Greek Orthodox Funeral Traditions

Written by rebecca mayglothling
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Greek Orthodox Funeral Traditions
The Greek Orthodox church holds funerals under traditional Greek practices. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

The Greek Orthodox church, formed in 1054, was a merger of the Catholic and Orthodox churches in Greece. The Orthodox church proceeded to split, however, and each section followed the traditions of its founders. Therefore, the Greeks continued to follow Greek patterns, despite being part of the Catholic church. Greek funerals are held in the tradition of Greek beliefs.

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Body Preparation

Traditionally, the women of the deceased's family clean and prepare the body for the funeral. While this practice still occurs in rural Greek villages, Greek-Americans leave the task to a professional embalmer. The women caring for the deceased symbolise the role of the Greek woman in caring for all things in the home, including birth and death.

Viewing Services

Viewing services occur within the funeral. Greeks do not offer calling hours; instead, the community is invited to an hour-long funeral. The casket is typically open and Greeks are invited to kiss a cross or other religious symbol placed on the chest of the deceased. Non-Greeks are welcomed and are expected to participate in Greek prayers and song in honour of the funeral. The family is greeted with the phrase, "Memory Eternal."


The priest overseeing the funeral reads from the Divine Liturgy. This Orthodox holy book contains prayers and dialogue for different life situations. The priest recites selected passages from the book. It is unlikely in traditional Greek funerals that the family would help select readings, although modern Greek-American families sometimes take on this role.

Traditional and Modern Dress

Traditionally, female mourners wear black for a period of three years. Greek-American women wear black for a year in mourning while rural Greek women continue the old traditions. Men wear a black armband for a period of 40 days in mourning, both in traditional Greece and in modern-day America.

The Aftermeal and Memorials

The aftermeal is hosted by the family of the deceased. The close family and friends of the deceased are invited back to the family home for a full meal with meats, leafy side dishes and desserts. The atmosphere is light, as this meal represents the transition from religious mourning to reminiscence. Memorials are held for 40 days following the funeral, then annually thereafter. Close friends and family are invited to the annual memorial ceremonies.

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