I was at a Greek Orthodox funeral this past week for the father of a colleague, who passed at age 86. I’ve been inside a couple of Greek Orthodox churches, so I knew about the elaborate ornamentation common to the cathedrals, but until Wednesday I had never attended a service. I arrived early, to an auditorium filled with piped in chanting. The small crowd gathered slowly, and we sat in virtual silence – the music told us not to speak.
Aside from a brief eulogy in highly inflected English, the entire service was chanted, and in Greek. Five men presided, regaled with various costumes – it was lovely in its way, a ritual of comfort that’s been happening for quite some time, I imagine; it’s clear that nothing like Vatican II has happened within Greek Orthodoxy. The tradition uses the word “sleep” a lot (occasionally one of the men would intone what I assumed to be a translation) to euphemize death, which was interesting to me.
I’ve touched on funeral music in the past, and this service’s music had, by far, the most profound impact on the mood of a funeral that I’ve seen – every part of the service seemed designed to allow mourners to hold their hearts heavy. There was not a hint of levity, and no happy stories. The music would not have permitted it.
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