Kisses for the Dead
...offered by Dn. fdj, a sinner at 9:23 AM [+]
Thanks to all who have dropped into my comment box with well wishes and prayers, I am truly grateful. Still pondering much on death so forgive me if my posts still head in that direction. Alana said well: Pascha is coming! Amen...any "study" or contemplation of death is utterly incomplete without Pascha.
Even those people remotely familiar with Orthodoxy know that we love to kiss. We kiss Icons, Crosses, Relics, Priests' hands, each other, and even our dead. The former is no doubt the biggest cultural rub, though the hands of priests may be a close second.
Presently, one is hard pressed to find a Church that still practices the liturgical “kiss of peace” as an actual kiss. Typically it has devolved into a handshake or if one is really lucky, a hug. Genrally speaking the Orthodox at least try and keep the practice of kissing, though this is becoming harder I think for the cradle ethnic Orthodox and is certainly a struggle for us converts. In my own Parish I have the routine down fairly well and I know exactly who is going to give me a good slobbering and who will not dare to stray within six inches of my hairy cheek (who can blame them?). Friends of the Russian Liturgical persuasion tell me that a triple kiss is in order and it always reminds me of the “look before you cross the street” rule.
We are an emotionally sterile culture, and I feel confident in saying this because I come from a very emotionally sterile family. One is hard pressed to even find the words “I love you” expressed in the home I grew up in…it was kinda assumed I guess. My Dad says it is the northern European Germanic blood we have which makes us thus. I hate it. Raising my own family, I use the phrase liberally – while struggling to let it show in my everyday actions. Anyway, in similar fashion we strive to sterilize death – even to the point that we do not wish to see the deceased one last time. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people complain about the “ickiness” of viewings. Closed caskets and cremations seem to be the funeral d’jour.
I am going to post soon concerning what I have heard about the Orthodox funeral, but for now I do need to make mention of the prominent role played by the “last kiss” in the service for the departed. Yes, we kiss the body in the casket…we reverence the broken Icon, lamenting, and praying for its eventual restoration.
So when I first stood alone beside my Grandmother in her casket I was scared (like a silly, stupid, watched-way-too-many-movies, American boy afraid of vampires) and I was nervous. Staring death in the face is one thing…kissing it is quite another. I wanted to do it though…I mean, what sort of Orthodox Christian would I be if I did not give the last kiss? With my heart racing and my adrenalin pleading with me to flee, I leaned into the casket and kissed her forehead. I then prayed a few Orthodox prayers for the departed and walked away…relieved. Looking back, I am glad I did this because she was more than just an “automatic” IMAGE of God, she also lived the LIKENESS of God – certainly she was much further along than I.
More thoughts yet to come…