Cremation: Why is it Banned for Orthodox Christians?
<.i>Some Orthodox Christians have been asking about cremation. To
clarify this, Bishop Job has issued a statement explaining the Orthodox position on the
practice of cremation, which follows.-Ed.
[The Orthodox Church bans cremation]. The question is whether this is
"a man-made ordinance" or "if it is written" somewhere. To begin with, we can say that in
neither the Holy Scriptures nor the Canons of the Church is there a quotable line
specifically banning cremation. However, in the Orthodox Church this has never been the
only criterion by which we judge issues. We read in the Decree of the Seventh Ecumenical
Council (which is binding on Orthodox Christians):
"...[We] keep unchanged all the ecclesiastical traditions handed down to us, whether
in writing or verbally."
Any ordinance that is issued by the canonically consecrated Bishop of
the local Church and that is in keeping with "the ecclesiastical traditions handed down to
us," cannot be considered man-made. It is an ordinance arising out of the Holy Tradition
of the Church, which is inspired by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit Himself. The ban on
cremation fits into this category of those things that have been handed down to us.
Moreover, the Orthodox view of the body is quite different from the view
of those who favor cremation (such as Hindus). We do not perceive of the body as a prison
for the soul, so that at death we need to destroy the prison to set the soul free. Nor do
we see the body as a "mere shell," which has no meaning after death. We believe that the
whole person, created in the image and likeness of God is soul and body. The tragedy
of death is the separation of the person whom God created to be whole. We also believe
that the body is affected by holiness: We venerate the Relics-the bodies-of the Saints, and
we "look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come," when our
bodies will be glorified by Christ.
It is lamentable that [the ban on cremation] has become "a problem" for
a number of our families. But more often than not, when these problems arise, it is because
we have not put the Orthodox Faith before and above everything else. It is precisely
because we allow erroneous or misleading man-made ordinances that we find ourselves at odds
with the teachings of the Church.