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Funeral Practices

Kolivo or Kutia - What is it?

It is traditional in some of the parishes in the Orthodox Church for the relatives or friends of a deceased person to bring to the church a tray or bowl of boiled wheat sweetened with honey when they request a service for the repose of the soul of their dear one.

This sweetened boiled wheat is called kolivo or kutia. It is placed on a table in the church where the requiem service will be held. After the service is over, the family usually places a bit of kutia in a little cup, and those who prayed partake of it and ask God’s mercy upon the soul of the departed.

What is the meaning behind this beautiful custom? The wheat signifies that the deceased will resurrect from the grave. As wheat is put into the ground, dies and is reborn to bring fruit, so also those who have died, though their remains are dormant, will resurrect to a newer and fuller life in Christ.

The honey, which sweetens the wheat, is symbolic of the sweetness of everlasting life. This is the sweet gift which those who died in the true faith receive from Christ.

Kolivo or kutia can also be made with rice.

March 1985

Soul Saturday

On the Saturday before Pentecost, the Church again acknowledges the departed. In churches the diptych of the dead members of families will be read. There is a confession concerning these lists especially now when families are small or marry into or out of the Orthodox faith. How should these lists be maintained?

One of the cherished traditions of old-time America was the family Bible. Every family had one, and inside, on the blank pages following the Scriptures, people would write the names and dates that made their own family history: weddings, births, deaths, and other important events.

The family Bible made for fascinating reading as children learned to appreciate their ancestry and their place in the family.

Those of us who may be just one generation removed from ancestors who came from a country across the seas, did not have the tradition of keeping records in a Bible. We have lists of living and dead members kept in books in our family church. I know that once a year just before the first Soul Saturday usually in February, my father brought our book home from the church. In it were entered any new members of the family – those who came by birth or marriage. If there was a member who had died during the year, the name was transferred to the list of those departed and the date of their death was marked after their names in the list of the living. This book was used to pray on Soul Saturdays and other times panahidas were said for them. The living were prayed for in special molebens. In a way this book served in the same way as did the Bible for the people who had settled in the U.S. for many more years than did our ancestors.

Does your family have a Diptich? Is it up to date?

May 1988

Forty Days After

Why do Orthodox pray for a deceased person forty days after their death?

St. Macarius of Alexandria is alleged to have written an apocryphal homily on the reason why Memorial Services or Panahidas are customarily celebrated on the 3rd, 9th and 40th day after a death.

St. Macarius asked an Angel who accompanied him the reason for services on these days, on the anniversaries of the name-day, and day of death of a person. This is what the angel told him:

On the third day when the body is brought to the Church, the dead person receives from his Guardian Angel relief from the grief which he may have felt at parting from his body. He receives this because of the prayers of oblation and praise which are offered for him and there arises in him a blessed hope. For during the past two days his soul was permitted to wander over the earth with angels accompanying it. Since the soul loved its body, it sometimes hovered around the place where it had parted from the body, and other times it was around the coffin where its body had been placed. In this way, it passed those few days like a bird which looks for its nesting-place. Some souls wander through those places where at one time it did deeds of righteousness and good.

Jesus, who rose from the dead, commanded that on the third day every soul shall be brought to heaven, in imitation of His own Resurrection, that it may do reverence to God. This is why the Church has the blessed custom of celebrating oblation and prayers on the third day.

After the soul has done reverence to God, it is shown the places where the saints lived and the beauty of Paradise. The soul sees these during the 3rd to the 9th day and it glorifies God, the Creator. When the soul has seen all these things, it changes and it forgets all the sorrows which it felt in the body. But if it is guilty of sin it begins to wail and reproach itself for passing its time on earth in a heedless way and not obeying God so that it could have these same glories and graces. After seeing the joys of the just for these six days, the Angels lead the soul to God again. Therefore the Church does well to celebrate a service and oblation for the soul on the ninth day.

After this second reverence to God, He commands that the soul be taken to hell and shown the places of torment, the different divisions of hell and the various torments of the ungodly which causes the souls of sinners to groan continually and to gnash their teeth. Various places of torment are visited for thirty days and the soul trembles fearing that it will be condemned to live there.

On the fortieth day, the soul is again taken to do reverence to God and then the Judge determines the right place of its incarceration according to its deeds. This is the reason why the Church does right in making mention on the fortieth day of its baptized dead.

We can readily see that the reason for the Memorial Service or Panahida on the third, ninth and fortieth day is because the souls are brought before God on these days. Having services on the fortieth day is especially important because the soul is brought for judgment at that time.

The Absolution Prayer at Funerals

We have received several inquiries concerning the prayer printed on a piece of paper and read by a priest or bishop and which is placed in the hand of a person just prior to the time when the casket is closed for the last time. This is called the Prayer of Absolution and we print it here as taken from Hapgood’s Book.

"Our Lord Jesus Christ, by His divine grace, as also by the gift and power vouchsafed unto his Holy Disciples and Apostles, that they should bind and loose the sins of men: (For He said unto them: Receive ye the Holy Spirit: Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted: and whosesoever sins ye retain they are retained. And whatsoever ye shall bind or loose upon earth shall be bound or loosed also in heaven.) By that same power, also, transmitted unto us from them, this my spiritual child, N., is absolved, through me, unworthy though I be, from all things wherein, as mortal, he (she) hath sinned against God, whether in word, or deed, or thought, and with all his (her senses, whether voluntarily or involuntarily: whether wittingly or through ignorance."

"If he (she) be under the ban of excommunication of a Bishop, or of a Priest; or hath incurred the curse of his (her) father or mother; or hath been bound, as man, by any sins whatsoever, but hath repented him (her) thereof, with contrition of heart: he (she) is now absolved from all those faults and bonds. May all those things which have proceeded from the weakness of his (her) mortal nature be consigned to oblivion, and be remitted unto him (her):"

"Through His loving-kindness; through the prayers of our most holy, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Mother of our Lord and ever-virgin Mary; of the holy, glorious and all-laudable Apostles, and of all Saints. Amen."

No Date

The Paschal Funeral Service

If someone is called to God at Holy Easter or on any day of the week following, very little of the customary Office for the Dead is sung. This is changed because of the majesty and honor of the joyful Feast of the Resurrection: for it is the festival of joy and gladness, not of lamentation.

And as all who have died in the risen Christ, in the hope of resurrection and of life eternal, have been taken unto God through Christ’s Resurrection from the sorrowful things of this world to things joyful and blissful, the Church proclaims the hymns of Resurrection over these dead. By a few fitting hymns, litanies and prayers we bear testimony that the dead person has died in penitence; but if he has not made satisfaction for his sins, they are remitted to him through the prayers of the Church and he is freed from detention.

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