromises or offends the Orthodox faith
or ecclesiology, then there can be no Orthodox participation. For the purpose
of witness, it is necessary to convey to the non-Orthodox precisely and
succinctly why Orthodox participation is not possible.
In the Orthodox tradition, liturgical vestments are worn only when a liturgical
function is being performed. Therefore, liturgical vestments are not
to be worn even when some participation in an ecumenical service is permissible.
Likewise, a priest should dress as he is generally seen by his clerical
peers, wearing a clergy shirt and suit, or cassock, as is his custom.
Orthodox clergy, in the context of ecumenical services, may preach, offer
a prayer in the Orthodox Tradition, and read from Holy Scripture.
An ecumenical service, as such, is not to be conducted in an Orthodox church.
Prior to an Orthodox service being held for the benefit of true ecumenical
witness, and at which there is to be a major attendance by non-Orthodox
clergy and laity, the permission and blessing of the diocesan hierarch
must be secured.
Local Orthodox clergy fellowships, under the guidance of their hierarchs,
should come to a oneness of mind concerning ecumenical activity and uniformity
of practice. These guidelines may be presented as a basis for such activity
and take precedence over local decisions.
The first instance of appeal for priest and parish alike is the district
dean. Depending on the nature of the situation or dispute, the diocesan
hierarch may appoint other clergy to assist the dean in determining action.
For instances involving ecclesiastical court, see Article XI, "Church Courts
and Canonical Procedure," The Statutes of the Orthodox Church in America.
These guidelines apply to attached as well as to assigned clergy. The attached
priest or deacon is one who generally does not have specific responsibilities
in a parish apart from the celebration of Divine Services, and who usually
does not receive remuneration from the parish.
Attached clergy include supply clergy to the deanery or diocese, retired
clergy and those on leaves of absence. Attached clergy do not include those
who have been permanently released from all sacred functions (deposed)
or those under canonical suspension.
Clergy who have been given leaves of absence do not serve in any parish
other than the one to which they have been attached without the express
permission of the diocesan hierarch.
Records and other Ecclesiastical Reports
It is the rector’s responsibility to complete the parish metrical records
and all other ecclesiastical forms or reports that are required by the
Central Church Administration and the diocesan chancery. These are to be
completed in a timely fashion.
All metrical records are the property of the parish and are not to be taken
by the priest in the event he leaves the parish. When a priest transfers
from the parish, he turns the church seal and records over to the district
dean who entrusts them to the newly assigned rector.