On the Burial of the Heterodox
Quite often people turn to our priests with requests for panikhidas, and sometimes even
complete funeral services, for persons who were not members of the Orthodox Church. As a
guideline for pastors and faithful alike, we print below the decision of the Synod of
Bishops of the Russian Church, Abroad, issued in 1932, in connection with the serving of
panikhidas in several churches in France for the assassinated French President Doumer.
References to these services were made by people not well acquainted with the Church, canons
when other pastors refused to serve panikhidas for the non-Orthodox. Editor.
The Decision of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
On August 20/September 2, 1932, the Synod of Bishops reached a decision on the question
concerning burial services for the heterodox, and, since it is insufficiently well known
that it is forbidden to serve burial services for the heterodox or to have panikhidas sung
for them, it has been decided to publish the following explanatory proclamation
encyclically, by means of a declaration Addressed to the eminent hierarchs, clergy and all
the children of the Russian Church Abroad.
Preserving the purity of her Orthodox teaching and the entire divinely established
order of her life, the Church from time immemorial has forbidden her bishops, clergy and
laymen alike from entering into communion in prayer, whether in church or at home, with
all heretics, renegades (schismatics) and those that have been excommunicated from Church
society (Apostolic Canons X, XI, XLV; Synod of Laodicaea, Canon XXXIII ). The
strictness with which the Church protects her children from the danger of infection by any
heresy has extended even to prohibiting priests to pray or to perform any sacramental
action in the mere presence of heretics, with the exception only of those cases when the
latter "promise to repent and abandon their heresy" (St. Timothy of Alexandria,
Canon IX ). At the basis of these canonical decrees lies the eternal word of Christ:
"But if he (thy brother) neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican" (Matt. 18:17).
Being outside the Church during their lifetime, heretics and schismatics stand yet
further apart from her after death, for then the very possibility of repentance and of
turning to the light of Truth is closed to them. It is quite natural, therefore, that the
Church cannot offer up for them the propitiatory Bloodless Sacrifice or, in general, any
purifying prayer at all. The latter is clearly forbidden by the Words of the Apostle (cf.
I Jn. 5:16). Following the ordinances of the Apostles and the fathers, the Church prays
only for the repose of Orthodox Christians that have died in faith and repentance, as
living, organic members of the Body of Christ. There may also be included those that had
fallen away, but later repented and united themselves to the Church once more (St. Peter
the Martyr, Canon III ). Without this final condition, they remain alien to the Church
and, as members that have fallen away from her, are deprived of the latter's nourishing
sap, i.e. the grace-bearing mysteries and prayers of the Church.
Faithful to the Whole spirit of the ancient, universal Church, our Russian Orthodox
Church customarily forbade not only burial services, according to the Orthodox ritual, for
the heterodox (i.e. Roman Catholics, Protestants, Armenians, etc.), but even the serving
of panikhidas for them. Out of a sense of Christian mercy, she began to tolerate a single
condescension in regard to them: if a heterodox person of another "Christian
confession" dies and there is no priest or pastor of his confession to perform the
funeral, the Church permits the Orthodox priest, vested in epitrachilion and phelonion, to
accompany the body of the departed from its place to the cemetery, and to lower it into
the grave as the hymn "Holy God . . ." is sung. The decrees of the Holy Synod
which gave legal force to this rule (the first of which is dated July 26, 1727), permit
neither the carrying of the body of the deceased into an Orthodox Church, nor the singing
of a requiem litia, or even of "Eternal memory" for him (cf. the decrees of the
Holy Synod dated May 22, 1730, August 24, 1797, and February 20, 1880).
Regrettably, our ecclesiastical practice has not been consistent and uniform in the
given case. Under the influence of the liberal trends of public opinion, and sometimes to
placate the civil authorities, the Synod began to permit at times the serving of
panikhidas for Roman Catholics and Protestants, to the great scandal of the people of the
Church whose conscience could not be reconciled with so clearcut a departure from the
ancient tradition of the Fathers.
This grievous practice, which took root gradually over a period of time, was later
carried abroad by Russian refugees and began to be Widely disseminated, especially in the
Western European parishes which acknowledged Metropolitan Evlogy as their head.  It
being his custom, in general, to follow after his flock rather than to lead it, the latter
himself widely encouraged this anticanonical practice. It is known that, on his orders,
panikhidas were served in all the churches that acknowledged him for Doumer, President of
the French Republic, who had been assassinated by Gorgulov. It should be asked why a
public display of prayer for a non-Orthodox person was necessary. The Catholics could not
attach to it its true meaning, for to them it was merely the prayer of
"schismatics"; and it could not have been the sincere desire of the Russian
Orthodox people to, pray for a man with whom they had not the least ecclesiastical tie. Is
it not clear that this was simply a manifestation of Russian feeling in regard to the
honored president who had perished at the hands of a Russian criminal? But were there no
other means of expressing sympathy for France and of censuring the guilty Gorgulov besides
the Church's services for the dead? Does it not lower the dignity of the Church in the
eyes of the heterodox themselves when she is made the instrument of purely political aims?
