From “Sojourner, Reflections of an Eastern Orthodox Christian” at http://lynbreck.com/reviews comes this review of “A Christian Ending.”
A CHRISTIAN ENDING A Handbook for Burial in the Ancient Christian Tradition
J. Mark and Elizabeth J. Barna
Divine Ascent Press, Manton, CA, 2011
“A Christian ending to our lives, painless, blameless and peaceful; and a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ, let us ask of the Lord.” (Ancient Prayer)
With the development of the funeral industry, the home parlor was replaced by the professional funeral parlor. Embalming the deceased with formaldehyde became a standard practice. Modern burial frequently embraces a denial of death. As an example of this denial, we can visit large expanses of “lawns” dotted with plastic flowers. The absence of gravestones is striking. It is as though there is no such thing as death.
The authors remind us: “There are no federal laws requiring the services of a funeral director, embalming, caskets or coffins, vaults, or liners. Everything needed for a proper Christian burial can be provided by the family and the church community.”
Deacon Mark and Elizabeth are proponents of natural burial in accordance with the ancient, prayer centered, natural tradition. They believe that death is a part of life. “Death care is quite simply the extension and natural progression in completing the cycle of loving Christian care from birth to the grave.”
This two-part handbook takes the reader on a journey, initially to understand the significance of death from an ancient Christian perspective followed by practical considerations (Part Two) that address the actual preparation of the body. (See Appendix A.) They also stop to consider the process of grieving taking the reader back to the early patristic approach to loss and death. We are encouraged to grieve but to grieve as those who have hope. Some biblical treasures along with patristic wisdom (St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, among others) are included. We are reminded that Christ himself wept over Lazarus.
Deacon Mark and Elizabeth guide us through the pre-planning of our own funerals encouraging us to prepare the appropriate documents (Living Will, Durable Power of Attorney, Last Will and Testament, Do Not Resuscitate Orders for the terminally ill.) Autopsies are usually not required unless there is a criminal investigation regarding the cause of death. A family member with a signed Post Mortem Preference Document can act in lieu of a funeral director. (See Appendix B for copies of all the necessary forms.)
As readers, we are invited into the Barna’s family experience as they care for their aging parents and pray for “a peaceful ending.” Their emerging awareness of the typical American practice of entrusting the deceased loved ones to strangers and their desire and dedication to provide a Christian ending motivated them to search out another way. They were able to give their parents what they lovingly refer to as “our final gift”: high quality care in a family setting and a truly Christian way of dying.
Avoiding the extremes of “either/or,” the authors lead us through the intricacies of the many choices confronting us as we attempt to offer a Christian ending to our own family members, our loved ones, our parishioners. They include a Service of Prayers based on ancient Christian tradition for the period of time from death to burial, a time that they urge us to redeem.
“Grant rest eternal and blessed repose, O Lord to the soul of your newly departed servant (name), and make his (or her) memory to be eternal. “Memory Eternal” is sung three times followed by the request for forgiveness from the deceased. “Beloved brother (or sister) in Christ, forgive me if at any time I have offended you by anything I have done or left undone. May your memory be eternal.”
You may visit AChristianEnding.com for further information.