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Eastern Orthodox/Eastern Orthodox Practice of Last Rites


According to Mead and Hill's (2001) Handbook of Denominations in the United States, the Eastern Orthodox Church requires last rites before a parishioner's death and he/she must be conscious.  How do they handle a situation where sudden or unexpected death occurs and the parishioner has not received last rites?

Thank you for your time and response.

I would have to state that Mead and Hill are not correct. First of all there really is not one homogeneous practice of Orthodoxy in America, which is made up of traditions from Russia, Antioch, Greece, Romania, Serbia, and others. Each one differs slightly in practice although all share the same belief.

While the Russian Church talks in terms of "last rites" this is more of a Catholic practice than an Orthodox one. The Russian Church was greatly influenced by Catholic practices under Czar Peter (the Great) and remnants of that, such as referring to "last rites", still persist. Other Orthodox Traditions have no such practice. "Last rites" are not a requirement for going to Heaven in the Orthodox Church. Orthodox Christians are certainly encouraged, in as much as is practical, to partake of Confession, Holy Communion, and Holy Unction (anointing) if they are close to death.

At any rate, the sacraments are forbidden to be given to anyone who is unconscious or in a state where partaking would be "forced" upon an unwilling person. Holy Sacraments, or as we prefer to call them—mysteries—are for healing. They are spiritual medicine, not "magic". God is not a prisoner of our rites and will welcome the devout Orthodox Christian regardless. We do like to send them off with as much regard as we can, and these three rites (confession, communion, unction) do much to "ease the way" for the departing soul.

Your servant,

Eastern Orthodox

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