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Question: 15

Dear Father Christopher,
Christ is in our midst!

I would like to ask you a follow-up question to my inquiry a while ago about "Baptism in the Air." What is the practice of the Church of Cyprus regarding the burial of Stillborn or unbaptized babies/children? Attached you will find the guidelines as practiced in the North American "Orthodox Church of America (OCA)" who's Russian based "Great Book of Needs" is used. Bascially, it says, we do not do a funeral, but I know of funeral services having been done (though I have not seen them). Some priests use the Funeral Service for Infants (as found in the Euchologion) saying the intention of the parents was to baptize the still born or young child that died and, since we would also serve a funeral for a Catechumen who had to yet been Baptized and Chrismated, the same pastoral consideration should be given to the infant. Others simply say the Trisagion prayers (not the Memorial Trisagion, but the simple Trisagion we use before any service) and add some Psalms. What is done in Cyprus?

In Christ,
Fr. Polycarp

Answer to Question 15

Dear Fr. Polycarp,
He is and ever shall be!

Although I was sure on the canonical view, I wasn't sure of what we actually do in practice so I needed to ask other priests of their views on your question. There were mixed views but in general there are two practices according to when the child died. If the child was stillborn then it had no time to be even a catechumen of the Church and is buried by the parents without the participation of the Church. If there was time for a “Baptism in the air” then the child is considered as a member of the Church and the Funeral Service for infants is recited, but if the child did not have a Baptism in the air then again the child is buried without the participation of the Church. If the child lived after the eighth day and received the blessing and signing of the name, or after the fortieth day and was churched and received the blessing to begin attendance, then it is considered that he/she is “in part” a member of the Church similar to a Catechumen, but also something more because a catechumen has not received such blessings: the child was offered to God and was taken into the sanctuary (males) and offered to God on all sides of the Holy Altar. As a “part” member with the intention that he/she was to become a full member, the general view is that the Funeral service for Infants is to be allowed. Whether or not a Church Funeral service is offered, we cannot say that the child has been guaranteed a place in heaven with the saints and the angels: in all cases the child is in God’s mercy and judgement. We allow the service, not so much for the child, but out of love for the parents who are members of the one body in Christ, to help comfort them on their great loss. As members of the body of the Church, we participate in the pain and sorrow of one member as we also rejoice with the happiness of another. We do something similar with suicide deaths. According to the canons we do not perform funerals for someone who has taken his own life voluntarily while being of sound mind because suicide is an action where the person has allowed despondency to take over his life and lead him to believe that he is even beyond God’s help: in other words he no longer believes and or puts his trust in God and thus severs himself from the body of the Church. The practice in recent years is to allow the funeral service for suicides:
1) To comfort the relatives, which is the main reason.
2) Because someone taking his own life must be mentally unstable and therefore of diminished responsibility. (See Pedalion – Canon (Question) 14 of Timothy of Alexandria)
3) The coroner’s verdict rarely states than the person took his own life and in many cases it could be considered accidental.

With love in Christ
Fr. Christopher