If a person has chosen a method of cremation, will the Church refuse to conduct funeral and memorial services?
If one of the members of the Church chooses cremation, the priest will not conduct a funeral service after his death because the clergyman conducts this service at the presence of the body of the deceased person and not over the ashes. In this case, only a memorial service is conducted.
A person may choose cremation, according to his understandings. Some people think that it is better to be cremated than make the body to be putrefied and eaten by worms. With this imagination Hamlet, one of the characters of Shakespeare’s tragedy answered the king’s question where the chief counselor is, who was killed by Hamlet accidentally. Hamlet says that he’s at supper, “not where he eats, but where he is eaten. Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but to one table: that’s the end”. In the same manner, as mentioned in the literary work “Hamlet”, a man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat the fish that had fed of that worm.
Similar imaginations push some people to prefer cremation. But people need to know the whole truth about cremation. The big bones and the skull do not turn into the ashes with the cremation, they must be broken down with the specific device.
If we also try to burn the bones, we can see that these bones don’t turn into the ashes. So, we must make ashes from burned bones. Despite the high degree of the fire in crematoriums; however, it’s not enough for the incineration of big bones.
Besides that, among the problems of the crematoria, the fact is revealed that the furnaces are often quite dirty, filled with ashes and dust. After a disposable use, the crematoria need a good clean, and it may be long after a long time when they are freezing. However, in many cases, cleaning does not take place, so the ashes of a burned corpse are mixed with the ashes of the next burned body. Therefore, first and foremost complete and extensive information about the crematories is necessary with the details about their advantages and disadvantages, so that people can make a choice.
The Church does not reject people who have chosen cremation. In western Churches, the clergymen already conduct funeral ceremonies. Eastern Churches also does not reject such persons and does not excommunicate their relatives. The priests, especially in dioceses in western countries, visit the graves, but do not conduct the funeral service, they conduct only memorial service. The clergyman prays for the peaceful repose of the soul, for the consolation of the Holy Spirit to relatives of the deceased.
At the time of the resurrection God, of course, can turn also the ashes into a resurrected body, as Who created the world, the man, the universe from nothing, He can also bring to the existence from already existing elements.
This is what St. Gregory of Tatev explains, talking about a fish that ate a man, and then another man caught and ate this fish. In any case, we should remember that the Church does not encourage cremation.