Death and Dying

12243360_163477914006575_7664157961161044451_nTraditionally death has been viewed in the Ukraine as a normal part of life, and that the dead can communicate with the living. There are two major types of death that occur, a “good” death which is expected: old age and illness are part of the good death lexicon. Then there are “bad” deaths. Known as liuta (furious, i.e. violent or prolonged, agonizing death) and nahla (sudden, unnatural death) these are the sudden unexpected death of a person. Along side many roads are burial sites for people who have suffered a “bad” death. These deaths can be from accident, suicide, or murder. Unable to occupy sacred ground, the souls of these deceased are bound to the earth, wandering the country side with the potential to harm the living. While rural areas will bury these dead alongside roadways, urban areas don’t have this luxury, and so memorials, like the roadside memorials seen in the U.S., are built at the site of the tragedy, and are rarely dismantled.

Source: Svitlana Kukharenko, “Traditional Ukrainian Folk Beliefs about Death and the Afterlife (1),” Folklorica, 16 (2011): 65-87.


12250185_10153185199467483_9188705694850706421_nWhen someone dies they will face what is known as the partial judgment. This will include a complete examination of their life. With a good account they will be led by angels to a mystical place where we will anticipate the joys of Paradise awaiting the final judgment and their resurrection. In the Orthodox Christianity believers pray for the dead in the same sense that they pray for the souls of those with us, because “Christ is risen, trampling down death by death.” The barrier between living and dead has been eliminated due to the Resurrection of Christ. Also when they die they are still part of the Church as when they were alive.

Source: David Moser, “What the ORTHODOX BELIEVE Concerning prayer for the dead,” St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church. Accessed November 12, 2015.

Charles Joiner, “Why Pray for the Dead?” Orthodox Way of Life. Accessed November 12, 2015.


Lilien_Trauer_fAlthough Judaism as a religion does not have any direct references to “undead” or re-animated corpses in its religious texts or teachings, Jewish folklore in Eastern Europe has referred to corpses being brought back to life. Jews refer to the undead as “zombies,” a term derived from West African cultures that has become common in Western culture. Although the zombies described in Jewish culture are somewhat similar to other European folklore about the undead it differs because of the strong ties to Jewish beliefs that are incorporated in the folklore. These stories often connect these undead bodies to T’chiyat Metim which is the Jewish term for resurrection or Golems which are working bodies that could be possessed by spiritual powers. This shows Jewish folklore making overarching connections to their faith because they depict spiritually strong beings being resurrected while also showing how dark forces could posses dead bodies in the cases of Golems. These folk-tales have existed for centuries and act as teachings of Jewish faith.

Sources: Geoffrey Dennis, “The Walking Dead: Jews, Judaism and Halloween,” Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism. Accessed November 13, 2015.


lamb_01In Moldova there is a well known folk ballad called the Mioritsa, which demonstrates beliefs about death in Eastern Orthodoxy and is portrayed in Moldavian funeral and burial rituals. There were three shepherds taking care of sheep when one shepherd was cautioned by one of his sheep that the other shepherds were plotting to murder him and take his sheep. Yet, instead of trying to avoid this death he greeted his forthcoming death. The shepherd saw death as his bride, the sun and moon as his godparents, and everything in the universe, such as the stars and trees as participants in his journey. Death is sad but also a new, hopeful stage of a journey where you pass through another world.
Source: “Moldovans – Religion and Expressive Culture,” Countries and their Cultures. Accessed November 13, 2015.


