Yesterday I caught a brief news piece on TV about the practice of Natural Burial.
"Natural burial" really is mostly what we Orthodox have always preferred to do, excepting that we do have a churchyard with headstones rather than trees (and in fact, here in the Lower Mainland, I think we mostly have to make do with general cemeteries rather than a parish churchyard attached to the church.) In some countries, there were/are wooden crosses rather than stones; and often, after decomposition, bones are dug up and removed to an ossuary so the grave can be reused. This is how some saints have been discovered to be incorrupt after death.
That seems bizarre to us in our death-denying, mechanistic culture. We need to remember that for most of history, this was just normal.
What left me aghast was the numbers cited on the TV report: apparently some NINETY PER CENT of British Columbian deceased are dispatched by means of cremation, a practice that is abhorred by the Orthodox church and only reluctantly permitted in jurisdictions where it is compulsory, such as Japan, or in case of an epidemic or disaster.
These articles on the Natural Burial site explode the concept that cremation is good for the environment, and describe how conventional burial is also bad. A summary of how cremation is actually done is found here.
Here is an article by the late Fr. Victor Sokolov (formerly of Holy Resurrection Vancouver) about Orthodox funeral practice.
Lots to think about. Is there in our future here the possibility of the Orthodox getting together to get our own burial ground somewhere not too far out of town, where we can do an Orthodox version of "natural burial"? Unless I am mistaken, as of now, most local authorities here in BC require either the conventional embalming or cremation. At the least, perhaps some of us should be thinking of getting together and buying a bunch of plots in some Fraser Valley Cemetery so that we can have an 'Orthodox area' where we can bless the graves together, even if we must still have conventional burial. I think the Greeks do have a "Greek section" in one or two of the Vancouver area cemeteries.
Any thoughts, anyone? We are such a young parish, we have done only a handful of funerals, most of those for non-members, over the 20 plus years we have been here. But unless the Lord comes, we will all face death one day. I think now is the time to start considering these very practical possibilities. Ideas?