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Why The Orthodox Church Does Not Allow Cremation

Cremation – the burning of a body after death – has become quite popular over the last few decades. In 2015, the rate of cremation (48%) actually surpassed that of burial (45%). And by the year 2030, the National Funeral Directors Association places the cremation rate at 71%, with only 23% of Americans choosing traditional burial. The title of this article already told you the Orthodox Church does not allow cremation. In fact, most Orthodox Christians know at least this much. But do we really understand why?

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Why the Orthodox Church rejects cremation

The use of cremation by pagans and gnostics

The Orthodox Church rejects cremation for two main reasons: 1) its pagan origins, and 2) its denial of the value of the human body. The Old Testament Israelites often found themselves surrounded by pagans. God warned them not to adopt the values, beliefs, and practices of these people, one of which was cremation of the dead. Thus, the Israelites buried their dead after preparing the body. They closed the eyes (Gen. 46:4); washed the body (Acts 9:37); draped a cloth over the face (Jn. 11:44); anointed the body with spices (Lk. 23:56; 24:1; Jn. 19:40) and wrapped it with linens (Mt. 27:59; Mk. 15:45; Lk. 23:53; Jn. 19:39-40). Historically within Judaism, cremation was used only for punishment and humiliation (Joshua 7:15; Leviticus 21:9; 20:14). It was also an instrument of God’s wrath and destruction. Perhaps the most well-known example of this is the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24).

During the 1st century, early Christianity saw the birth of an heretical movement known as gnosticism. This movement denied the involvement of physical matter in our salvation (aka dualism). They (and many other heretical groups like them) viewed the body as basically useless after death and burned it. The early Christians distinguished themselves from these heresies by carrying on the tradition of burying their dead, modeling the example of Jesus, who was buried in a tomb after His crucifixion. Modern Orthodox Christians continue to reject cremation because it distinguishes us from the hedonistic, secular society that has made cremation trendy and acceptable.

The body as a temple

The second reason the Orthodox Church rejects cremation is because it blatantly denies the holiness of the physical body. We revere the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20). It is holy, and more importantly, it doesn’t really belong to us. Our bodies are gifts from God that we must treat with dignity, reverence, and care. Thus, any act that deliberately defiles the body (e.g. tattoos, sexual reassignment surgery, cremation, suicide) is not acceptable to the Church.

Not only do the Orthodox revere the body, but we also acknowledge the part our physical bodies play in our salvation. Unlike certain other religions (ex. Buddhism), the Orthodox do not view the body a temporary, inconvenient prison. Our bodies are just as involved in the process of attaining salvation as our souls. According to Holy Tradition and Scripture, we will be resurrected in our physical bodies at the Second Coming of Our Lord. We must take care of our bodies, feeding them properly, getting adequate rest, and healing them with the Holy Mysteries.

What happens if an Orthodox Christian chooses cremation?

Put simply, any Orthodox Christian who has his/her body cremated will not receive an Orthodox funeral service. Because the Orthodox Church’s rejection of cremation is so intimately tied with our understanding of salvation and the sanctity of the body, the funeral service loses all meaning. After all, how can the body and soul be reunited if the body was pulverized and burned?

In certain circumstances that necessitate cremation, the Orthodox faith does not condemn those who must practice it. For example, cremation is legally required in some municipalities in Japan. An Orthodox Christian living in one of these cities can be cremated in accordance with local law. Compulsory cremation in the case of an epidemic is also acceptable to Orthodox authorities.


The Orthodox Church does not allow cremation because it rejects the sanctity of the human body. Those who do request cremation upon death will not receive an Orthodox funeral or burial. However, the Church recognizes that certain circumstances might necessitate cremation, and will not condemn any who must be cremated in these situations.

Even if cremation might be cheaper and more popular than traditional burial, money and popularity should not be our primary concerns. Rather, our salvation and the state of our souls and bodies should always be at the forefront of our minds.

Read More: The Truth About Heaven And Hell >>

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10 Responses

  1. The Catholic Church allows it but the full funeral rites aren’t granted unless a casket is rented for the funeral Mass. People are doing because the funeral costs are getting to be over the top (one would think prices would be cut back so that people can afford a decent funeral). There was also the case of someone that was found dead for a few days and cremation was necessary.

  2. The question mentioned above, how can the body and soul be reunited if the body is pulverized and burned is interesting since, what about bodies lost at sea due to a sea disaster, or being eaten by another creature, or burned out of existence in a building fire? There are many instances where the physical body completely disappears. What difference is there if someone chooses to have their body cremated and the cremains are respectfully placed into a burial urn?

    1. Gregory,

      Christ is in our midst! Thank you for your interesting question. Of course, the Orthodox Church will continue to employ oikonomia in determining what to do in extenuating circumstances like those you mentioned. Intent clearly matters here as well. If an Orthodox Christian, while clearly understanding the sanctity of the body and its role in our salvation, still actively chose to have his or her body cremated, he or she would be acting in opposition to Church teaching. If the manner of one’s death necessitates cremation, or the body is lost entirely, exceptions can be made upon approval of the bishop.

      We hope this adequately answers your question! God bless!

      1. I have heard that some priests do allow it. However, having experienced both types of funerals and “burials” – without a doubt cremation left a very cold and UNmeaningful experience. The orthodox funeral service is above all about love and eternal life in Christ. But if God can put flesh on dry bones, I have no doubt He can recreate a body from ashes.

        1. Pamela,

          Christ is Risen! You are correct – God can do as He wills. But it is up to Him whether He will put back together the body a person deliberately destroyed through cremation. And why take that kind of a gamble with eternal life, especially when our Lord told us our bodies were temples of the Holy Spirit that should not be mutilated or mistreated?

    1. Leonidas,

      Christ is in our midst! We planned on writing about that very soon, but to give you a short answer in the meantime, the Orthodox Church does not have a unified stance on organ donation. However, Orthodox clergy will usually bless the act of organ donation, so long as it is an uncoerced act of love toward the “least of these.” Obviously there are many nuances, but this is the general view shared most commonly among the Orthodox.

      Once we publish our post exploring organ donation within the next week or so, we will reply to this comment with a link for you! God bless!

      1. can you also post the article written about differences between orthodox christians and protestants? I can’t seem to find it on the site. Thank you.

        1. Taneisha,

          Christ is in our midst! That article is in the works right now – as soon as we have it published, we will respond to your comment here! 🙂 God bless!

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