12208530_10207844654851840_8486787014300089635_nThe number of funerals in the USSR dropped considerably during state socialism, and mainly consisted of state funerals for major figures in the Communist party, such as Lenin, Stalin, and other prominent leaders. These major events captivated millions of mourners across the country. But after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the reintroduction of Russian Orthodoxy influenced funeral traditions significantly. Now, Orthodox Church bells ring low notes to signify a funeral. They are held on the third day after someone has died, and a memorial dinner is later held. During the service, each mourner is expected to kiss a special ribbon placed on the forehead of the deceased and place a flower on the casket. Another memorial dinner is held on the ninth day after death, when the soul is believed to have left the body, and again on the 40th day, when the soul is believed to have left for the afterlife. At each of these parties a glass of vodka is left for the deceased, and is covered by a piece of black bread. This is a kind of “reversal” of the Russian tradition of breaking black bread with someone you are meeting for the first time.

Source: “Russian Funerals: Black Bread and Vodka,” Death With Dignity. Accessed November 12, 2015.


12227236_10203272336729735_189893182446453378_nWhen a Catholic person dies in Poland an obituary is published in the newspaper as well as being posted at the church where the service will be held. When it comes time for the funeral a wake, or czuwanie, is held before the mass. The czuwanie is held in the chapel by the casket, so that people are able to pay their respects to the dead. This tradition of czuwanie can last as long as the entire night. At the service that follows, the priest provides a summary of the life of the deceased with other eulogies possibly, but not usually, given by family members. The deceased is then taken on their last journey, or ostatnis podroz, when their casket is carried out along with the flowers. At the cemetery the priest conducts a final service where people repeat the phrase, “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return,” while throwing handfuls of soil onto the casket as it is lowered into the grave.

Sources: “At a Polish Funeral,” Polish Dictionary. Accessed November 13, 2015.


12249692_2508775553760_8166767805771477447_nCremation in the Eastern Orthodox religion is forbidden for a few different reasons. In 1932 the Russian Orthodox Church established that crematoria is not permitted because it had been introduced by atheists and enemies of the church. Other reasons include respect for the body and a traditional Christian burial, the metaphor of Hell associated with the fire required for cremation, and the exclusion of bodily relics in the cremation process like personal items of the saints. Overall, Orthodox Christians view this process as inhumane and unethical.

Source: Kathryn Wehr, “The Orthodox Bioethics of Cremation,” Orthodoxy Today. Accessed November 13, 2015.


10301114_1230019830357874_6483045691300171369_nThe donation of organs or the body itself, after death or otherwise, is a point of contention within the Orthodox Church. Officially, the church has no stance on the issue, which has led to different regions having different views on the issue. The Romanian Church does not allow any donation which would end the donor’s life, yet the Greek Church supports such an act, and uses the scripture, “by this we know love, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16 NKJ), as their reasoning. In general, the church prefers that all other medical routes be examined first, as the sanctity of the body is very important, which is clear because of the church’s ban on cremation.

Source: “Organ Donation,” Orthodox Wiki. Accessed November 13, 2015.

“What does our Church Believe about Organ Donation?” St Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church, Irvine, California. Accessed November 13, 2015.



11139985_1122770187752785_4235844662335354967_nPanikhida is a memorial service to honor those in the congregation who have passed a year after their death. The service takes place on or around the first anniversary of the person’s death, or the third, ninth, or fourteenth day after the person’s passing. Some people request to have a Panikhida service every year to commemorate their loved ones. Panikhida is often performed at certain times of the year as well; for example, the second, third and fourth Saturdays of Great Lent, in which the deceased members of the parish are commemorated and honored. The service takes place after the Liturgy and is sometime accompanied (by request of the family) with Kutya, a boiled wheat dish. It is then placed on a table next to an icon, a picture of the deceased (if the family chooses) and a candle is placed in the center of the Kutya dish. The priest will then bless the Kutya and people can eat it following the service.

Source : “Panikhida – Memorial Service,” St. Mark of Ephesus. Accessed 11 Nov. 2015.


