Land is at a premium on the Greek Isles. To this end, bodies are often exhumed and the family will clean the bones of the dead in a wine washing celebration.
Initially, an authentic Greek funeral usually takes place within 24 hours of death. As we in the United States are accustom, the body is dressed and placed in an open coffin by the undertaker. Often, instead of being displayed at a funeral parlor, the body is taken home where it is displayed prior to the funeral. It is here where family and friends will pay their respects.
As a sign of the dead, the coffin lid is placed outside the front door of the house. Grecian florists may not consider a funeral as a large part of their business as their American counterparts since wreaths are only given by close relatives which are placed outside the house with the coffin lid.
When family and friends arrive at the house they will normally bring a small bunch of flowers, and offer condolences to the family : “ Zoi se sas “ (life to you) or “ ta silipitiria mou” (my condolences) or simply ‘silipitiria’ (condolences). They will then bend and kiss the head of the deceased and lay the flowers on the open coffin.
The vigil goes on until the funeral takes place, often continuing throughout the night when the funeral takes place the next day. Friends come and go while the family sit in vigil by the deceased’s coffin.
Funerals are quick following the death but fortunately word travels fast in the small communities. Subsequently, friends and relatives attend the vigil and the funeral without the need of a formal invitation.
For 40 Days
Female close relatives in mourning dress in black from head to toe, normally for at least 40 days, while many widows and mothers who lose a child will continue to mourn and wear only black for the rest of their lives.
Close male relatives don’t shave for at least 40 days, and may wear a black armband. Although family members wear black it is not expected of everyone, but bright coloured clothing should be avoided – sober colours should be worn out of respect.
The funeral procession leaves from the house at the appointed time and the open coffin is placed at the front of the church. Those friends who have not visited the home file past and offer their condolences to the family before kissing the forehead of the deceased and laying flowers across the coffin.
After the church service they move out to the graveyard for the burial.
Graves are bunker-like and made of concrete. After the coffin has been lowered into the grave and a blessing performed the grave is closed with concrete slabs and sealed. Relatives will later decorate the grave with marble and a headstone.
Following the burial mourners may be invited to a cafeneion or back to the house for coffee, brandy and peanuts.
A number of memorial services (mnimosino) will be held after the death. The 40 days service ‘ta saranta” is held on the Sunday nearest to 40 days after the death. The 40 day service is usually well attended, often more so than the funeral as many of those who were unable to attend the funeral due to the short notice, will attend the 40 day service to pay their respects.
There is also a 3 month, 6 month, 9 month and one year memorial service. Thereafter yearly.
At the church memorial service the family place a photograph of the deceased at the front of the church and each mourner lights a candle as they enter the church. After the service the family line up and people file past to offer their condolences.
There are a shortage of graves and if there is no family grave nearby then relatives of the deceased will rent one at the local cemetery, usually for 3 to 5 years. After this time the grave is opened and the bones removed by family members, washed in wine and then transported either to a family grave where other relatives lay (which may be miles away from where they died and were buried – e.g. Athens or another island), or they are kept in a special vault at the church; an ossuary or ‘osteofilakio’.
The Greek Orthodox Church currently forbids cremation as it considers it as being Blasphemous to the body of man which is "the temple of the Holy Spirit".