Monday, November 19, 2018

Why having a funeral service for a dog is a bad idea

A few days ago I posted on a service in the Detroit area at a Greek Orthodox church for a dog (a K-9 unit to be exact). Most people have responded with horror, but some few have asked what the "big deal" is. The answer is that we don't give animals memorial services. Further, we don't want every animal lover with a pet dog, cat, snake coming to church asking for a service. Animals don't receive funereal rites and shouldn't even be in the building (as some have noted, a dog even walking into the altar is cause for cessation of services until the church can be cleansed). To a dog lover there is not much difference between the dog who works for the police, the service dog who assists someone with a disability, and the beloved dog who helped grandma through a tough time after grandpa died. Does anyone want to be the priest picking and choosing which pet gets the absurd gold star treatment?

In the case of this dog there were calls to "Pray for Axe." What for? Does a dog have a soul capable of repentance? Is there some sort of conversion possible for an animal after death? No and no. Maybe pray for his handler or for those whom the animal helped, but certainly not for the dog. What higher place is a dog going to go to with your prayers?

Some have asked if the chancery granted permission for this or if the priest went rogue. By all accounts permission from the metropolitan was asked for and received. Do we expect some sort of retraction from the Metropolis of Detroit or from the Archdiocese? I expect not. So we are left with the lamentable precedent of a poorly thought out, theologically impoverished ginned up service that has received international attention in secular circles and ridicule in its Orthodox counterpart.


  1. Thank you, Father. I should not even have brought up Archbishop Gabriel's name. The priest knew what had to be done without contacting his bishop(hardly practical in mid-liturgy.
    What should bother us is that the enemies of Orthodoxy who are trying to sink our church; the Moslems, and those Protestants who think we are idol worshippers are laughing on the side. They are watching us lose credibility. It really floors me that blind apologists for the EP can defend the so-called service. I guess crowning same-sex couples in church is next. Those of us who object will be labeled as fundamentalists and bigots.

  2. It probably would have been best for any memorial to be held for the K9 to have been held in a police chapel, since any service in an Orthodox Church has more of a theological context cast on it, as opposed to a strictly sentimental one. In defense of the police, K9's are considered special members of the police team and have very strong bonds with their handlers. It should likely have been handled in a different manner.

  3. " some have noted, a dog even walking into the altar is cause for cessation of services until the church can be cleansed...."

    Can anyone point to a source for the theology behind this particular tradition/assertion? Not trying to disagree or be combative, but as pointed out the dog (as all irrational creatures) is innocent by primal "nature". So where does the defilement come from by a dog (or any other irrational creature - say a fly) being in the altar?

    "...theologically impoverished ginned up service that has received international attention ..."

    Somebody on the original thread said there was not service or prayers said for the dog in the church. Is this not right, there was a "service" of some sort said over the dog?

    1. On the first, it has to do with a few things. Part of it being the sanctified space for worship by the people of God and in no small part about not permitting any sacrifice other than The Sacrifice in the altar. Really nothing that even remotely looks like a pagan/animal sacrifice is acceptable.

      From the Rudder:

      Let no one introduce into a holy Temple any beast whatsoever, unless it happens that when someone is journeying, and being under the greatest necessity and without a habitation or resort of any kind, he puts up in such a Temple. For if he does not let his beast stay inside it will perish. But with the loss of his beast of burden and as a result of his being thus left without any means of carriage he will expose himself to the danger of death. For we are taught that “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27), so that through all it is preferable to consider the salvation and safety of the man. But if anyone should be caught introducing a beast into the Temple without there being any real necessity, as has been said, if he be a Cleric, let him be deposed; but if he is a layman, let him be excommunicated.
      The present Canon prohibits anyone from introducing into any holy temple any kind of animal. For holy things deserve honor and respectful reverence, except only if anyone be engaged in a long journey, and there arise a great need due to wintry weather and a heavy rain, and he has no place to take refuge, he takes his beast into the temple in order to avoid leaving it outside to perish and himself exposed to the danger of death, as not being able to make the journey from here on with his own feet alone, or as being grieved because he has no money wherewith to buy another. The Canon adduces testimony from Scripture, which says that the Sabbath was made for man. This can be taken in two different senses: either that just as the Sabbath was declared a holiday by the law in order to allow the slave a day of rest, and likewise the beast of burden in the service of man, so that it might as a result of such rest be able to serve its master the better, so and in virtually the same way it maybe said that the animal is allowed to rest in the Temple on such an occasion not for the sake of the animal itself, but for the sake of the man who owns the animal. Or that just as the holiday of the Sabbath used to be interrupted in order to enable men to water their animals (Luke Chapter 13), or to get them out of a pit if they happened to fall into one on a Sabbath, in order that as a result of all such exceptions man might be served. Thus too is the honor of the Temple temporarily shelved in order to provide for the salvation of the man owning the beast. But if anyone should take any animal into a temple without any such necessity, in case he be a clergyman, let him be deposed; but if he be a layman, let him be excommunicated. Read also Canon LXXIV of this same 6th Ecumenical Synod.

