Friday, December 05, 2008

Funeral Orders and Offices of the Byzantine Rite

With the recent death of Patriarch Alexy II of the Russian Orthodox Church, it struck me that while we have often spoken upon the Requiem liturgy of the Roman rite, we have never spoken -- to my recollection -- upon the liturgy of the Dead on any of the Eastern liturgical traditions. To that end, I asked one reader very knowledgeable in the Byzantine liturgical tradition to summarize this for NLM readers. Anonymity was requested.

Funeral Orders and Offices of the Byzantine Rite
Anonymous, for the New Liturgical Movement

The funeral orders and offices of the Byzantine or Constantinopolitan rite are particularly rich in a theology that is embedded in the paschal mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. There are various orders and offices depending on the state of life of each particular Christian. What follows is only a basic outline and is far from complete.

If at all possible before the death of any person when they are in extremis the "Canon of Supplication to Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Most Holy Theotokos" is read at the parting of the soul from the body. The Great Euchologion or Great Book of Needs (similar to the Rituale Romanum) is the source for these orders and offices. Upon death a Prayer of Absolution at Death is read followed by The Office at the Departure of the Soul from the Body. The body is then prepared for burial.

Preparation and Clothing of the Body

The body of a layman is washed with water, clothed in usual clothing, and in some places covered with a white shroud signifying the baptismal garment.

The body of a deacon is also washed with water and then fully vested, with a censer laid in the right hand.

The body of a priest or bishop is not washed with water, but is wiped with olive oil by means of a sponge. This is done by priests or deacons. The body is then fully vested according to rank. Strictly speaking the body should be vested in new light coloured vestments but it is not infrequent to vest it in dark vestments, especially among the Byzantine rite Catholics.

The face of a priest or bishop is covered with an aer (this is a large veil used to cover the diskos and chalice at the Divine Liturgy). In the right hand of the priest or bishop is placed a hand cross, and a Gospel Book is laid on the breast.

When a dead bishop is vested, the protodeacon recites the vesting prayers and censes as at a pontifical Divine Liturgy. This is accompanied with the ripidia (sacramental fans) and trikerion and dikerion (triple and double candlesticks used by bishops for blessings). The deceased bishop is set in a chair (cathedra), and then he laid on a bier and his face is covered with an aer. A cantor/reader is vested in the sticharion (alb) and a subdeacon in sticharion and orarion (stole).

The bodies of monastics (monks and nuns) are not washed but wiped with water “making first with a sponge the sign of the cross on the forehead of the departed, then on the chest, the hands, the feet, the knees, but nowhere else.” He is clothed in the monastic habit and the body is laid on the mantiya (a monastic cloak) which is cut into strips and wrapped about the body to make three crosses, one at the head, the second at the breast, and the third at the knees.

Procession of the Body to the Church

After the body has been prepared, there is a short requiem and then a procession of the body to the church, and after the body has been placed in the church there begins a continual reading of the gospels over priests and bishops, and for deacons, subdeacons, readers/cantors, and monastics who were neither bishops or priests, and the laity, the reading of the psalter.

The Great Book of Needs contains the All-Night Vigil for the Departed. This is an aggregate of Vespers and Matins. The propers for this are specific to death: "By Thy death Thou didst break the gates and bars of death, O Immortal One. By the prayers of Thy passion bearers, O Master, do Thou open the gates of immortality that are beyond comprehension, unto them that have fallen asleep." (Ode 1 of the Canon). This office might be taken on the evening before the funeral.

The funeral orders vary depending upon the state in life of the reposed. There are separate offices or orders of burial for infants, laity, monks/nuns, priests/bishops. The funeral for deacons, subdeacons, and readers/cantors follows that of the laity. The funeral for hieromonks (priests who are monastics) and bishops who are monastics could be either from the order for priests or for monastics. There are also special orders during the Paschal season.

The order for the funeral is similar to Byzantine Matins. The body of the reposed lies in the nave of the church, with the feet to the East. This is the position for both clergy and laity. (Some Byzantine rite Catholics in imitation of the Roman rite place the head of priests to the East.)

Order of the Burial of a Layman

- Psalm 90 (the Septuagint)
- The 1st Stasis with Alleluia (1st part of Psalm 118)
- The Little Litany for the Departed (incense is offered at the litanies as the body is censed)
- The 2nd Stasis with Alleluia (2nd part of Psalm 118)
- The Little Litany for the Departed
- The 3rd Stasis (3rd part of Psalm 118)
- The Evlogitaria of the Departed (the entire church is censed by the priest)
- The Little Litany for the Departed
- Psalm 50
- Canon of the Departed (canons are based on biblical odes with propers) with Little Litanies
- The idiomela of John the Monk sung in 8 tones
- The Beatitudes with propers
- The Prokeimenon (Gradual)
- 1 Thess. 4:13-17
- Alleluia with verses (small censing)
- John 5:24-30
- Litany for the Departed
- Stikera (propers) for the Last Kiss (while these are sung, all come to kiss the reposed)
- The Dismissal and Prayer of Absolution

At the Gravesite:

The remains are brought to the grave while the Trisagion is sung.

At the grave a short requiem is sung as the body of the reposed is lowered, feet to the East, and the priest taking a shovelful of dirt, casts it crosswise upon the remains saying: "The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof, the world and all that dwell therein." And after this the priests pours oil from a shrine lamp over the remains, or scatters ashes out of the censer over them during which the short requiem is sung. The deacon intones: "Grant rest eternal in blessed repose, O Lord, unto Thy servant, N., who has fallen asleep, and make his (her) memory to be eternal." And they sing: Memory Eternal. There is a special ringing of bells, the Perebor, where the bells are rung from the smallest to the largest, symbolizing a person’s growth, then, all the bells are rung together signifying that earthly life is stopped by death. "In truth all things are vanity, and life is but a shadow and a dream, for vainly everyone born on earth troubles himself, as Scripture says. When we have acquired the world, then do we take up our abode in the grave, where kings and beggars are together. Therefore, O Christ God, give rest unto Thy servant, as Thou art the Lover of Mankind." (Sedalen Ode 3 of the Canon)

Order of a Funeral for a Priest or Bishop

- Psalm 90
- The 1st Stasis with Alleluia
- The Little Litany for the Departed
- The 2nd Stasis with Alleluia
- The Little Litany for the Departed
- The 3rd Stasis
- The Evlogitaria of the Departed
- The Little Litany for the Departed
- Antiphon I
- Prokeimenon
- 1 Thess. 4:13-17
- Alleluia with verses (a small censing at each)
- John 5:24-30
- Prayer and Sedalen Hymn
- Psalm 22 with Alleluia
- Troparion: Forasmuch as we all…
- Prokeimenon
- Rom. 5:12-21
- Alleluia with verses
- John 5:17-24
- Prayer
- Antiphon II
- Psalm 23 with Alleluia
- Prokeimenon
- 1 Cor. 15:1-11
- Alleluia with verses
- John 6:35-39
- Prayer
- Antiphon III
- Psalm 83 with Alleluia and Troparia (propers)
- Prokeimenon
- 1 Cor. 15:20-28
- Alleluia with verses
- John 6:40-44
- The Beatitudes with propers
- Prokeimenon
- Rom. 14:6-9
- Alleluia with verses
- John 6:48-54
- Psalm 50
- The Canon of the Departed (the verses are particular to priests)
- An Exapostilarion for the Departed
- The Praises with propers: Psalms 148, 149, 150
- The Small Doxology: Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will…
- Stikera (24 in all) in eight sets according to the Eight Tones
- Psalm 91
- Litany for the Departed
- Stikera for the Last Kiss
- Dismissal and Prayer of Absolution

At the Gravesite:

The remains are brought to the grave with the singing of the Irmosi of the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete.

The body of a deceased priest is usually carried around the church in which he served before it is brought to the cemetery, and so likewise for a bishop, although for a bishop a short requiem is served at the four compass points. The service at the grave for priests and bishops is similar to that of the laity.

Possibly, these words from the Stikera of the Last Kiss exemplify the Byzantine rite attitude to life and death: "Beholding me voiceless and deprived of breath, weep for me, O brethren and friends, kinsmen and acquaintances. For yesterday I conversed with you, and suddenly the dread hour of death came upon me. But come, all you that love me, and kiss me with the last kiss. For no more will I walk with you or converse with you. For I depart unto the Judge with Whom there is no respect of persons. For slave and master stand together before Him, king and warrior, rich and poor, in equal worthiness; for each, according to his deeds, is glorified or put to shame. But I beg and entreat you all, that you pray without ceasing unto Christ God for me, that I not be brought down unto the place of torment according to my sins, but that He will appoint me to the place where is the light of life."

The Funeral Offices and the Divine Liturgy

Strictly speaking according to the Typikon (the ordo) if Divine Liturgy is served, it is served before the Funeral Office. The Funeral Office should take place on the third day of death. On the ninth day of death and on the fortieth day a Parastas (the structure and prayers are similar to the Burial for a Layman as above up to and including the Canon followed by a small requiem) is served. Then yearly, on the day of death a Parastas is served. As one might imagine, the Parastas or Panykhyda is frequently served. At these services bread or boiled wheat is offered and shared among the mourners. It is a symbol of that grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies, and then brings forth life a hundred fold. It reminds us that we must die to the old self, the old Adam, to be alive in the new Adam, to be alive in Christ.

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