The right to want, or reject, cremation

Until now, we had been fighting for the separation of the Orthodox Church from the state. In the future, it looks as if we are going to be fighting for the opposite. At least, this is the only conclusion one can draw from the debate about the cremation of the dead that has followed a decision by the City of Athens to build a crematorium at the capital’s First Cemetery. It was always the Church we were accusing of interfering in the dealings of the state; now we have set the stage for the opposite to happen. But we should start off by clarifying things. For better or for worse, the Orthodox Christian dogma dictates that the dead be buried – «ashes to ashes, dust to dust.» This is the Orthodox rule and it is the exclusive prerogative of the Church to conduct funeral services for those who choose to be cremated, or not. Already, a debate on the subject has started within the ranks of the Church, with Ioannina Metropolitan Theoklitos maintaining that «there is no essential difference between burial and cremation. The Church cannot deny the existence of cremation, nor the right of each individual to act as a sovereign personality,» said the metropolitan. The Bulgarian Church, although Orthodox, allows the cremation of its dead. The debate will invariably continue, but it is the Church’s business to decide whether it wants to honor cremations or not. In view of this, it is rather surprising that Yiannis Boutaris, who had his wife cremated as she had requested, was shocked when the Church refused to conduct a funeral service. «How can the Church break the law and go unpunished,» Boutaris remarked. «When the Greek state passes a law allowing cremation, how can Church representatives refuse to conduct the subsequent service?» he asked. Evidently, some issues need to be clarified. The fact that the Greek state allows cremation does not automatically oblige the state to conduct funeral services for all citizens who choose to be cremated. Religious dogmas are non-negotiable. The opposite would be strange – for example, someone wanting a religious wedding without the ceremonies that accompany it. If a dogma is espoused, it should be embraced with all its good points and likely bad points. In my opinion, the Church is right. A law that would force it to carry out funeral services for cremations would be undemocratic. Some people object to the construction of a crematorium at Athens’s First Cemetery on the grounds that it is a Christian cemetery. But it is not a Christian cemetery, it is a municipal one. And perhaps most of those buried there were Orthodox believers but it also contains the remains of many followers of other faiths. In any case, the Church has every right to defend its rights. The Church should stick to its business, and the municipality to its own.