The rite of Christian Burial bears a very strong resemblance to the Matins of Holy Saturday which Father Alexander Schmemann called that “bright sadness” which predicts the glorious brilliance of the Resurrection of Christ. Gathered around the mortal remains of a believer, Christians do not commemorate death; they bear emphatic testimony to their belief in God in whom everyone is alive. Man does not disappear in death: creation cannot annihilate that which God has called out from non-being into being.
The funeral of a priest bears some differences from the typical rite. The Paschal character of the Christian funeral is emphasized in such distinctive features as the singing of the irmosi from the Canon of Holy Saturday and the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, and most especially in the reading of multiple Epistle and Gospel selections.
The deceased priest is vested in the full vesture of his priestly rank to indicate that at the Great and Final Judgment he will be responsible not only for his own deeds but also for the flock that was entrusted to him.
The face of the deceased priest is covered with a sacramental veil, the aer, which typically covers the Holy Gifts. Just as the aer covers the face of the priest as he is preparing for his ordination, his face is covered at death to signify that he offers his life to the service of the Holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Since the priest worked to proclaim the teachings of the Gospels, the gospel book and a cross are placed on the breast of the priest — the cross is the emblem of salvation, both of the living and the dead.
Between services, the Gospels are read over the remains of a dead priest “in order to propitiate God,” says Saint Symeon of Thessalonica. “For what other offering can be made unto God, to propitiate him on behalf of him that lies there, if not this: the proclamation of the Incarnation of God, of His teachings, His Sacraments, and the gift of the remission of sins, His redeeming Passion for us, His life-creating death and resurrection?”
The order for the Burial of a Hierarch is identical to the order for priests. The bishop is vested in all his Episcopal vestments and the body is accompanied by the distinctive trikerion and dikerion candles and by the sacramental fans. Some bishops ask to be buried according to the order of burial for monastics.
Class Notes on Liturgical Services by Archdeacon Kirill Sokolov