12219431_182070878801218_8673302083895086309_nKoliva, or kollyva, is very important food for Eastern Orthodox Christians. The main ingredients include boiled wheat kernels, honey or sugar, however it can contain ingredients like sesame seeds, almonds, ground walnuts, and cinnamon. Koliva is significant in Orthodox churches because it is used as a ritual food and is subsequently blessed during the Divine Liturgy memorial in which believers transcend into heaven. It is also included at funerals or during Orthodox Memorial services. Additionally, it is used on the first Friday of Lent and at slavas, in which patron saints are celebrated. Ultimately, koliva is significant to Orthodox Chrisitans because it represents a symbol of both death and resurrection.

Source: “Koliva,” Wikipedia, Accessed November 11, 2015.


12240153_1046158218736073_6556858783233792889_nPomanã is a Romanian tradition in which Romanians will have multiple meals to honor the dead. The meals happen six weeks after the funeral and some people eat the meals for more than a year after the certain person has passed. Pomanã is also celebrated by Turkish people and they call it “canlik”, which means that the ceremony is belonging to the soul. People will light candles for the loved one and pass out a pastry called, halva, which is a ring of pastry baked in oil. They use a lot of oil because the smell of the oil is believed to calm the spirit of the dead. Also, after about seven days, close friends will bring halva to the relatives of the person who has deceased.

Source: “Funeral,” Karl-Franzens-Universität Gratz. Accessed November 12, 2015.


chevra-kadishaThe Chevra Kadisha is a Jewish burial society that consists of male and female volunteers who help prepare bodies after death for a proper Jewish burial. They ensure that the body is properly cleansed, and shrouded. They also dig the grave in a Jewish cemetery. Following death the body is cleansed and purified. Members of the group thoroughly wash the body with water; traditionally three buckets of water are used. The body is then shrouded and dressed with a prayer shawl, then placed into a casket and buried. The main responsibility of Chevra Kadisha groups is to make sure that the body is treated with proper respect according to Jewish tradition.

Source: “Chevra Kadisha,” Jewish Funeral Guide. Accessed November 13, 2015.


10984133_10153801008728291_5550941899699275223_nKaddish is a prayer that praises God in the Jewish religion. It is also said to have been a popular emotional reaction for mourners of the deceased. These Kaddish prayers are recited at funerals by mourners. Kaddish is normally spoken with a minyan (a prayer quorum of ten men), after a psalm or prayer has been said. It is part of the Jewish mourning custom that all mourners recite Kaddish in unison. Although there are exceptions as to who is not religiously obligated to recite Kaddish. For example, children under the age of thirteen, who have lost a parent, are not obligated to mourn Kaddish. The Kaddish prayer mourned for the death of someone should be recited for eleven months from the day of the death of that person and the anniversary of the death of said individual. Not only parents can be mourned but also children, a brother, and an in-law. The first known use of Kaddish, for mourning, dates back to the thirteenth century. Kaddish did not initiate as a prayer for mourning but was recited by rabbis after a sermon or on Sabbath afternoons.

Source: “Mourners Kaddish,” Jewish Virtual Library. Accessed November 13, 2015.


12243524_1020586934666007_768014837735183847_nIn the small village of Spanta in Romania, there is a cemetery. Unlike a normal cemetery, this cemetery is merry. When a villager dies, his or her death is not seen as a tragedy but as passing on to a new life. Life in this village is very ordinary. One man Dumitru Pop, felt that he needed to honor deaths of villagers. Pop would carve images of what the person did in life, or the moment of his or her death. The images are of simple tasks, like a women spinning yarn, or a farmer working his farm. The images are very brightly colored. The poems are very thoughtful. One poem Pop wrote was about the death of a three year old girl who was hit by a taxi, “Burn in hell, you damn taxi /That came from Sibiu. As large as Romania is / You couldn’t find another place to stop, / Only in front of my house to kill me?” The images and poems are seen as an apology for an ordinary life. When Pop died in 1977, his apprentice took over.

Source: Peter S. Green, “You’ll Die Laughing, if You’re Not Already Dead,” Romania Tourism. Accessed November 13, 2015.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s