"At peace with the Saints"
It is natural that those who are young and healthy seldom concern themselves with the fact that our life can come to an end at any moment, like a water bubble that bursts. Why on earth grieve over the inevitable, since after a long life, the end will come by itself. But the reality is more cruel: a son pre-deceases his father, a grandfather sheds tears over the grave of a grandchild. So it has been for ages and ages, and will continue to be till the end of the world. There is no other explanation for this except helpless words "it is God's Will". No matter what the outcome it is better to come to terms with this fact, for too excessive mourning of our loved ones only shortens our own life.
In Lemkivshchyna, as in the entire Christian world, the dead were buried with the honor due them, and no one spoke ill of them, even if they deserved it. Only those who took their own lives were buried without a Christian ceremony, outside of churchyard wall. But such cases in Lemkivshchyna were an exception.
The deceased was washed, shaved, dressed in clean clothes and placed on a bench behind the table, which was lined with straw. A table cross and two candle-holders were brought from the tserkva, and the candles stayed lit continuously until the moment when the body was removed from the house. When a person was on his death-bed, it was customary for those close to him to stop the clock, speak in whispers, and to refrain from any physical labor. In the evening, the immediate neighbors and relatives would gather at the house to pray for the soul of the deceased. Early the next day a carpenter would arrive to take the measurements, in order to make a suitable coffin. A so called "observer" would also come. This person was a government representative, who could discern whether death occurred from natural causes, and could distinguish it from a lethargic sleep or an accidental death. Without his certificate it was not possible to bury the dead. A deacon or another reader came the second evening, and with only a short interruption read the Psalter aloud for about four to five hours. Those gathered quietly and attentively listened to the old Slavonic language, which most of them could not fully understand.
During these three days a bell would be rung in the morning and in the evening in honor of the deceased, as if bidding a permanent farewell to one of its parishioners. The priest was in charge of the rest of the ceremony who after the "panakhida" (service for the dead), was the person who sealed the grave.
Only those invited went to the sad reception at the house of the deceased, and with a glass in hand, attempted to cheer up the departed person's family.
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Copyright © 1997 Jon W. Madzelan
This Home Page was created on Monday, May 19, 1997
Most recent revision Wednesday, January 14, 1998