Greek Orthodox Funeral Traditions: A Guide

An introduction, if you need one.

Greek Orthodox Funeral Traditions: A Guide

Attending a Greek funeral service soon? Not quite sure what to expect? In this guide, we’ve got you covered. We’ll touch on everything from Greek Orthodox beliefs surrounding death and dying, funeral traditions and etiquette (so you don’t feel uncomfortable or awkward), and traditional ways of expressing emotions and condolences.

What are Greek Orthodox beliefs around death and dying?

The Greek Orthodox believe that a soul and body are separated at a person’s time of death. This means that when the body is returned to the earth and decomposes, its soul remains in existence (it doesn’t ‘die’ or ‘return to heaven’ like the body).

People of the Greek Orthodox faith don’t cremate the bodies of their loved ones either. They believe that with the coming of Christ, the body will be resurrected and come back together with the soul – they will then be together forever (awww).

This belief isn’t too dissimilar from the Jewish faith. They too believe that the soul lives on after a person dies.

Greek Orthodox pre-funeral rituals

The Greek Orthodox community is typically a tight-knit one. When a Greek Orthodox friend (or family member) passes away, you can expect to encounter a group of people who will ensure they’re present to support grieving friends and family.

When someone of Greek Orthodox faith dies, the family of the deceased will:

  • Notify their priest and relevant funeral home
  • Meet with the priest to plan the funeral and prayer services
  • Contact the funeral home to inform them of funeral and burial plans (after speaking with their priest)
  • Write an obituary to be shared in a local newspaper, detailing the funeral and prayer service(s) dates and times

The family will also bathe and clothe the body immediately after their loved one has passed away. A priest is usually present for this. Once the body has been cleaned and dressed, it will be placed into a casket. The priest will then bless the casket with holy water.

Some families choose to have the funeral home prepare the body so they don’t have to – which makes sense, given the preparation of a deceased body for burial can be confronting for many.

Panikhida: Three-day wake

Once the body has been cleaned, clothed and blessed, the priest will lead a prayer service called the Panikhida. This marks the commencement of a three-day wake where family and friends recite the Book of Psalms.

The Trisagion service

Immediately after a person dies – or the night before their funeral – the priest will perform a prayer service called a Trisagion. This prayer service can also occur at the gravesite, and on memorial days that the church might choose to set.

The first Trisagion service can be held at the home of the deceased or at the funeral home, and is formatted as a call-and-response. All family members and any church community members who are hoping to pay their respects to the bereaved, can attend the Trisagion.

How to prepare for a Greek Orthodox funeral

According to Greek Orthodox law, cremation is not allowed. The Greek Orthodox Church believes in resurrection of the body, and so cremation is actually viewed as a sin. That means you can expect to attend a burial for the deceased.

A Greek Orthodox funeral service will usually include a wake, followed by a funeral mass in a church. During the service, the family members will recite readings and some of them might serve as pallbearers.

The eulogy and prayers will then be recited by a priest.

The order of Greek Orthodox funeral services

Now that we’ve given you a brief overview of all-things Greek Orthodox funeral services, here’s the order they’ll usually occur in:

  1. Trisagion
  2. Wake
  3. Church service
  4. Burial

Screenshot it. Memorise it. Those four steps are what you can expect when you attend a Greek Orthodox funeral.

Greek Orthodox funeral traditions

There are a range of traditions the Greek Orthodox community will likely uphold when grieving a loved one. We’ve listed some of them below – but it’s important to ask your friend, family member or other service attendees what might be appropriate. While some families and community members opt for certain traditions, others might choose not to.

Clothing etiquette

It’s appropriate to dress in dark, formal and modest clothing. Some men may choose to wear suits, and women often wear dresses. Men and women are encouraged to cover their arms and legs – so remaining modest is key.

Greetings

Greeting the grieving family is an important tradition amongst the Greek Orthodox. It’s recommended to do this after the burial service – either at the funeral home, or at the luncheon (called the Makaria) that typically follows the funeral.

Approaching the casket

Some funeral-goers will approach the casket to say their goodbyes at the conclusion of the church service. You might even notice others bowing and kissing the cross or object(s) on the casket itself.

Stand throughout the service

While there will likely be pews present, the congregation will stand throughout the full funeral and church service. The elderly and those who might find standing for long periods of time challenging can absolutely sit during the service.

Recording the service

It’s important to keep your phone hidden during the funeral service – in fact, we’d recommend leaving it behind in the car or switching it to ‘silent’ mode and storing it in a pocket or bag. Recording the service isn’t deemed appropriate, and there’s nothing more awkward than a phone ringing mid-eulogy.

The mourning period

The family of the deceased will usually take a week off from work, after their loved one dies. Community members, family and friends are invited to visit them for short stints, and they’ll often bring food along to ensure the family are well cared for during the mourning period.

Candles and incense might be lit to signify the presence of a loved one, and the bereaved are encouraged to pray and reflect.

A commemoration service will usually take place one week after the person has died, and then they’ll recur after 40 days and then again at the 1-year mark.

Wrap up

Every religion and culture has a range of traditions they follow and services they attend after a person has died. If you’re attending a Greek Orthodox funeral for the first time, our big recommendations would be to dress modestly, greet the family and offer condolences, and follow the congregation’s lead when attending a service.


Interested in learning about other funeral traditions? We’ve written a range of informative guides to get you started:

And if you’re ready to take the guesswork out of your own funeral when your time comes, you can start pre-planning your funeral with Willed.

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