Church sticks to its guns on cremation

By Elias Hazou – November 2013

DESPITE continuing hostility from the Church, the government and parliament are pressing ahead with a bill authorising cremation in Cyprus.

The legislation – languishing on paper since 2000 – was discussed again yesterday at the House interior committee, where it became clear that several issues still need ironing out.

A representative of the Holy Synod, Protopresbyter Marios Demetriou, reiterated the Church’s position against cremation. And he again warned that priests would refuse to perform a funeral service for people who have been laid to rest in this way.

But on the intellectual level at least, the Greek Orthodox Church appears to be fighting a losing battle.

The Holy Synod’s representative, for instance, said the Church is opposed to cremation not out of dogma but out of a need to “preserve tradition.”

He argued that burial serves the purpose of fulfilling the need of relatives to visit the grave of a dearly departed, adding that this ritual offers them solace.

Cyprus is one of a handful of countries in the EU lacking a cremation facility but also the relevant legislation. The matter should be strictly one of personal choice, DISY deputy Andreas Kyprianou said later.

A person wishing to be cremated must declare so, in writing, before death. A will would not count, since wills are opened after a person is laid to rest. Thus, the DISY MP has suggested that a written declaration be submitted to some independent institution.

Moreover, Kyprianou expressed the view that this declaration would be valid only if made by the concerned person, not by relatives. The person wishing to be cremated must be of sound mind at the time he or she drafts such a statement.

During a previous discussion in June, the committee said that those wishing to choose cremation for themselves or their relatives will need a cremation permit which will be issued by the district officer or specially licensed crematoriums, the committee heard yesterday.

Committee chairman Yiannos Lamaris (AKEL) said yesterday that a crematorium should preferably be state-run.

But this issue is still open, Lamaris told the Mail later.

A few years ago, the Church was warned by the Attorney-general that if and when a cremation bill was passed, there would be a requirement in law for Greek Orthodox priests to officiate at a given service if requested.

But the bill, as it stands, would not force priests to perform funeral services, Lamaris said.

The legislation will be sent back to the interior ministry for revisions and tweaks, and returned to parliamentary committee in two weeks.