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Holy Transfiguration, Great Walsingham: Orthodoxy in Norfolk

Holy Transfiguration, Great Walsingham: Orthodoxy in Norfolk

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For those who want to know the complicated stuff

18 Apr 2013

Orthodoxy on death and funerals


There are some things in Orthodoxy with which we take a fairly flexible line, and then there are others where the official line is more rigid. The official line on cremation, for example, is that it is forbidden. However, there are situations in which - at least in our own jurisdiction - cremation is tolerated, although the burial (rather than scattering) of the ashes is strongly encouraged.  


The funeral service is based upon Matins, which is a service of praise and light, the mourners stand holding lit candles as a symbol of the resurrection.  The basic idea of the service is that we are indeed faced with death, but death does not frighten us any more when we see it through the resurrection of Christ.


At the same time, the service gives a sense of the ambiguity of death, the two sides to it.  Death cannot be accepted, it is a monstrosity: we have been created in order to live, and yet in a world which human sin has made monstrous, death is the only way out.  If our world were fixed unchangeable and eternal, it would be hell;  death is the only thing that allows the earth, together with suffering and sin, to escape from this hell.


Death is death with all its tragic ugliness and monstrosity, and yet death ultimately is the only thing that gives us hope.  On the one hand we long to live;  on the other hand, if we long sufficiently to live we long to die because in this limited world it is impossible to live fully.  When we have reached a certain measure of life - independent of time - we must shed this limited life to enter into unlimited life.


The Orthodox burial service is strikingly centred around the open coffin, because the person is still considered in his entirety as body and soul, both being the concern of the Church.  The body has been prepared for burial;  the body is not a piece of outworn clothing, which has been cast off for the soul to be free.  A body is much more than this for a Christian;  There is nothing that happens to the soul in which the body does not take part.


A body without a soul is a corpse and not our concern, and a soul without a body does not yet enjoy the bliss which the whole human being is called to enjoy at the end of time when the glory of God shines through soul and body.  Thus the dead body is an object of care on the part of the Church, even when it is the body of a sinner;  and all the attention we pay to it when alive is nothing to the veneration shown it at the burial service". (1966).


It is a responsible thing for everyone, whether or not they have a faith, to share thoughts about dying and death with those who are immediate and close so there is no doubt come the day when words can no longer be shared.  Talk about death.  Talk about dying.  If there is something which you would like, or not like, about being remembered then now is the time to say it.  Remember at all times, that funerals are for the living more than they are for the dead.


Opinions vary widely regarding organ donation. Some hold that it is forbidden, others that there is nothing in Orthodoxy that prohibits organ donation after death. Jesus spoke about laying down ones life for one's friends, which implies that organ donation is seen favourably by God. Each must make up their own mind. Embalming on the other hand is seen as acceptable.


The outline of the funeral service goes like this; 

  • The body of the dead person, having been placed in a coffin, is carried, feet first, into the church for the burial service and set in the center of the church facing the altar.
  • The coffin is opened and an icon of Christ or the patron Saint is placed in the hands of the departed.
  • A wreath (with the Trisagion printed on it) may be placed on the forehead of the departed.
  • The hand-cross may be placed in the coffin near the head of the departed.
  • At the head of the coffin may be placed a bowl of koliva, a dish of boiled wheat with honey, with a lit candle on top, symbolizing the cyclical nature of life and the sweetness of Heaven.
  • Candles are distributed to the worshippers who, receiving the light from the priest, hold them lit throughout the service until near the end.
  • After the Dismissal and "Memory Eternal," friends come to say a last good-bye to the departed. They may kiss the hand-cross which is set on the side of the coffin or the icon placed in the hands of the departed. The closest relatives should be given an opportunity to spend several minutes with the departed alone. Then the coffin is closed and carried out from the church to the hearse. The choir sings the Trisagion, and the bells are rung slowly.
  • The funeral cortege proceeds to the cemetery where a short grave-side service of entombment is sung by the priest.


Strict observance of mourning requires that the mourning period for Eastern Orthodox Christians lasts for forty days. Within those forty days, the third day, the ninth day, and the fortieth day all have special significance. After forty days, memorials are celebrated at three months, six months, nine months, one year, and on the anniversary of the death for at least seven years. For close relatives, the mourning period may last for one year, during which widows and widowers often wear only black clothing and will recite Panikhidas regularly. Close relatives may also stay home from work for one week and avoid social gatherings for two months.  This, however, is the most strict interpretation of Orthodoxy and is observed within cultural norms of some Orthodox societies. In others where this does not apply, or where impractical, close relatives may well observe mourning according to their own cultural norms.



14 Jun 2013

Orthodoxy and homosexual marriage.


Orthodoxy recognises that for whatever reason, there are people who are attracted to those of their own sex, and while this is an incontrovertible fact of life, it nevertheless doesn't mean that such people are not loved by God in the same way as He loves everyone else. God's love extends to everyone. There is a case to be made that puts homosexuality on the same plain as having a disability. Whilst homosexuals can't help being homosexual, neither can they be seen in the same light as heterosexuals who are attracted to people of the opposite sex. When it comes to marriage, just because society, or parts of society, have decided to redefine their view of what marriage is, doesn't make homosexual marriage the same as marriage in the conventional sense.


