Armenian Funerals: Customs, Etiquette & What to Expect

Updated

Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity more than 1,720 years ago in 300 CE. Soon after, the Armenian Church diverged from its founding religion to develop unique beliefs, practices, and traditions. Many of those customs still exist today, both in daily religious practice and at special observances like funerals. 

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Traditional Armenian funerals follow the Canons of the Armenian Orthodox Church. Canon Law dictates when and how a funeral should take place. Usually, a Church pastor works closely with the family to ensure the funeral and burial follow specific religious laws. 

Whether you’re planning an Armenian Funeral or just planning to attend one, it’s a good idea to read up on customs and etiquette. In this article, we’ll walk you through a typical Armenian funeral, so you know what to expect. 

Armenian Funeral Service Customs and Ceremony

Armenian funeral services are part of a greater burial ritual. The burial ritual is divided into three separate services:

  • Home Service or Wake: “Dan Gark”
  • Church Service: “Yegeghetsvo Gark”
  • Graveside Service: “Kerezmanee Gark”

The pastor helps the family plan the funeral program and service per Canon Law. This means that Armenian funeral ceremonies often look much the same and follow a similar order or service program. 

Below, we’ll describe the order of service typical at an Armenian funeral ceremony, as well as the specific songs, prayers, readings, and other details you can expect. 

Order of service or program

As mentioned above, an Armenian funeral is divided into three services: 

Dan Gark

Dan Gark is what is commonly referred to as a wake. The night before the church ceremony, family and friends gather at a family member’s home. In the United States, the family may hold the wake at a funeral home. In some cases, it may also take place at a church.  

The purpose of this stage of an Armenian funeral is to mourn the person’s death. 

Yegeghetsvo Gark

Yegeghetsvo Gark is the church service. Armenian Orthodox families almost always conduct this part of the funeral at an Armenian church sanctuary. It’s considered a serious religious ritual, and no other rites, speeches, or eulogies occur here. 

The priest usually provides a brief summary of the deceased person’s life in the funeral sermon. 

Kerezmanee Gark

Kerezmanee Gark is the graveside service during which an Armenian family lays their loved one to rest. In many ways, the Armenian graveside service is similar to a traditional western But burial is an integral part of Armenian funeral tradition, which we’ll discuss more below. 

Songs

An organist or other musical soloist often plays Orthodox Christian hymns at Armenian funerals. Each hymn is requested by the family and approved by the priest before the church service. 

More modern funeral songs are avoided at an Armenian Orthodox funeral service. Yet, they might be played during the memorial meal. 

Prayers

Praying for the dead is an essential part of Armenian Orthodox funeral services. The Armenian Church believes that the faithful deceased are still part of the body of Christ and that death does not separate the living and the dead. 

Prayer at an Armenian Orthodox funeral is lead by the priest or pastor but recited in unison. 

Readings

The deceased’s family is usually asked to write a one-page biography of their loved one for the pastor to use at the funeral. The pastor performs this single “eulogy” rather than having guests or family members give readings or speeches. 

Additionally, the pastor gives a sermon containing any number of religious passages from the Old or New Testaments. 

Day and time of the service

The Canon Law of the Armenian Church also has rules regarding when funeral services take place. 

Here are some of the timing restrictions and guidelines set forth by the Armenian Church: 

  • Funeral services should usually take place three days after the person’s passing.
  • Funeral services can occur any day of the week except for Saturday afternoons after 3:00 PM or Sundays. 
  • The Dan Gark (wake) should be held the night before the funeral service. 
  • The Yegeghetsvo Gark (church service) and Kerezmanee Gark (graveside service) should occur on the same day. 
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Armenian Burial Traditions and Views

The last part of the three-part tradition is Kerezmanee Gark, or the graveside service. This is when the family lays their loved one to rest and completes the third stage of the funeral service. 

The burial tradition is an essential Canon Law, so most Armenian families and individuals choose burial as their form of final disposition. 

