Customs of a Christian Death

The Sacrament of the Sick
An anointing with holy oil that is recommended for any baptized person who is seriously ill. This ritual invites God to bless the individual, forgive his or her sins, purify the soul, and return the person to good health should this be God’s will. You should not hesitate to call a priest at any hour to request this sacrament if you are in danger of death. Should you not be able to contact your own pastor, a hospital chaplain will make arrangements for another priest (Ukrainian or Roman Catholic). The sacrament may still be administered for a short time after someone has passed away.


This memorial prayer service usually takes place on the evening before the funeral service. The vigil is a long-standing custom that enables the bereaved to pray for the deceased and to reflect on the Christian meaning of life as God created it. The service may be held in the church or funeral home. The service typically ends with a viewing of the body. The family may invite those in attendance for coffee and sweets following the service.

Requiem Divine Liturgy (Funeral)
The Requiem Divine Liturgy begins with the reception of the funeral procession at the entrance of the church. The clergy incenses the body and reads a passage from one of the four gospels. The clergy then leads the pallbearers and family with the casket into the church. The casket is placed at the foot of the sanctuary. The family and pallbearers are seated in the front pews. The Requiem Divine Liturgy includes psalms and scripture readings that draw attention to God’s work and the importance of the Divine Eucharist as spiritual nourishment. The entire service is usually sung. Incense is commonly used as a symbol of prayers rising to God.

Rite of Interment (Burial)

Following the Requiem Divine Liturgy, the funeral procession of cars proceeds to the cemetery for the final service and burial. At the ceremony, a Panakhyda (prayer service of commital) is offered. The priest then casts earth and ashes upon the casket as a reminder that we are all earth, dust, and ashes; according to the will of God, we will return to the earth once again. The priest then makes the Sign of the Cross at the head, feet, and both sides of the casket, thus symbolically sealing the grave until the second coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ. The family often chooses to host a luncheon following interment.

The priest normally offers a Christian reflection in the form of a sermon or homily at the prayer service and Requiem Divine Liturgy.

Open Casket

Bp Innocent Funeral

The remains of the deceased are to be blessed with holy water, the absolution prayer is read, and at the end of the service all the faithful are to proceed forward to give a final kiss to the departed. These are all powerful statements of our Ukrainian Catholic beliefs.

Integral to the funeral service is the chanting of Psalms, hymns found in the Old Testament. Three sets of verses with refrains from Psalm 118 (119) speak of God’s great goodness and our utter dependence upon Him and His Law, which guides us through all the days of our life. Psalm 50 (51), a prayer of repentance, appeals to God’s steadfast love, compassion, and gracious mercy for cleansing and forgiveness.

Burial is still the Church’s preference; however, cremation is permitted provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body. Cremation normally takes place only after the completion of the funeral services. The cremated remains are placed in an urn and are to be buried in a grave or placed in a niche or columbarium at a cemetery.

As an expression of sympathy, you may make a donation to the church and request that a parastas, panakhyda, or Divine Liturgy be offered by a priest in memory of the deceased. The family will receive a card letting them know the prayer service has been requested and indicating the donor’s name. It is also common for families and friends of the deceased to gather in church for a memorial service or Divine Liturgy on the 3rd, 9th, and 40th day following the date of death. Flowers, memorial donations, sympathy cards, and your attendance at the services are acceptable means of expressing your condolences and providing support.

This is a prayer that the priest reads over the deceased in church asking God to forgive every sin which the person has committed in his/her life, known and unknown, whether committed out of malice or weakness.

A dish made of boiled wheat and honey. Wheat is used as an expression of death and resurrection. The honey or candies that are mixed into the kolyvo are reminders of the sweetness and blessing of eternal life that will follow our resurrection.

Braided Bread and Fruit
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). We express this reality by the use of bread during the funeral service. This bread is made in the form of a circle, which symbolizes eternity. A candle is placed in the loaf (the top loaf, if there are three) as another symbol of Christ, the Light of the world.

Memory Eternal (Vichnaya Pamyiat)
This hymn is taken from the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion. As we sing “Memory Eternal” for our loved ones, we are saying, “Remember them, Lord, when You come in Your Kingdom”

The Last Farewell
Also known as the “Last Kiss”, this is the time for the people to say farewell to the mortal remains of the departed. Again, not denying the reality of death, the funeral rite invites everyone present to come and personally say farewell to the deceased.

Prayer for the Dead
From the time of the Apostles, Christians have offered prayers for the dead. They are offered because the Church is one, consisting of members both on earth (called the “Church Militant”) and in heaven (the “Church Triumphant”).

As well as praying to the Lord directly, we petition His Saints to intercede for our departed loved ones, entreating the loving kindness of Christ who seeks us out and saves us. We ask God to grant rest to the soul of the departed “among the saints, where there is no more pain, sorrow, or suffering.”

Resurrection of the Dead
Because of Christ’s death on the Cross, and His victory over death by His Resurrection, we need no longer see death as the absolute end to our existence. Rather, death, in the light of Christ’s glorious resurrection, is viewed as a time of repose (“resting”) in the Lord.