Orthodox burial rites & how to avoid them

Orthodox burial rites & how to avoid them

Orthodox Christianity is to Western Christian traditions what Shyamalan's "The Last Airbender" is to the legendary cartoon series: it seems to have started from the same set of ideas, but somehow it became an entity that is too difficult for anyone to comprehend. Even though growing up in Eastern Europe I got quite used to cognitive dissonance as a dominant cultural element, our religious practices simply beat any other aspect of our lifestyle in terms of, plainly speaking, umm whut?

Moldova officially celebrates two Christmases. Women are traditionally supposed to wear head coverings similar to Muslim ones. Our crosses are different. Priests can marry. And, my favorite part, the Church is basically a business (more on that later). The Church is rarely implicated in charitable activities, but always in any possible anti-LGBT/Islam/immigration events. Priests drive expensive cars. I also doubt that you will get any kind of valuable social interaction or material assistance from your church community. Priests speak in a weird tone that is hard for you to understand. A large chunk of the population goes to church only during the Easter Vigil. Most church-goers are old, uneducated people.

So far everything is a sign of the state of religion in a poor, developing, ex-Soviet country. But no matter how atheist you are, there is one thing that you will probably never escape: an orthodox burial. That is to say, it is possible (although rare) for children not to be baptized, but so far I've never heard of anyone successfully escaping the magnificent ritual that follows after one's death.

You might get used to the fact that barely anything in this country is done to improve efficiency or make your life easier, but—oh my God—have you tried dying?! Sometimes I get anxiety simply because I will never be able to follow in my relatives' footsteps in successfully carrying out what is supposed to be a sentimental event; it is never simple. When in doubt, always follow the golden rule: If it ain't extra, it is probably not Eastern European.

After the unfortunate event, you will have to get a death certificate. As far as I know, if someone dies in a hospital, they will give it to you on the spot. If not, then you will have to go to the morgue where you have to wait for a cause of death statement. You then have to go to a specific place with identification to prove that you are a relative to receive the actual certificate. Mind you, it is basically impossible to do all of this in a day. If you don't have a car, forget about it!

The person at the morgue — the only one authorized to give out cause of death certificates for a city with a population of 1 million – was two hours late! She also has a cat in her office. And a radio. Welcome to our humble village!

Traditionally, burials happen on the third day of a person's death. But if you think you've got time to mourn and rest, you're wrong! Well, unless you have friends or relatives that will do everything else for you. You have to make arrangements regarding what to do with the corpse. You can either pay the morgue to do the embalming (and all the other related stuff) for you, or you can have a company take care of almost everything. Of course, it wouldn't be an Eastern European story if there weren't a monopoly in this field. Don't forget that the costs add up!

Meanwhile, you also have to buy all the necessary things. This includes various offerings to those that attend the funeral (or the wake). You are free to choose, but it is typically kalach, a towel, and a candle. Depending on how much the funeral home will do for you, you also have to buy religious attributes (a special type of candle, an icon, etc.), cook specific food, etc. Again, don't forget that the costs add up!

Traditional funeral food.

And finally, the main event. People typically hold a wake (usually at home) so that loved ones can say their last words. There is also a church ceremony afterward. You have to have a death certificate and you have to pay for it. It is all accompanied by sad, Eastern-style singing, and a lot of phrases spoken in a weird tone. Then, everyone moves to the cemetery (where you have to have made arrangements beforehand). In villages, you typically pay random men to dig up the burial spot for you the day before. The priest then proceeds with some strange, minor religious activities, finally culminating in the coffin being closed and placed at the bottom of the pit. The priest then shovels a bit of ground from all four sides (the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, Amen).

If you thought this was the end, gotcha! There is also a big meal for everyone involved. You also typically pay the priest and the people that sang. You also have to go visit the grave the following days, participate in a ceremony on the ninth and fortieth day after the death.

So, dying in Moldova is hard, time-consuming, energy-consuming, very extra and kitsch. That's why, like any sane person, I try to avoid being the main character in this tragic story.

How to avoid this?

Obviously, to avoid an Orthodox burial without doing something even more complicated like converting to Islam or dying abroad (your relatives will probably bring you home!), you have to lead a lifestyle exactly opposite to that of a typical Eastern European:

Step 1: Take care of your health! Get regular check-ups! PARTICIPATE IN PREVENTIVE HEALTHCARE!

Step 1.1: Don't follow the unhealthy, carb-loaded Eastern European diet! Don't drink like there's no tomorrow! Don't smoke! Get a gym membership and work out! Invest in things that improve your health!

Step 1.2: Wear a seatbelt. Get an electric car (or at least one with a modern engine).

Step 1.3: Deal with stress through meditation. Respect yourself.

Step 1.4: Get plenty of sleep.

Step 1.5: Develop healthy relationships with the people around you. Stop gossiping and fighting.


Step 2: Write a will stating what you want to happen in case of your death. For me, that would be cremation.

Step 2.1: Fight with your relatives about your will and end the conversation by saying that you will never forgive them (even in the afterlife) if they don't follow your wishes.

Step 3: Start a family abroad with a foreigner. Let them deal with the responsibility of fighting with your family at home in case you die.

Step 4: (for adventurous people) Renounce your citizenship so that it will be almost impossible for you to undergo all of this.

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