The Greek government has been the cause of several recent scandals, including an attack on religious education, and notably the legalization of gay civil parternships just days before the great feast of the Nativity of Christ. The country has also been involved in an ongoing struggle over the issue of cremation. The city of Athens recently put out an invitation for bids for a building to house the first crematorium, and the western port city of Patra is now planning the same. Thankfully, through all these troubles, hierarchs of the Church of Greece have raised their voices and proclaimed the eternal truths of Orthodox Christianity.
In regards to this latest battle over the dignity of the human body, Met. Seraphim of Piraeus, ever-faithful and never fearful to boldly stand for Orthodox salvific truths, has released a missive to his diocese, published on the website of the Monastery of the Pantacrator near Thessaloniki, explaining the Orthodox respect for the body, and the Church's consequent stand against cremation. Given the firmness of Orthodox conviction on the matter, Met. Seraphim declares that neither funeral nor memorial service be permitted in his diocese for one who has chosen cremation for himself.
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It is a known fact that certain indigenous circles of internationalist mockery, who, ignoring the long-standing Christian tradition of our spotless faith have been penetrating every form of mass media and through them, the conscience of contemporary man, poisoning it and buckling the foundations of the faith. As such, the indifference regarding the faith and Christian traditions, under the influence of the aforementioned, is putting down roots in the morally listless and religiously sick consciences.
Having perceived the signs of the times, and the twists and turns of those moving suspiciously against Her, and in order to safeguard Orthodox tradition today now that the procedure of cremation of the deceased is being fully materialized and suitably prepared, our Holy Church, as a caring mother, has enlightened Her Christ-named flock in an appropriate manner (with Her Encyclical No. 2959/29.10.2014), for the instruction of the saints and the edification of the Body of Christ—per the God-inspired words of the Apostle Paul (Eph. 4:12)—and has stressed to Her members the spiritual dimensions and consequences of such a choice in the spiritual life of the faithful, by having rejected the cremation of the deceased as an act that is incompatible to Her tradition, thus demarcating Her faith and Her respect for the human person, and by extension, for the human body, which is a temple and a dwelling of the Most Holy Spirit.
Pursuant to the government’s proposal per Article 21 “Choice of burial place” in the Legislative Plan titled “Measures for the acceleration of the Governmental opus and other provisions,” whereby, through the generalized formulation of the provision it becomes compulsory to respect the wish of the deceased either for an ecclesiastical funeral service and in special cases for the cremation of their body, we would detail the following: the human body is an icon of the immortal soul and a projection of eternity in this world. The burning of the body constitutes an iconoclastic act, which offends the faith in the eternality of the Church. The process of a body’s deterioration should be a natural one, and never forced. Nature undertakes the deterioration of the body. Burning it is perpetrating an act of violence on the body. The experience of the Church, which originates from the honoring of holy relics, demonstrates that relics are spiritually alive, which is why the Church regards burial as an eternal value, whereas cremation is not regarded as a personal right for the faithful members of the Church, inasmuch as it is considered a clearly nihilistic act that denotes the end of a person, whereas, to the contrary, burial marks the hope and expectation of the Resurrection.
Regardless of the arguments it may be based on, the cremation of the deceased resides outside Orthodox truth which has been defined by the Apostolic word:
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. It [the body] is sown in corruption, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in strength; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written: “The first man, Adam, was made a living soul;” the last Adam [Christ] became a life-giving Spirit (1 Cor.15: 42-45).
With the cremation of the deceased, society has subscribed to its nullification. What kind of relationship can a society have with Life when a society does not accept man in his sickness, his weakness and his death; when a society incinerates its dead; when a society destroys the remembrance of their lives and the reminder to Her members; when a society regards man’s beginning an artificial and selective one and his death a final and irrevocable one; when a society denies the breath of the eternal and entraps itself in the asphyxiation of the ephemeral? There have been atheists who have sought to preserve their societies’ memory of their terrestrial “gods,” by actually embalming their bodies, as in the cases of Lenin and Mao Zedong.
