Funeral Etiquette for a Greek Orthodox Church

Candles burning within a church congregation.

When you live in an area as diverse as Astoria and Greater Queens, you run into people every from different cultures, backgrounds, and faith traditions. In our work at Farenga Funeral Home, Gus Antonopoulos and our staff are deeply knowledgeable about the different religious customs when it comes to funerals, cremation, and burial. It’s important to us to be able to help all our neighbors plan the farewells they want and deserve. This includes our Greek Orthodox friends, who have traditions all their own.

Gottesdienst in der KircheGreek Orthodox Church members believe that death – what they refer to as “falling asleep” – isn’t the end. They believe life is everlasting, and that the soul is reunited with the body and with Christ. This provides hope in the midst of loss.

If you were to attend a funeral at a Greek Orthodox Church, what should you expect? Those attending dress in dark, modest clothing. Typically, men wear suits and women wear dresses, as the church encourages everyone to cover their arms and legs.

A traditional Greek Orthodox funeral includes five parts, beginning with a brief prayer service, or Trisagion, typically held the night before the funeral. An Orthodox priest may preside over the service, and friends and family are often invited to speak about their loved one who died.

The following day, the funeral service takes place at the funeral home or the church. An open casket is present, facing east in accordance with the tradition that when Christ was born the guiding star was in the east. Guests can greet the family and offer condolences. Those within the church may kiss an icon or cross that rests on the person who died, or give a farewell kiss called the “The Kiss of Peace and Anointing.” This is not expected of those who are not Greek Orthodox.

A priest will then lead a service featuring hymns, prayers, Bible readings, and a sermon. Guests actively participate and can expect a call-and-response format for certain prayers. After the service, loved ones will accompany the person who died to the cemetery for a Trisagion service at the grave site. Flowers are often distributed, and each guest may place a flower on the casket at the end of the service.

Afterwards, family and friends gather for a luncheon, also called a makaria or mercy meal. It’s typical for fish to be served as a main course, as it is an ancient Christian symbol. During the meal, stories and memories are shared.

The following Sunday, the first of several memorial services is held as a time to gather and grieve as a community. Other services occur 40 days and one year after death.

Do you have more questions about the funerals or the services we offer? Or are you interested in putting your own funeral arrangements in place? Don’t hesitate to contact us anytime. We are here for you, ready to help your family however we can.