The Panikhida (parastas in Greek) is a memorial service in honor of the departed.
It is traditionally served on the one year anniversary of the day a person has passed on. It can also be served on the third, ninth and fortieth day after someone has died. Many people ask for a Panikhida to be served every year on or near the anniversary of the death of a loved one. Frequently it is served after Liturgy near the date of anniversary.
It has several purposes - including to pray for the repose of the departed and to comfort those who have lost someone. As is sung in the concluding song - Memory Eternal - it helps keep the memory of the loved one alive.
Here at St. Marks the Priest will lead the service in front of the large icon of the Crucifixion to the left of the church. The faithful gather behind him holding lit candles to symbolize the soul. The Priest will cense and the choir will sing and respond to prayers of the Priest. At the conclusion of the service everyone joins in and sings Memory Eternal (Vyechnaya Pamyat - in Slavonic). Each person then extinguises their candle or places it in the box in front of the icon - saying a quiet private prayer for the person/people who have passed on.
Often the family requesting the Panikhida will prepare a special dish of boiled wheat called Kutya in Slavonic or Koliva in Greek. It will be placed on a table next to the icon with a lit candle placed in it. Sometimes a photo of the loved one is placed next to it for everyone to see. After the service the Priest will Bless this dish and the people will all eat a small cup of it. A quick recipe for this is provided to the right.
In addition to being served whenever someone requests it, the Panikhida is also served at special times during the year. These include Meatfare Saturday, the second - third - and fourth Saturdays of Great Lent, the Staurday before Pentecost and the Saturday closest to the Feast of St. Demetrius (October 26th). These genral Panikhidas often include the names of many people including lists of loved ones provided by members of the parish.
Everyone is encouraged to ask Father to schedule a Panikhida for their oved ones. It can be served privately on any day or after a service. Often friends and family are invited. the service typically takes about fifteen minutes. A small donation may be offered in memory of the loved one but is never required.
Radonitsa - second Tuesday after Pascha
This is a special day set aside for memorial services for the departed. It is customary to ask the Priest to visit and Bless the graves of loved ones. In some parishes the Priest will visit the larger cemeteries in a town after the Liturgy on St. Thomas Sunday. The parishoners stand by the graves of their loved ones and the Priest will walk from grave to grave offering a short prayer or Panikhida in memory of the loved ones. It is quite a sight to see Priests from several Orthodox churches walking through the cemeteries with censers and hear the people singing Memory Eternal!
People often decorate the graves with flowers or plants and palm branches from Palm Sunday. Some also have a light refreshment like bread or sandwiches to share with the Priest as he comes by.
If the Priest is not available one can bring a small Panikhida book and some Holy Water from church and say some of the prayers. A Panikhida may be offered in a church rather than graveside as well.