Visitors to an Orthodox parish may hear of or experience a Panikhida Service for someone’s loved one who has passed away. These are usually served at special anniversaries of the death (such as the fortieth day or the first anniversary of the repose). These prayers are very comforting for the families and friends of the departed.
In the Orthodox Church, the various prayers for the departed have as their purpose: to pray for the repose of the departed; to comfort the living; and to remind those who remain behind of their own mortality, and the brevity of this earthly life. For this reason, memorial services have an air of penitence about them, and tend to be served more frequently during the four fasting seasons (Great Lent, Nativity Fast, Apostles’ Fast and Dormition Fast).
If the service is for an individual, it will often take place at their graveside. If it is a general commemoration of all the departed, or if the individual’s grave is not close by, the service will take place in a church, in front of a special “memorial table”. The memorial table is a small, free-standing table to which has been attached an upright crucifix, sometimes including also icons of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary) and the Apostle John. The table will also have a place for the faithful to put lighted candles.
The deacon (or, if there is no deacon the priest) will swing the censer throughout almost the entire service, and all will stand holding lighted candles. Near the end of the service, during the final Troparia, all will either put out their candles or will place them in candle holders on the memorial table. Each candle symbolizes the individual soul, which, as it were, each person holds in their own hand. The extinguishing (or giving up) of the candle at the end of the service symbolizes the fact that each person will have to surrender their soul at the end of their life.
The Panikhida service is composed of Psalms, Ektenias (litanies), hymns and prayers. In its outline it follows the general outline of Matins, and is in effect a truncated funeral service. Some of the most notable portions of the service are the Kontakion of the Departed, and the final, slow and solemn singing of “Memory Eternal” (Slavonic: Vyechnaya Pamyat).
The memorial service is most frequently served after the Divine Liturgy; however, it may also be served after Vespers, Matins, or as a separate service by itself. (Adapted from Wikipedia)
A 40 day Panikhida Service: