Friday, 5 April 2013

A Russian Orthodox Funeral

Today we went to a Russian Orthodox funeral.  Nothing to do with creativity, but as not many people I know would have been to one, I thought I would try to describe it as best I could, as it is quite different from the norm here in Australia.

The funeral was held in the Russian Orthodox cathedral in Strathfield, the church of St Peter & St Paul.  This is the oldest Russian Orthodox church in Sydney (there are five or six others), and is in the suburb which is traditionally the centre of the Russian population in Sydney.  It is quite a simple church, which was opened in 1954.  Externally, it has a bell tower with a small domed cupola on it, a much larger, central domed cupola, and a small domed cupola over the porch which shields impressive double timber doors. 

Inside there is a choir stall on a mezzanine level at the rear of the church, and a carved timber reredos decorated with icons behind the altar.  The walls are hung with icons of all descriptions.  In Russian Orthodoxy, it is customary to own an icon, which should be situated in a corner of the main room in the house high on the wall (so that the Lord can look over & after you), and it should have a small oil lamp or candle in front of it.  The candle should never be allowed to die out.  You are not supposed to dispose of an icon as it is a holy article, so if a person has no one to whom to leave their icon, it is often donated to the church. 

There are no pews in the church.  You are supposed to stand for the entire duration of a service, which for a funeral is roughly an hour long.  There are benchs on each side of the church and at the rear for the elderly and infirm to sit on if they need to, however, it is deemed shameful, and almost everyone stands.

Today, the priest wore a long black cassock with a cross on a chain around his neck, and a rich gold stole worn around his neck, falling to about his knees. Russian Orthodox priests generally don't shave, so have long beards.  Unusually, Father George the senior priest, only has a short beard.

The service was chanted throughout, with the choir taking up the chant as soon as the priest left off.  He also uses insence, which he swung over the coffin and all around the altar.  The smoke of burning incense is interpreted by the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Christian churches as a symbol of the prayer of the faithful rising to heaven.  The casket was in the centre aisle of the church, and open.  At the end of the service, it is customary to go up to the coffin, make a short prayer and kiss the deceased.

The wake was in the church hall at the side of the church, and, because it is still only the second week of lent, the meal was very simple, was vegan (no meat, eggs or dairy products), pirog (pie) with either cabbage or mushroom fillings, and pechenii (pastries) either apricot or cherry.  Drinks were tea, coffee, orange juice or water.

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