To explain using an analogy, margarine, to a greater or lesser extent, looks like butter, is manufactured to taste like butter, is used the way butter is used, but even if people wanted to call it butter it will never, in a million years, be butter. Homosexuals may think that by calling their union a marriage are using the word marriage in the same way. It might look like marriage, it might have similar characteristics, but it will never be marriage.


There will never be a homosexual marriage in an Orthodox church. 

18 Apr 2013

Why does Orthodox Easter differ from Western Easter?


Ever since Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicea in 325AD to codify the Christian faith, the date of Easter has been linked to the lunar cycle and falls on the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. 


(An equinox is the moment in which the plane of Earth's equator passes through the center of the Sun, which occurs twice each year, around 20 March and 23 September. On an equinox, day and night are of approximately equal duration all over the planet).


From the moment 1,800 bishops returned from Nicea (now Iznik in Turkey) to disseminate the decision regarding Easter, there have been those who have wanted to fix Easter to the same date each year. Both the eastern Orthodox and the western churches use the same formula to set the date of Easter, the eastern churches do so using the Julian calendar, while the western churches use the Gregorian calendar.  The reason why most of the world moved from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar is because the Julian calendar is inaccurate, but the Orthodox church, not partial to change, has so far resisted recognising this as a problem.


A concerted effort was made in the 10th century to resolve this problem and in 1928 the UK Parliament passed "The Easter Act" proposing a fixed date of Easter to be the Sunday following the second Saturday in April, but this legislation has never been enacted because it needed the cooperation of the churches, and this cooperation was, at the most, optimistic.


Recently Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria proposed that Easter be fixed on the second Sunday in April, an idea supported by Pope Francis, but the whole point of the date of Easter is to align it to the Jewish celebration of Pesach (Passover) Which was taking place at the time of the Crucifixion.  Scholars have determined, however, that the date of the Passover when Jesus was crucified was March 30th.

18 Apr 2013

Orthodoxy on Baptism


Immersion in water to symbolise cleansing, purification and emerging into a new life has been practised by Judaism for thousands of years, and what Christians do is simply a continuation of what John the Baptist did at the request of Jesus at the beginning of Jesus' ministry.


But whilst John baptised in the river Jordan, (then, presumably,a fairly clean river but now quite polluted), the practise of ritual cleansing with water was a long established one, laid down in Leviticus 15:16, "he shall wash all his flesh in the water" and this is called mikveh. Jewish practice is to was three times to represent the three times the injunction is repeated in the bible.


There were several different forms of mikveh. The mikveh  was used by women when their period was complete, (it took the domestic form of using pots, and there is a case to argue that it was these pots that Jesus used when He turned water to wine, because the context of the account is that the pots "contained water after the manner of the purification of the Jews").  Mikveh water was also used for washing of clothes and body when they had been in contact with something ritually impure and defiled. Mikveh water is specially designed to bring about sanctification and purification.  During the Liturgy, a priest will wash his hands for he same purposes.  Pontius Pilate washed his hands to cleanse himself of the consequences of the decision to try Jesus.


The term arises from the creation account when God separated the land from the sea, and behind the thinking surrounding mikveh is the idea that in all acts of mikveh there is a separation made by water. The crossing of the Red Sea by Moses was a mikveh, and so any passing through water for the purposes of ritual purification is a mikveh. When a Gentile converted to Judaism they had to undergo mikveh as a sign they were passing from being a gentile to becoming a Jew, passing from idolatry to the true God, passing from life as a dead person to new life in God, passing from darkness into light.


While some sources state that the practice dates back to John the Baptist, it is clear that this is not so, and also that John the Baptist wasn't a Christian.  John the Baptist was a Jew, practising baptism for Jews urging them to return to the true love for God, and obedience to the Law and the Prophets in anticipation of the Messiah (Messiach), a Messiah whom he recognised in his relation Jesus.


Those wishing to be received into Orthodoxy, irrespective or not as to whether they have been already chastened or baptised in another denomination, will need to be baptised.  This wishing to have their children baptised are welcome, and encouraged, to do so.  If you do not live locally and wish to have your children baptised in our church, with the agreement of your local Orthodox priest whom we would ordinarily encourage you to approach, this can be discussed.

18 Apr 2013

Orthodoxy on Marriage

21 Feb 2013

Orthodoxy and monastacism

18 Feb 2013

Orthodoxy and the diaconate and priesthood

18 Apr 2013

Orthodoxy in world affairs

16 Feb 2013

Orthodoxy in reconciliation

18 Apr 2013

Orthodoxy in ecumanism

16 Feb 2013

Orthodoxy and healing

27 Jun 2013

Orthodoxy and exorcism

8 Oct 2013

Orthodoxy and being a parent

9 Oct 2013

Orthodoxy and being a child

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