      And also...

      If any Bishop or Priest, contrary to the Lord’s ordinance relating to
      sacrifice, offers anything else at the sacrificial altar, whether it be honey, or milk, or artificial liquor instead of wine, chickens, or any kind of animal, or vegetables, contrary to the ordinance, let him be deposed: except ears of new wheat or bunches of grapes, in due season. Let it not be permissible to bring anything else to the sacrificial altar but oil for the lamp, and incense at the time of the holy oblation.

      On the second, there wasn't an Orthodox service. There were prayers and kind words and speeches and lots of dogs in the pews.

    2. Thanks for your response Josephus. I would note that the cannon referred does not seem to address the tradition of a dog's accidental presence in the altar being a "defilement" which requires a response of "cleansing" (unless I am missing the obvious).

      I found a video here:

      In the current theological/cultural/religious context of North America, this certainly qualifies as a "service", and even though it was not a formal "Orthodox" service, given the context in the Church and with hierarchical approval, it is certainly a "service" in a realist/symbolic sense. In other words it WAS a service in every important way.

      It is just like Florovsky/Schmemann/Fr. Matthew Baker (all of blessed memory) tried to tell us, Orthodoxy simply is not prepared (not even a little bit) to even understand, let alone confront successfully the secular/cultural context of its life in these western lands and this secular age...

      There will be those who argue that empathy requires a response (economia) such as this "service" given the Church's context in our (sentimental) culture, however empathy is not charity:


    Abbot Tryphon of Vashon Island wrote this and it sums up my feelings as well.

    With that said, our culture's view of animals has shifted radically, to where they are viewed almost as people. Is this theologically correct? No, BUT that doesn't mean that we can ignore this reality. How can we address this? Good question. Perhaps not bringing in the dogs remains but allowing the people to be addressed by the priest in a pastoral way (in the spirit of Abbot Tryphon's blog post). Even allowing the dog's picture. There is a way to do it that is pastoral and faithful.

    PS. There is nothing blind or apologetic about this. People who know or work with K9 units in the police or military understand this. There are real feelings involved here, that may or may not be theologically "correct." A PASTOR will find a way to navigate these waters.

  5. A PASTOR (to borrow your term and capitalization) wouldn't belittle the request, but would make clear that a dog isn't a person. People have all sort of feelings about everything under the sun. That doesn't mean I'm going to join in on the delusion and reinforce it by my actions.

    1. Father, Bless.

      I don't think anyone is saying a dog should be treated as a person. My whole point, is that there is a big pastoral aspect here (which as a priest, you understand fully). I have some experience with this myself, having been in the US Army Chaplain Corp as an enlisted assistant. The K9s in the Army are treated as brothers in arms. There is a way to do it without throwing the Rudder in a person's face or exhibit a total hardness of heart, which some of the commentary on this topic has a hint of.

      Another example of a pastoral minefield is a person who commits suicide. The "Traditional" view is that these persons should be denied all Rites and burial in our cemetery. But is that how it's done in the parishes? I guess it depends.

      What I am trying to say is that I think compassion should rule the day (within the proper boundaries). Using words like "delusion" to people in mourning is not the way to go here. I think you would agree.

    2. David White,

      In this sentimental, secular age, where as Chesterton noted the virtues (such as compassion) are disconnected and running wild from all the other virtues (such a truth, and even charity) - in this age the "pastoral" response could be (and I believe it is) to say "No, and here is why...".

      In other words, delusion is probably the right word, even though the mourning is very real...

  6. Father, thank you for this explanation. When I first saw this story I had a passionate, visceral reaction, but then tried to look at things with a cooler head. Your assessment of the situation was much needed!

  7. I'm a lover and rescuer of homeless canines, but it's grossly innapropriate to bring the body of ANY animal inside an Orthodox Temple. Nor should a funeral or memorial service for an animal be held inside an Orthodox Temple.

    Now that being said, I have no problem with reading appropriate scriptures at the gravesite while burying a beloved dog. While they are guiltless before their Creator and have no need to repent, they suffer because of OUR rebellion so perhaps we should ask Christ to forgive us for the ruin we've brought upon this poor creature and all of His creation.

    The Church has never spoken concerning the ultimate fate of the corporeal non-human creation so it's not heretical to hope for the restoration of our family dog at the Eschaton. In that regard I have no problem asking Christ to restore my canine friends on that Day.

    St. Luke 12:6 "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?

    Romans 8:32 "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how she He with Him not freely give us all things?"