Ignorant Reporting on Greek Orthodox Cremation Objections

Some ignorant reporting about a new law in Greece allowing cremation, from the Murdoch-owned News.com.au:

GREECE’S highest court has approved a government move to legalise cremation, brushing aside complaints from the powerful Orthodox church that it was un-Greek and could hamper the resurrection of the dead…[The church] says bodies which God created should not be burned as this will prevent their resurrection on Judgement Day.

The AP, more ambiguously, states that the Orthodox Church believes “that it is contrary to the notion of the resurrection of the dead”, while Kathimerini has a more sensible explanation:

The Church of Greece opposes cremation for believers, arguing that Orthodox traditions only allow for burial.

That’s better, although it begs the question of “why?”.

I’m not a fan of Greek Orthodoxy’s tendency to demand secular law follow its religious teachings, but in fairness it should be pointed out that there is in fact no doctrine in the religion which says that a person whose body is destroyed by fire cannot be resurrected – otherwise no believer would dare to risk flying in an areoplane, as well as numerous other absurdities. Burial is, though, a matter of tradition, and respect for the symbolism of resurrection. The Encyclopedia of Cremation – which can be consulted via Google Books – has an entry on Greek Orthodox rejection of cremation:

Saint Simeon, archbishop of Thessalonica…wrote: ‘and we place the corpse in the grave and give it to the earth with prayers, fulfilling the divine commandment, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” and thus we proclaim the resurrection.’

…Burial is a symbol, proof and confession of faith and hope in the immortality of the soul and in the resurrection…In addition, graves mark a place as a motherland

…Orthodox Christians hope to benefit from the grace which streams from the uncorrupted relics of the saints.

…However, no one should think that anyone who is cremated will not be raised from the dead and will escape the second coming of the Lord.

In the Catholic world, Thomas Aquinas considered the hypothetical problem of a cannibal who had only ever eaten human flesh, with parents who had followed the same practice. Such a person’s body would consequently be made up totally from other human bodies; what would happen then at the resurrection? Aquinas resolved the issue by noting that the particles of a body constantly change over time, and so a resurrected body need not be made of the same matter as the original. Bertrand Russell describes this as a “comforting thought”.

3 Responses

  1. While I’m not familiar with the verbiage of Greek orthodox scripture, I presume that it has some equivalent to the King James version’s “Ashes to Ashes.”

    Does this statement not imply that cremation is acceptable. Moreover, given the basic Christian assertion that Man is above, separate from and ruler over the world, would burying a person, who would then rot and return to the soil, not violate that covenant with God? It seems to me that one could make a theological argument that cremation is the only acceptable means of burial for a Christian.

  2. My understanding of Catholic teaching since Vatican II is that cremation is permitted so long as it is not done to challenge the doctrine of resurrection of the body. At a guess, burial is not the only acceptable means of disposing of one’s earthly remains as otherwise it would offer a ‘get out of eternal judgement’ card.

    The entry from the encyclopaedia you mention is interesting, particularly

    In addition, graves mark a place as a motherland

    . I wonder how this plays out in the state known as FYR Macedonia and other countries in the region.


  3. These cremation issues are always interesting to me.
    Still, people choose cremation regardless.

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