The four-page pamphlet issued last month by the Church of Greece’s Holy Synod, ostensibly aimed at informing the faithful of its position on cremation, is shocking.
Its description of the process is so graphic that it is obviously designed to discourage people: “Dead bodies are not trash! They are not worthless objects that need to be consigned to the fire and the grinder, a violent eradication in short,” the Church’s directive said, among other things.
An equally morbid response from a champion of cremation could likewise be: “Dead bodies are not road kill! They are not food for worms that need to be consigned to the ground, to slow, stinking decomposition.”
In its pamphlet, the Holy Synod describes the process of cremations as being similar to that of recycling trash. Likewise, a supporter of the more environmentally friendly process of cremation could describe burial as being similar to throwing trash in a landfill.
The Church does not accept that it is “dignified for a person at rest to be burned in an incinerator and ground in a mixer,” the pamphlet says.
The counterargument would be: “It is not dignified for a dead person to be beautified with makeup, dressed in a suit, placed in a wooden box and made the object of voyeuristic curiosity by the funeral-goers before being buried.”
What the pamphlet aims to accomplish above all else, though, is to respond to accusations that the reactions of the Church to cremations are not financially motivated, calling that a “childish claim.” It says that if the Church were concerned about money, it would encourage Orthodox priests to offer funeral services for people who are being cremated as well.
“Those who do not want to espouse the customs of the Church obviously have the right to choose cremation,” the pamphlet says, adding that anyone choosing cremation therefore also eschews the right to a funeral mass. It’s blackmail, pure and simple: either the incinerator without mass or elegant in the walnut coffin with a funeral service.
It is worth noting that, until recently, the Church had chosen to turn a blind eye to cases of cremation. Now that Greece has its first crematorium, though, and a lot more is at stake, it is giving the people the choice: the grinder or a memorial service.