Tuesday 31 December 2013

A Greek Orthodox funeral

is decidedly different from an Anglican one or a Presbyterian one. I knew what to expect but the Senior Cat did not.
We were of course attending the funeral of my brother-in-law's mother. There is a very large Greek "clan"! and the church was full. People were standing.
My sister had come to get us, thus avoiding the traditional "return to the house" in which the coffin is taken back to the house for one last visit home and then on to the church. Nobody minded that. Only immediately family is expected to attend - if they can. We are however considered to be "family" and thus we were expected to attend the funeral.
The Senior Cat, at almost 91, was the oldest person there - just. He is treated with both respect for, and understanding of, his age. The extended family he knows also happen to like him - a few conjuring shows for birthday parties some years back have forever endeared him to the now quite grown up children of the next generation.  
I found the Senior Cat a seat at the side - the male side. Yes, there is still a male side and a female side. It is not quite as rigid as it used to be so I could sit with him. Most of the older generation separated. The younger ones tend to mix and sit together as couples. I suspect that, like others of their generation, they go to church for christenings, weddings and funerals and - when prompted to do so - a few might go for Christmas of Easter.
Greek was being spoken right around us. The Senior Cat knows not one word of Greek, especially Cypriot-Greek which is quite different from the Greek spoken in Greece. (Think the difference between broad Scots and old fashioned BBC English to have some idea.)
And, of course, as the church filled people had to stand in front of us so the Senior Cat could not even see what was going on. I doubt it would have made much difference but it might have made it a little more interesting.
If you don't know then I should explain that Greek Orthodox funeral services are largely "sung" or chanted by a chanter and the priests present - in this case two as Panayiota was a regular attender at church. It is all very formal but there is no participation on the part of the congregation in terms of hymns, prayers or responses.
It is, for the most part, meaningless unless you happen to understand Greek so part of it was repeated in English for the benefit of those who do not understand. The Senior Cat's hearing is not good enough to understand the chanting even in English. He is tolerant, indeed very tolerant, but he endured rather than enjoyed the service. 
A eulogy is not traditional but the younger generation does things their way. The youngest daughter stood up at the end of the service and read what we had written the other day - and she managed to read it clearly and without breaking down which is, I think, more than I could have done. There were some slightly shocked looks on faces of some of the older generation. Women do not speak in church! But, speak she did.
She was followed, again in a break from tradition by one of my nephews. He too kept his contribution short and light hearted. It lightened the otherwise sombre mood even when Panayiota's husband spoke the traditional farewell in Greek.
And it is what Panayiota would have approved of. Afterwards, in her kitchen, helping with the washing up and clearing away, we all agreed that it was right.
What did not feel right was to be working like that in her kitchen without her there to supervise.

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