|Russian Funeral Traditions
Russian Burial Traditions
Several steps must be taken once a person has died so their body can be buried
and their soul can travel to the “other world.” The first step is washing the body.
In a Dual Faith setting (in which Orthodoxy and folk traditions are combined)
this ritual prepares the deceased’s for their meeting with God. They then dress
the body in all white, handmade clothing left slightly unfinished because it
belongs not in this world but the “other world.” In Christianity, the white
clothing worn by the corpse represents the pure life the deceased promised to live
when he or she was baptized.
The body must wear a belt during its burial because the deceased will need it
when he or she is resurrected during the Last Judgment. Belts are significant in
both Christian and folk rituals. Christians value them babies receive them, along
with a cross, at their christening. Thus, it symbolizes a person’s commitment to
Christianity. In folk tradition, belts mark out an individual’s private space and
prove that he or she is a member of society and protect the wearer from dark
After washing and dressing the body, the body is laid out in the house for three
days before it is put it in the coffin. Orthodox households and Old Belief (pre
1650 Orthodoxy) households perform this ritual slightly differently. Orthodox
families lay their dead loved one so his or her head points towards the icon
corner. In the houses of Old Believers the feet are placed closer to the icon
corner so the deceased faces the corner and can pray if he or she desires. Old
Believers believe that the dead can still feel for a time after their death. For fear
of waking the newly dead, mourning does not begin during the washing or
dressing. Inappropriate funeral etiquette can also wake the dead.
The coffin, sometimes referred to as the “new living room,” is very comfortable,
made like a bed with a pillow stuffed with birch bark or wood shavings.
Mourners place objects in the coffin that the body might need after death such as
money, food, favorite belongings, and reflections of status or occupation.
Traditionally, men carry the coffin on their backs to the cemetery where the
funeral will take place.
At the funeral, a priest performs the “seeing off” ceremony, praying over the
body and allowing mourners to throw dirt on the grave, symbolically
incorporating the corpse into the earth. The priest then places a paper crown on
the head of the deceased and the mourners throw soil and coins into the grave
(the coins are either to pay for transit to the “other world” or for the space in
the cemetery). After the funeral, mourners sing laments depicting the deceased
leaving his or her family and the soul departing from the body.
A funeral procession brings good luck. But one should never cross its path or it is
Asian Funeral Traditions
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