Bishop Michael Evans of East Anglia passed away on July 11 from cancer at only sixty. May he rest in peace.

It is now being reported that his body will be cremated instead of buried.

As more details concerning Bishop Michael Evans’ funeral arrangements have come to light over the past week or so, it appears that his body, rather controversially, will be cremated not buried. It might be understandable, therefore, that details concerning the cremation are not widely available, and that none of the official announcements seem to mention it. However, the Catholic Grandparents Association, of which Bishop Evans was Patron until shortly before his death, did mention yesterday that his “committal, prior to cremation, will be at 16.30 [on Wednesday, 20 July] at the City Crematorium, Dereham Road [Norwich]*.”

I know that the Church does not find anything wrong with the practice of cremation. I, however, have never been comfortable with the practice but for more practical than theological reasons. When it comes to my death and resting place, I don’t want fire to have anything to do with it. I don’t want to give God any ideas.

Beyond that, I have always felt that there is something in the practice that conveys a lack of hope. It may be silly, but I have never been able to get over this feeling.

While cremation is becoming more common, I do not think that it is very common among priests and Bishops. In fact, this may be the first time I have ever heard of a Bishop being cremated, although I do not keep track of such things.

Orthodox Christians continue to oppose the practice of cremation. In writing about this practice and why the Orthodox continue to oppose it, Father John Touloumes writes

In God’s Image
The human person is created in the image and likeness of God. When we are baptized it is not only the soul which becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit, but also the Body. When we receive Holy Communion, we take the real Body and Blood of Christ into our bodies. In the mysteries of Chrismation and Holy Unction it is our bodies which are anointed with Holy Chrism. Particularly clear proof of the sanctity of the body is given by those saints such as Saints Spyridon, Paraskevi, Savas, Gerasimos and Dionysios, whose bodies remain incorrupt centuries after their physical deaths. The Church knows innumerable accounts of healing occurring upon being blessed with the relics of a saint. These men and women lived the life in Christ so fully that not only were their souls taken to heaven but their bodies retain the sanctity and healing power of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The Example of Holy Friday
The future resurrection of the believer’s soul and body, according to the truth which Christ revealed, dictates the nature of Orthodox traditions concerning the body at death. In an Orthodox funeral, “the mourners gather” as the “myrrhbearers to provide the last ministry to the Christian body in preparation for the Resurrection.” Anyone who has attended the Orthodox Great Friday services knows the sequence following Christ’s death: Joseph of Arimethea goes at great personal risk to beg Pilate for the body of Jesus. As our icons show, the Theotokos, Nicodemos, John the Apostle and the Myrrhbearing Women helped Joseph, covering the Most Precious Body with tears.

How We Care for the Body
The Church has unequivocally taught since Christ’s Crucifixion that the proper way to treat the dead is a reverent burial of the body in the context of a proper Church funeral and prayers for those who have fallen asleep in the Lord. We sing hymns and psalms to escort the dead on their way and to express gratitude to God for their life and death. We wrap the body in a new shroud, symbolizing the new dress of incorruption the person is destined to receive. We pour myrrh and oil on the body as we do at baptism. We accompany this with incense and candles, showing our belief that the person has been liberated from darkness and is going to the true Light. We place the body in the grave towards the east, denoting the Resurrection to come. We weep in our grief, but not unrestrainedly, as we know what happiness is to come.
The Broad Picture
Acceptance of cremation, therefore, would represent a radical departure from an established practice for which there seems to be no adequate reason to institute a change. The argument that cemeteries waste space does not stand in a nation as immense as our own, especially when the universality of modern transportation makes burial sites away from urban centers easily accessible. The sky-rocketing cost of burial is not seen at this time as a compelling reason to sanction cremation, for the Church does not ask that funerals be extravagant and costly, but that a certain amount of respect be maintained for the human body that was once the temple of a human soul. Thus the Church, due to a pastoral concern for the preservation of right beliefs and right practice within the Tradition of the Fathers, and out of a sense of reverence for its departed, must continue its opposition to this practice. Each Orthodox Christian should know that since cremation is prohibited by the canons [rules of the Church], those who insist on their own cremation will not be permitted a funeral in the Church. Naturally, an exception occurs when the Church is confronted with the case of some accident or natural disaster where cremation is necessary to guard the health of the living. In these special situations, the Church allows cremation of Orthodox people with prior episcopal permission and only by “economia.”

While I do not suggest that cremation is a moral evil, I think that it is not the ideal. I think the Orthodox reasoning makes sense to me. You?

ht Rorate Caeli