DURING the age of enlightenment in the 18th century, many godless folk began openly to deny the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, choosing cremation as a way of expressing their lack of faith. The established church saw cremation as an attack on their teachings, responding by prohibiting members of their faith from receiving a church service if they planned to have their bodies cremated. It was not until 1963 that the Catholic Church bowed to the will of the people, allowing members of their faith to be cremated with full religious rights.
The Orthodox church, however, continues to oppose the practice, both here and in Greece. The proposed building of a crematorium in Limassol will be seen as an attempt to undermine the Church’s influence over the people, and the Church, as they have done in Greece, will undoubtedly make every effort to block any proposed legislation.
Underlying all this rhetoric is the core point that the Church believes it has a duty to protect the Cypriot way of life and worship from the creeping encroachment of Western secularism.
The death business is also big business; a great deal of money is involved and there has always been a close association with the Church: all the graveyards on the island belong to the Church, and permission has to be sought before bodies can be interred on their land.
Taking the pragmatic approach, the arguments in favour of cremation come down to three basic themes.
1. High costs associated with burial
2. Cemeteries occupying too much scarce land, especially in small countries.
3. The belief that the soul is important, not the body.
Simone Ballett of Nicosia was christened into the Greek Orthodox Church. She added another two reasons in favour of cremation.
“I do not want the legacy my loved ones take away from my funeral to be that of having a coffin lid bashed over my face and generally being treated with a total lack of respect, as is the custom here.
“Neither do I wish to add to the burden of those I leave behind feeling obliged to regularly tend my grave. So often, you look around graveyards at unattended sites and you wonder why that person had no one to care for their last resting place.
“I want to be cremated and I want my ashes scattered out to sea. I hope my family will then think of me as being with them everywhere and anywhere, not just rotting in the ground somewhere.”
Janet Gosling, a practising Christian from Larnaca, agrees. This ‘keeping up appearances’ with regard to the grave is something she dislikes. Having been married to a Cypriot, she firmly believes the death business as performed in Cyprus is “too fast and too horrific”, with little respect for the deceased when it comes not only to the act of burial, but to the general attitude that undertakers show towards both the deceased and their families, during what is a highly emotionally charged time for all.
“I just hope they build a crematorium as quickly as possible, as the cost of shipping a body back to the UK is totally prohibitive to anyone on a fixed income.”
Claus Schmith is a Danish Lutheran and long-term resident of Larnaca. He told me that although he would prefer to be buried in the family plot in his home country of Denmark, the cost would be prohibitive, so both he and his wife now want to be cremated and their ashes taken back to their country for interment.
Armenian Alice Ouzounian was christened into the Orthodox faith; she now describes herself as a mystic and believes cremation is the cleanest way to dispose of the dead.
Derek Basnett a lapsed Methodist, also worries about the environmental problems associated with burial, citing one particular case. “I read about how graveyards in America which were situated close to public water systems were polluting the supply.
“I definitely want to be cremated because it’s safer for the living, also cheaper, and the sooner the situation is resolved in Cyprus to allow this to happen the more people will stay on until they die, rather than selling up when they reach the optimum age for calling in the undertaker.”
George Georgiou, a resident of North London, has already made known to his family that he wants to be cremated, despite his Church’s opposition to the act.
“I have the absolute right to choose how my body is dealt with come my death, and I certainly do not wish to put my relatives through the crude and demeaning graveside rituals as carried out in my home land of Cyprus. No way, I have attended many cremation services here in London and have always thought they were handled with great taste and consideration for all concerned.
“And I rather like the idea of my ashes just being thrown to the wind,” he added.
Nicosia based human rights lawyer Achilleas Demitriades has now taken on the case for the first crematorium to be built in Cyprus. His understanding of the situation is crystal clear: “Just as people are given the right to choose a way of life, I believe they also have the right to chose the method of their disposal after death.
“This is not just a rhetorical proposition, it is based on the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and is secured by the EU convention on human rights. I understand that the Church does not allow cremation, but I believe that the Republic of Cyprus should make provision for those who choose this manner of disposal, whether or not they are of the Orthodox religion.
“It is this freedom of choice that human rights protect, and the very absence of this choice makes the Republic responsible. We must now take steps to amend the law so as to provide the necessary permissions for this establishment to be set up. It is not a question of doing a favour to any particular class or creed of citizen; it is their right and therefore it must be respected.”
If you feel strongly about this issue, please e-mail your comments to [email protected]