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Orthodox Christian Beliefs on Cremation

It is the position of the Orthodox Church that cremation is forbidden for its faithful members. Throughout the centuries, this position was upheld by the Church because it stems from the most fundamental beliefs we have as Orthodox Christians. 

  1. We believe that God became flesh. By assuming human flesh, he wholly sanctified our bodies and it is our task that even in our death we treat our bodies properly knowing that we are dealing with something that is holy and blessed by the Lord who dwelled in human flesh and through that blessed all bodies.
  2. Our body is the instrument by which we partake of God and His energies. Our tongue touches communion, our body is anointed with the holy myrrh, we are baptized and we receive unction and many other blessings through our bodies. 
  3. We believe in the resurrection of the dead. There are early versions of our creed that precisely say that we believe in the resurrection of the body! Knowing that our body will rise and be reconnected to our soul, we treat the body with respect and by doing so we reflect our firm belief in the resurrection. The body is not just a cage for the soul, as the ancient Greeks believed. It is an integral part of our whole being. 

When someone who departs this life, in spite of the council of the Church, decides to be cremated, they remove themselves from the Church and cannot be buried as an Orthodox Christian. Nowadays, memorial services can be allowed with the blessing of the Bishop in cases of unwilling cremation. For example, if you are cremated by your kids but that was not your desire. However, if you are willingly choosing cremation in spite of the word of the priest and the faithful, you remove yourself from the system of belief of the Orthodox Church. In the early Church, cremated individuals were buried outside of cemeteries where Orthodox people were buried.

We should also take into account that the most perfect example for us Christians is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When he died, he was buried properly and not cremated. Without any doubt, cremation was an option even in those days! Our Lord’s body was taken down from the cross and was wrapped in linen and was anointed with spices. Similarly at every funeral service we anoint the body with wine and oil. In Serbian, the word for funeral is “SAHRANA” which comes from the verb SOHRANITI which means to preserve. Every funeral represents the preservation of the body and no Orthodox Christian should deny themselves this rite.

Finally, we should know that people who are cremated are not necessarily condemned to hell. This is between them and God because no one knows God’s judgment. Also, if your family member was cremated and you would like to follow them, please do not! Know that if you make the right choice from the perspective of the Church, your family member will love you for it and both you and the cremated member will be blessed by God. All of us make choices in life that will be proven to be wrong when we die and we will clearly see what we should have done. Our loved ones would want us to make the right choice! Therefore, have a proper burial and do not deny yourself the precious memorial services which the Church has to offer.

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