A Christian Ending is a handbook for burial in the ancient Christian tradition. Whether you are a Christian or not, this book provides details on how to legally prepare a body for burial, perform a vigil and funeral. The book grew out of a life-long aversion to the American funeral industry and the American cult of body preservation. From an early age the whole thing just seemed quite warped and very un-Christian. In short, “it gave me the willies.” I always thought that it would be much better to be “planted” among the roots of an old oak tree than to have my remains pumped full of chemicals and sealed in a metal box. It turns out I was right.
As Christians we are constantly seeking to know the truth of things. Over the years we realized that the American funeral industry is built upon a mountain of lies. Working in a hospital many years ago, I learned that hospital personnel are trained to handle the death of Jews much differently than they do Christians. I learned that Jewish burial rituals are much closer to my idea of a proper burial than the funeral industry would have us believe.
Knowing that the first Christians considered themselves to be Jews, I surmised that early Christian burial was probably much the same. So what happened to those traditions? A trip to the library enlightened me. I learned that the American funeral industry is unique. In most of the world burial is still a quite organic, natural part of family and community life. Here we have turned it into a grotesque art form at best, or a macabre cult of greed and profit at the worst.
One day in 2005, in a discussion with my parish priest I said, “I have all this information on ancient Christian burial. Surely you can find a seminarian who is looking for a thesis. Have him write a book.” His response was, “No, you write it.” The first version was simply a step by step description of how to prepare a body for burial with an explanation of “why” written only with Orthodox Christians in mind. This early version was circulated among friends and fellow Orthodox Christians via photo copy.
While writing this first draft and working out details of the “process” in our heads, tragedy struck. A good friend and parishioner died suddenly and unexpectedly. He left three teenaged orphans. Our church family quickly pulled together, donated a coffin, dug his grave on a friends farm and prepared his body at the hospital morgue. During this tragic time everything went “by the book”. This was also the first time I signed for receipt of a body as “funeral director”. Since then we have prepared numerous bodies of family, friends, parishioners and perfect strangers.
The favorable reactions and suggestions lead us to rewrite the book to broaden the scope to include other Christians who might not be familiar with Orthodox Christian tradition and eschatology. This version also got favorable reviews and we were encouraged to seek a publisher. We then embarked on a third version to include anyone interested in “natural”, “green” or “new age” burial in the potential audience.
Still, we knew a book like this is not a profitable undertaking for a publishing house and therefore it would probably never see the light of day. We continued sending bound photocopies free upon request. Finally, a copy found its way to the Monastery of Saint John of San Francisco where Abbot Jonah (now Metropolitan JONAH of all America and Canada, Orthodox Church in America) agreed to publish it through Divine Ascent Press, the monastery imprint. We are very much indebted to His Beatitude and the monks for all the work that went into editing and printing this book.
We hope this website will grow to be more than just an introduction to the book. We plan to include resources for natural burial, links, a blog and a memorial page. We would like to provide a place where you and others can design and place a memorial page to your loved ones.
Obviously, as Orthodox Christians we approach our death as we do our entire life, as Christians. However, if you are not a Christian, you will still find lots of valuable step by step information inside.
Thank you for your interest in A Christian Ending.