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Memorial Services ((Greek)

Μνημόσυνα (mnemosyna, memorial) or Παραστάς (wake); (Old Church Slavonic)
Паннихида (Latinized as Pannikhída, Pannichida, or Panikhída; from the Greek for "all the dead") are special prayer services offered for the benefit of the departed.
Services of the Orthodox Church
Eucharist: Divine Liturgy | When the Eucharist cannot be served: Typika
Daily Cycle (Divine Office)
Vespers | Compline | Midnight Office | Matins
Little Hours (Prime,Terce,Sext,None) | Royal Hours | Mesorion
Other Services
Akathist Hymn | Paraklesis | Moleben
Great Blessing of Water | Artoklasia
Baptism-Chrismation Service | Holy Unction
Ordination Service | Marriage Service
Funeral Service | Memorial Service

Prayers and Almsgiving

Early Christians expressed their concern for the repose of the souls of their beloved by works of charity and love and by personal and communal prayers.[note 1]

The Apostolic Constitutions recommended that part of the possessions of a dead person be distributed to the poor in his "memory".

St. John Chrysostom, Jerome, Tertullian, and others also recommended alms giving in memory of the dead although they believe that this and other good works for the repose of the soul of the dead also benefit the doers.

Memorial Services with Kollyva Offerings

In the Orthodox Church the various prayers for the departed have as their purpose to pray for the repose of the departed, to comfort the living, and to remind those who remain behind of their own mortality, and the brevity of this earthly life. For this reason, memorial services have an air of penitence about them[note 2] and tend to be served more frequently during the four fasting seasons (Great Lent, Nativity Fast, Apostles' Fast and Dormition Fast).

According to the Apostolic Constitutions, memorial services may be held on the 3rd, 9th, and 40th day, and on the completion of a year from the day of death.[note 3] These prescribed times are still observed in most Orthodox places.

The memorial service is most frequently served after the Divine Liturgy, however it may also be served after Vespers, Matins, or as a separate service by itself. For the memorial service, Kollyva, a ritual food of boiled wheat, is often prepared and is placed in front of the "memorial table" or an icon of Christ and is blessed by the priest afterwards.[note 4]

The service is composed of Psalms, Ektenias (litanies), hymns and prayers. In its outline it follows the general outline of Matins,[note 5] and is in effect a truncated funeral service. Some of the most notable portions of the service are the Kontakion of the Departed,[note 6] and the final, slow and solemn singing of "Memory Eternal."[note 7]

The deacon (or, if there is no deacon the priest) will swing the censer throughout almost the entire service, and all will stand holding lighted candles. Near the end of the service, during the final Troparia, all will either put out their candles or will place them in candle holders on the memorial table. Each candle symbolizes the individual soul, which, as it were, each person holds in their own hand. The extinguishing (or giving up) of the candle at the end of the service symbolizes the fact that each person will have to surrender their soul at the end of their life.

Considering the fact that in the Orthodox Churches of the diaspora a memorial service with the participation of the congregation must be held on a Sunday, the 40th day memorial service is the one universally observed although by necessity, it may not be held exactly on the 40th day. Needless to say, the Orthodox people may give the names of their departed to be mentioned by the priest in the Eucharist at any time.

At Gravesites and Commemorative meals

Another kind of memorial was the gathering on the graves of the dead or in the church (funerals), and the serving of meals afterwards known as "makariai" (meals in memory of) that are still held by many in the church hall following burial.

In addition, it is also customary for the priest to pour wine, oil, and some of the Kollyva on the grave site, following memorial services in church.

At the Eucharist

Praying for the dead could include celebrating the Eucharist or could be a special service, as it is now, in which the names of the dead were mentioned, or it could be both.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem mentions the prayers offered for the benefit of all who have died in the faith of Christ, stating that their souls greatly benefit by the prayers of the Church and by offering the Bloodless Sacrifice for the repose of their souls.

St. John Chrysostom believes that "to mention the names of the departed in the awesome mystery of the Eucharist results in much benefit for the souls of the beloved."

Above all, praying for the dead is a deeply rooted practice in the Church on the belief that the Church of Christ is constituted not only of her living members but also of her departed ones. The Bloodless Sacrifice of the Orthodox Eucharist, as articulated in all the Liturgies in use, is offered for the benefit of both dead and living faithful.

A Biblical basis for praying for the dead may be found in the Epistle of St. James, 5:16, by which the "prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects."[1]

See also


  1. The non-canonical Acts of Paul and Thecla (New Testament Apocrypha) speak of the efficacy of prayer for the dead, so that they might be "translated to a state of happiness." (Acts of Paul and Thecla, 8:5)
  2. For instance, the Memorial Service does not have the chanting of "God is the Lord..." as the Molieben does; but instead, the "Alleluia" is chanted, reminiscent of the "Alleluia" that is chanted at Lenten services.
  3. They are also commonly held on the third year anniversary. Some faithful will request a memorial every year on the anniversary of death.
  4. The memorial table is a small, free-standing table to which has been attached an upright crucifix, sometimes including also icons of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary) and the Apostle John. The table will also have a place for the faithful to put lighted candles.
  5. From this comes the Greek name parastas which refers to standing all night in vigil, which in the early days was what literally took place.
  6. Kontakion of the Departed: "With the saints give rest, O Christ, to the soul(s) of Thy servant(s), where there is neither sickness, nor sorrow, nor sighing, but life everlasting."
  7. Deacon: In blessed repose, O Lord, grant eternal rest unto Thy departed servant (Name) and make his/her memory to be eternal!
    Choir: Memory eternal! Memory eternal! Memory eternal!


  1. Rev. Dr. Nicon D. Patrinacos (M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon)). A Dictionary of Greek Orthodoxy - Λεξικόν Ελληνικής Ορθοδοξίας. Light & Life Publishing, Minnesota, 1984. pp.249-250.


  • Rev. Dr. Nicon D. Patrinacos (M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon)). A Dictionary of Greek Orthodoxy - Λεξικον Ελληνικης Ορθοδοξιας. Light & Life Publishing, Minnesota, 1984.
  • Memorial service (Orthodox) at Wikipedia.