The rituals in a Cretan funeral are influenced by the Greek Orthodox Church and also by local
cultural traditions and etiquette.

A Greek funeral usually takes place within 24 hours of death. The body is dressed and placed in
an open coffin by the undertaker and taken home where it is displayed prior to the funeral.  
Relatives and close friends will visit the deceased at home to pay their respects.


The Vigil
The coffin lid is placed outside the front door of the house. Funeral wreaths are only given by
close relatives and these wreaths are placed outside the house with the coffin lid.

When family and friends arrive at the house they will normally bring a small bunch of flowers, and
offer condolences to the family : “ Zo
i se sas “ (life to you) or “ ta silipitiria mou” (my
condolences) or simply ‘silipit
iria’ (condolences). They will then bend and kiss the head of the
deceased and lay the flowers on the open coffin.

The vigil goes on until the funeral takes place, often continuing throughout the night when the
funeral takes place the next day. Friends come and go while the family sit in vigil by the
deceased’s coffin.

News travels fast in Cretan communities. Friends and relatives will attend the vigil and the
funeral without invitation.

Female close relatives in mourning dress in black from head to toe, normally for at least 40 days,
while many widows and mothers who lose a child will  continue to mourn and wear only black for
the rest of their lives..
Close male relatives don’t shave for at least 40 days, and may wear a black armband. Although
family members wear black it is not expected of everyone, but bright coloured clothing should be
avoided – sober colours should be worn out of respect.


The Funeral
The funeral procession leaves from the house at the appointed time and the open coffin is placed
at the front of the church.  Those friends who have not visited the home file past and offer their
condolences to the family before kissing the forehead of the deceased and laying flowers across
the coffin.

After the church service they move out to the graveyard for the burial.

Graves are bunker-like and made of concrete. After the coffin has been lowered into the grave
and a blessing performed the grave is closed with concrete slabs and sealed. Relatives will later
decorate the grave with marble and a headstone.  

Following the burial mourners may be invited to a cafeneion or back to the house for coffee,
brandy and peanuts.

Memorial Services

A number of memorial services (mnimosino) will be held after the death.  The 40 days service  ‘ta
saranta” is held on the Sunday nearest to 40 days after the death. The 40 day service is usually
well attended, often more so than the funeral as many of those who were unable to attend the
funeral due to the short notice, will attend the 40 day service to pay their respects.

There is also a 3 month, 6 month, 9 month and one year memorial service. Thereafter yearly.

At the church memorial service the family place a photograph of the deceased at the front of the
church and each mourner lights a candle as they enter the church. After the service the family
line up and people file past to offer their condolences.


Graves
There are a shortage of graves and if there is no family grave nearby then relatives of the
deceased will rent one at the local cemetery, usually for 3 to 5 years. After this time the grave is
opened and the bones removed by family members, washed in wine and then transported either
to a family grave where other relatives lay (which may be miles away from where they died and
were buried – e.g. Athens or another island), or they are kept in a special vault at the church; an
ossuary or  ‘osteofilakio’.


Cremation
The Greek Orthodox Church currently forbids cremation as it considers it as being Blasphemous
to the body of man which is "the temple of the Holy Spirit".

However, according to a 2006 law, Orthodox Greeks, and anyone who dies in Greece, can
choose cremation as long as they have stated this in writing before their death or their
immediate relatives wish it.
A pre-condition for the cremation is the clear, unequivocal statement of the deceased, or their
relatives," that they wish to be cremated.  HOWEVER as at 2011, there are as yet NO crematoria
in Greece.



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Copyright 2004-2014  Carol Palioudaki.  Bereavement in Crete.  www.livingincrete.net
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