With the aim of subverting the Russian refugees, the Catholics do not cease repeating to
them there is no essential difference between the teachings of the Orthodox and Roman
Catholic Churches, and that the division which exists between them is based substantially
on misunderstanding. The serving of solemn panikhidas for Catholics can only heighten the
confusion in the minds of the Russian Orthodox people, strengthening them in the erroneous
belief which Roman propaganda strives to foster in them. Even less can they justify having
a panikhida served for deceased Protestants, for Lutherans do not ascribe any power at all
to the Church's prayerful intercession for the dead.
The breadth of Orthodox Christian lovein the name of which ostensibly, the
Church's prayers should be permitted for departed Christians, regardless of which
confession they belonged tocannot be extended to include a disregard for the
Orthodox teaching of the faith, the deposit of which our Church has preserved within
herself throughout the course of centuries, for then every boundary separating the One,
True Church of salvation from those that were torn from grace-bearing union with her would
be blotted out. The limits of condescension permitted by reason of ecclesiastical economia
in regard to those that have fallen away are precisely defined in the holy canons, and no
one has the right to extend the boundaries fixed by the holy and divinely-wise Fathers.
In order to put an end to the scandal which has arisen in the Church over the
ecclesiastical commemoration of the heterodox and over the serving of panikhidas for them
in particular, the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad has considered
it necessary once more to remind both the pastors and the Russian Orthodox flock abroad of
the intolerability of any departure from the ancient canonical order apart from those
provided for in the above-mentioned decrees of the Holy Synod. The flock must not exert
pressure of any kind on the conscience of priestly celebrants who are obliged to maintain
faithfulness to the ancient, canonical order and to hold high the standard of Holy
Orthodoxy before the face of both the other Eastern Churches and all the heterodox as
In the event of the threat of serious conflicts with his parishioners on this issue,
the priest must forthwith refer the matter for decision to his diocesan bishop, whose duty
it is to show him authoritative support in the battle for the preservation of the ancient,
patristic statutes of the Church.
1. Rudder, pp. 22-23; 67; 566. N.B.: The canons of the Synod of Laodicaea
received ecumenical authority through the Sixth Ecumenical Council's Canon II (cf. Rudder,
2. Rudder, pp. 894-895. N.B.: The canons of St. Timothy received ecumenical
authority through Canon II of the Sixth Ecumenical Council. St. Timothy was Patriarch of
Alexandria in the fourth century and was one of the bishops that participated in the
Second Ecumenical Council, which was convoked in Constantinople in 381 to condemn the
heresies of Macedonius and others. St. Timothy reposed in 389.
3. Rudder, pp. 741-742. St. Peter the Martyr was Patriarch of Alexandria and was
martyred during the persecution of Diocletian about the year 305. His canons
received ecumenical authority through Canon II of the Sixth Ecumenical Council.
4. For a thorough discussion of the part played by Metropolitan Evlogy in the
ecclesiastical situation of the Russian Church of the diaspora, see The Truth about the
Russian Church Abroad, M. Rodzianko (Jordanville: St. Job of Pochaev Press, 1975), and
History of the Russian Church Abroad: 1917-1971, prepared by Holy Transfiguration
Monastery (Seattle: St. Nectarios Press, 1972).
From Orthodox Life, Vol. 78, No. 1, pp. 28-31.
+ + +
"IN YOUR LAST SHEPHERD, vol XVII, no 11, I read with interest Nun
Pelagia 's article on St Varus. She wrote that 'there is no Orthodox service the priest
can serve on behalf of [those] departed this life outside the Church' ... are we to
understand to understand this refers to atheists / non-believers, rather than non-Orthodox
Christians, for whom there is a service in the Trebnik [The Book of NeedsEd.]
for their Repose. Please could you clarify this?A.M., Kwa Zulu, Natal.
MOTHER PELAGIA was correct. There is in fact no service for the repose of any
non-Orthodox, whether Christian or not, in the Book of Needs, but I suspect that in saying
the opposite you are referring to one of the versions of the Book of Needs, published some
years ago by the Saint Tikhon's Seminary Press in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. We have
found this to be an invaluable little book, although the standard of English is poor and
the translations are oftentimes deplorable.
This book has an "Office for the Repose of Non-Orthodox" but if you notice in
the index it is prefaced by a sign which indicates that it is one of the "additional
Services, Prayers and Blessings taken from various sources." It does not indicate the
source of this service, and it seems to be an abridged form of the funeral service,
although the Apostle and Gospel readings are different. One would have more confidence if
the source of this service were given.
A more authoritative source, S.V. Bulgakov's "Nastolnaya Kniga" allows
only that, should a non-Orthodox Christian die in circumstances where there was no
minister of his own confession but only an Orthodox priest (a circumstance not likely to
occur in the West!), the priest may accompany the body to the grave with the chanting of
the Trisagion. He also quotes a comment on the subject by the renowned Metropolitan
Philaret of Moscow, who said of a certain Lutheran that it was permissible to serve a
moleben for him when he was yet alive, asking God's grace that he might join the One
Church, but after death it was a different matter. To the argument that such a service
would give comfort to the bereaved, he replied that to do something irregular for the
comfort of one, when it would not be without temptation for the many, would not be
I think that, particularly in these days, when so many things are published which are
not expressions of "the pious mind of the Church," one has to be extremely
careful, just because something is in print, even if it appears to be in a Service Book of
the Church does not rnean that it expresses the teaching of the Church.
From the "Points of Correspondence" section
of The Shepherd, Vol. XIX, No. 3 (November
1998), pp. 13-14.