The result of humanism without God, of civilization without values, of nihilism without a purpose, and the result of atheism’s confusion, has been the riddance of the person—the incineration of even the last vestige of him. The cremation of the deceased leads to the cremation of human dignity. Most assuredly, the re-kindling of the entire matter through the relevant Legislative Plan will lead to an attempt to gradually deaden people’s sensor of faith.
The meaning of “eternity” is being distanced from our life experience. Every single thing that reminds one of it and discreetly underlines it is gradually becoming undesirable to accept and bothersome in practice. A contemporary thinker has asserted in an article of his—with regard to the anti-metaphysical furor which we are observing—that the professed, modernizing mentality of recent years is an “anti-metaphysical, monomaniacal complex” seated within a “tortuous psychological insecurity.”
Practical and the utilitarian perceptions have prevailed and have numbed the spiritual and experiential dimensions of events. The true and the beautiful have become subjugated to the nakedness and the harshness of rationalistic practice.
The detailed reference by the four Evangelists on the interment of our Lord’s Body also proves its importance in an undeniable manner.
The same is observed in the hymnography and the hymnology for the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, for Basil the Great, Venerable Ephraim, the Holy Martyrs—and naturally for all the faithful—in the sublime funeral services.
Celebrations for the translation of precious relics and the Tradition and experience of the Church are unshakeable proofs of the respect shown to the human body which comprises a human being’s one hypostasis. As such, incineration of that body is evidence of a latent disdain for it and disbelief in the resurrection of dead bodies, an anti-Christian belief in the transmigration of souls, or the denial altogether of the existence of the soul. Consequently, our holy Church is justified in proclaiming that the incineration of the deceased body is an actual denial of the Resurrection and a provocative proclamation of a nihilistic bent.
The funeral service is inextricably linked to the visible presence of the human body, not a heap of ashes. All of the troparia hymns speak of the “reposed” or “asleep” person, not an incinerated one, when bidding them the last farewell, and when burying their body, not ashes. Hence it is easily educed that it is not possible to perform a funeral service, either prior to a cremation, or after it, given that in the former case a burial will not follow, and in the latter, there will be no body to bury.
Uninfluenced by the secular spirit, the Church will continue to inter and bury the bodies of Her faithful, which may well also be relics, given that the incorruptibility of relics and their potential to work miracles are both proof of man’s theosis, as the grace of God can also permeate the entire human body.
The choice to cremate is a sin, and is proof of an erroneous relationship with the Church. Every deviation from Her teaching is an alienation from the grace of the living God. For those who choose cremation of their dead body—and moreso with a public statement of disbelief in eternal life, or with disrespect and disregard for the Church—we are justified in asserting that there is absolutely no reason for the celebrating of a funeral service or a memorial supplication, because the Church is obliged to respect the rejection of Her teaching by the deceased himself, and not the relatives’ possible desire (usually for social reasons) to hold a funeral or memorial service.
These services presuppose faith and hope in the afterlife by the deceased and his respect for the Church. Services are not held for social purposes; they entail prayers and extensive supplications before God by the Church, who expresses Her love for the departed person as faith in the Lord, as hope for salvation, as desire for his partaking in the resurrection for eternity, and as Her petition for the forgiveness of his sins by the Lord.
How can we chant “Blessed is the path that you walk on …” to someone who declares faith in his post-mortem nonexistence?
Consequently, it is impermissible for our Most Holy Church to diminish the absolute character of this teaching of Hers, given that any possible related act would weaken Her relationship with the Truth.
Accordingly, in our God-saved Metropolis and with absolute respect—both towards the free choice of free persons, but also towards the commandments and the dogmas of our Most Holy Church—we hereby make known to everyone that we will not be permitting the performing of funeral or memorial services to whoever wittingly chooses the cremation of his body, thus, in effect, denying the Resurrection of the dead. This is the most silencing response to all the sycophantic rumors that the Church’s negative stance supposedly involves financial reasons.
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Translation by A.N.