A reader has asked for information about cremation.
Question: I’ve not always found the arguments against cremation very strong, but your book has helped me to see anew the wisdom of Orthodoxy on this position. Please explain the Orthodox position on cremation and its theological rationale.
Deacon Mark: I would never presume to speak for The Orthodox Church. I can only speak for myself and my own understanding. I’m a pretty simple minded fellow. My understanding is that God created us with bodies for a reason. Man was created for an intimate relationship with the creator unlike any of the angels or heavenly hosts. The image in Genesis where God breathed life and spirit into Adam’s nostrils (Genesis 2:7) is the picture of a very intimate relationship. According to scripture, this is the living temple where our creator dwells. It is washed in the sacred waters of Baptism, anointed with Holy Chrism and nourished with the Body and Blood of Christ. It is a temple beyond price. Yet, through pride and jealousy we throw away that intimate relationship and desecrate the temple daily.
In the history of the early church and the Lives of the Saints we read that the faithful would “rush” to retrieve the bodies of the martyrs, often at the risk of their own lives. They would kiss and caress them, clean and anoint them and give them an honorable burial. The physical remains of the martyrs and all the saints had, and have, value beyond price. We have never thought of the body as a disposable container for the soul. We have never had a dualistic understanding of the body and spirit as separate pieces of the human puzzle. Human beings were created to be a whole being, body and soul. It is sin and death that causes the rupture.
The Lord said, “My Holy One shall not see decay.” We have evidence from every age, all around the world that his words are true. All over the world there are incorrupt, often wonder-working remains of Saints. Obviously, these are very valuable relics that would not be with us today if they had been destroyed by cremation.
As an Orthodox Christian, my entire life is supposed to be a reflection of our Lord’s own extreme humility. It is to be lived humbly and selflessly as an offering of love. Each day I try to place my whole life completely in God’s hands and trust Him to guide me in the way wherein I should walk. I trust Him with my life, my breath and my heart beat. Can I not trust Him to properly dispose of His own earthly temple? In that regard, choosing cremation is my final act of pride. By choosing to have my body burned, I decide what will happen to my remains, not God.