Views on cremation and burial

The Armenian Church strongly discourages cremation since burial is a crucial part of religious funeral rites. 

If cremation becomes necessary for any reason, the family is encouraged to contact their local church as soon as possible. The family’s priest will then ask for instruction from ecclesiastical authorities regarding the proper next steps. 

Mourning and remembering the dead

According to Armenian tradition, a loved one’s death has more than one ceremony. We’ve already described the three parts that make up an Armenian funeral service. More rituals take place at other times in honor of the person’s memory. These are known as Requiem Services. 

These ceremonies take place on the day of the death, the day after the funeral and burial, the seventh day after the death, the 40th day after the death, and finally, on the first death anniversary

For each of these days of remembrance, family members and friends gather for a meal and reflect on the departed person’s life. Usually, relatives and loved ones visit the person’s grave on the seventh and 40th days following the death. 

Armenian Funeral Etiquette

If you’re attending an Armenian funeral, it’s essential to know the proper funeral etiquette. Below are the basic rules of etiquette for Armenian funerals. 

Attire

Armenian funeral attire is similar to western traditional funeral attire: dark colors and a modest style. You should also dress in this kind of attire if you attend the memorial meal and any time you visit the grave or the family during the 40-day mourning period. 

Tip: If you’re a male member of the deceased’s family, you might want to avoid shaving before you attend the funeral. According to Armenian tradition, male family members are prohibited from shaving until they revisit the grave on the 40th day after the death. 

Offering condolences

It’s common for family and friends to offer their condolences and bring flowers and gifts. Usually, you should bring gifts either to the wake or to the revisitation of the deceased’s grave. This takes place seven days after the death and again 40 days after the death. 

It’s common to bring food, alcohol, and flowers as offerings for the departed during graveside visitations. And at an Armenian wake, the casket is traditionally surrounded by colorful wreaths and bouquets, so you may wish to bring a floral arrangement at that time. 

It’s important, however, to check your funeral invitation for an in lieu of flowers request. Often, Armenian Orthodox families request that funeral attendees donate to the church rather than bringing flowers. 

Giving a eulogy

You may want to give a eulogy or say a few words at an Armenian funeral. However, you’ll have to wait until the memorial meal (Hokejash). This meal often happens the evening of or the day after the service, and it’s a more informal memorial gathering. 

The official church service is a strictly religious ceremony, and attendees will not be asked to give eulogies. The same is true of the wake and the graveside service. 

Virtual Armenian Funerals

Like other religious communities, the Armenian Orthodox Church has had to adjust in the wake of social distancing requirements. So if you’re not able to attend the funeral in-person, you might be able to participate virtually. 

A virtual Armenian funeral may look different from other virtual funerals because it takes place in multiple stages. You might attend all three stages remotely while a few family members are there in person. Alternatively, the church might make other arrangements. 

Whether you’re attending an Armenian funeral in person or from your own home, the same rules of Canon Law still apply. If you’re ever in doubt about what to do before, during, or after an Armenian funeral, it’s always best to ask the family or the priest for guidance. 


Sources:

  1. “Religious Funeral Custom: Armenian Orthodox.” National Funeral Directors Association. https://nfda.org/religious-funeral-customs/id/1934/armenian-orthodox
  2. “Funeral – Թաղում.” St. James Armenian Church. http://stjamesevanston.org/sacraments-and-pastoral-care/funeral
  3. Cultural Funerals: Armenian Orthodox Funeral Services.” Basic Funerals and Cremation Choices. https://basicfunerals.ca/cultural-funerals/orthodox-funerals/armenian-orthodox-funerals/
  4. “Funerals.” Saint Stepanos Armenian Church. https://ststepanos.org/funeral/
  5. “The rite of Christian burial of the Armenian Orthodox Church.” Armenian Church Louisiana. http://www.armenianchurchlouisiana.org/docs/armenian-church_burial_00-rite-of-christian-burial-all-documents.pdf
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