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Question 267

Why is it that we cannot cremate? I know many of people who say they would rather be cremated now then buried (probably due to the cost) and my dad asked that he be cremated before he died and made me promise I would - I did promise but when the time came I couldnít do it - which I now feel bad I went against his wishes


Answer to Question 267


The Orthodox arguments against Cremation are: 

1) Our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ died on the Cross and was buried. (Nicene Creed) therefore we should imitate Jesus.


2) Everyone will be bodily resurrected in the Second Coming of Christ. Cremation is a denial of the bodily resurrection.


3) The human body is the temple of God and is a sacred sanctuary even after physical death.


4) Cremation with Godís blessing is never mentioned in the Old Testament. 


5) We must not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2) especially as cremation becomes more common. Cremation is the denial and purposeful destruction of Godís human temple. As followerís of Christ, we are not dualists or spiritualists who believe that the material world is inherently evil and to be despised. Rather, as Christians, we believe in the inherent goodness of the material world, especially our human bodies. Together, our body and soul, are created in Godís image and likeness. We are called to redeem and transfigure the creation to its original glory and beauty by continually resisting sin and temptation, repenting of our transgressions, and opening our hearts, minds and bodies to the indwelling presence of Godís divine grace through His only-begotten Son and life-giving Holy Spirit. The only fire we should submit ourselves to is the fire of Godís love and holy presence. Because the Orthodox Faith affirms the fundamental goodness of creation, it understands the body to be an integral part of the human person and the temple of the Holy Spirit, and expects the resurrection of the dead. The Church considers cremation to be the deliberate desecration and destruction of what God has made and ordained for us. The Church instead insists that the body be buried so that the natural physical process of decomposition may take place.


 People who support cremation say that they have a right to choose and that the Church should give in to their demands. The Church replies that: as they are free to choose the method of disposal of their bodies, but the Church is also free to follow her Holy Tradition and teaching, and can therefore deny to those wanting cremation a Christian funeral service. As to the question whether the souls of those cremated are rejected by the Lord, we can only say that the Lord can resurrect any body regardless of how it died and was disintegrated. We have the example of Saints who were burnt alive or were eaten by wild animals in the Colosseum of Rome etc. and it would be foolish to say that they will not be resurrected. This, though, is different from someone voluntarily wishing to be cremated and not buried because of a differing belief about the body and salvation from that of the Church.


Among the other Christian Confessions of faith, most of the protestant denominations accept cremation. The Roman Catholic faith forbade cremations until 1983. From that year, according to their new Canon Law, they will allow cremations as long as they are not done for reasons contrary to the Christian teaching, but still advises burial as the norm. In the Orthodox Christian Funeral Service the hymns and prayers continually refer to burial and for the return of the body "to the earth from which it was taken" (Gen. 3:19). In conclusion The burial of the dead is an ancient custom and is based on Holy Scripture, according to the belief that man was formed from earth "and to earth he will return". Christianity, especially the Orthodox Church, teaches that the human body will rise at the Second Coming of the Lord, to attain the blessedness of the Heavenly Kingdom together with the soul, or to suffer the result of rejecting God. Therefore we must respect the body even after death. Respect is shown by burying the body and not burning it.


The supporters of cremation give a lot of environmental, psychological and economical reasons to push their ideas in making cremation available to Christians. Most of those putting these ideas across are either non Christians, or peripheral "Christians" who are doing their best to fight the Orthodox Christian Faith. The Church has no objection to people who are not firm believers and who wish to have themselves cremated, but expects the same freedom not to conduct a funeral service for them because of the aforementioned reasons.


I understand the feeling of wanting to respect a father's dying wish, but you also needed to respect your own feelings and the feelings of the rest of the family. Donít let is trouble you, you did the right thing and if he could, you father would thank you for not carrying out his wish.