Memorial Services. Last week we discussed the Orthodox funeral, but our commemoration of the faithful departed does not end when we inter them. The memorial service, called a panikhida, is the service in which we offer special prayers for the departed, and which you can request to be served on the anniversary of their death. We celebrate them initially on the 3rd, 9th, and 40th (or as close to these intervals as we can) days following their repose, and typically every year thereafter. The service itself is somewhat penitential, not for the departed of course, but for the celebrant and those witnessing it, to remind us that our earthly life is brief at best and we ought to think of our own mortality while praying for the repose of the departed even as we look to comfort for the living. Usually these services are served following a Divine Liturgy, but they needn’t necessarily be, and can be served as an entirely separate service, or after Vespers, Matins, etc.
The service itself is largely Psalms, Litanies, hymns, and prayers, generally following the same outline as Matins, and is overall essentially a shortened form of the funeral service itself, as emphasized by the Kontakion for the Departed and the singing of Memory Eternal. The censer is swung almost constantly throughout the service, and candles are held to symbolize our souls, which we extinguish at the end of the service just as our lives will be extinguished eventually. A conspicuous feature of these services is the koliva on the table in front of the icon of Christ. A boiled wheat berry dish made with honey, it frequently also features sesame seeds, almonds, raisins, anise, or all of the above, typically in the form of the Cross, with a candle inserted during the panikhida. Etymologically it comes from the Greek word for a small coin, and can alternatively be made with rice; we eat this as a congregation following the panikhida as a way of communally taking part in the sweetness of consolation amidst the sorrow of loss.