Pope's Death

Why is that when a Pope passes away we have them sitting, deceased, on the chair. To some people that may seem demeaning but I understand that it's done so people may take his blessing but is there any other meaning like symbolism or anything else?


  • I understand they did this with HH Pope Kirillos VI, but of course I'm far too young to have seen this for myself! I remember seeing the pictures of this in St Mina's Monastery in Egypt when I was a young boy. For some reason I didn't think it was demeaning at all, but I found myself feeling very peaceful. I suppose that might be the effect of the environment I was in though.

    As for why this is done and how long it's been practised for, I've always wondered myself but I don't really know. I imagine the reason is as you said, to give the patriarch's flock a chance to take one final blessing from him. I think at the time of HH Pope Kirillos, he was dressed in his full patriarchal attire.

    I'd really like to know the history of this practice as well. Maybe it's Pharonic in origin? I know that this is a common tradition for deceased royalty in other cultures (I think they call this "laying in state"?)...perhaps it's a tradition practised by the ancient Egyptians that we've adopted these days?

    Of course this is all just me speculating and thinking out loud, please don't take anything of what I've said to be fact! I'm really sorry I can't answer your question, it's one that I'd really like to know the answer to as well!


  • I could very well be off base, but it occurred to me: could it be that it sybolizes (and thus encourages us to as well) being still alert in death, keeping watch for Christ Jesus our God and His Glorious and Terrible Second Coming, and our resurrection.  I am not saying that is what it is, it is just a thought that, "hmmm, this does make sense, I wonder if it has anything to do with it?"  
    Our best bet is to ask Fr. Peter Farrington, as he would likely know.  
  • The tradition started with St. Peter, Seal of the Martyrs. 

    The following is an account of what happened after his martyrdom and is taken from "The Genuine Acts of Peter" (from the Ante-Nicene Fathers).  The full text is available here. 


    By a common and unimpeachable counsel they agreed first to place him in his episcopal chair, and then to bury him.
        And this, most prudent reader, I would not have you regard as a wild fancy and superstition, since, if you learn the cause of this novelty, you will admire and approve of the zeal and deed of the populace. For this blessed priest, when he celebrated the sacrament of the divine mysteries, did not, as is the ecclesiastical custom, sit upon his pontifical throne, but upon its footstool underneath, which, when the people beheld, they disliked, and complainingly exclaimed, "Thou oughtest, O father, to sit upon thy chair;" and when they repeated this frequently, the minister of the Lord rising, calmed their complaints with tranquil voice, and again took his seat upon the same stool. So all this seemed to be done by him from motives of humility. But upon a certain great festival it happened that he was offering the sacrifice of the mass, and wished to do this same thing. Thereupon, not only the people but the clergy also, exclaimed with one voice, "'Take thy seat upon thy chair, bishop." But he, as if conscious of a mystery, reigned not to bear this; and giving the signal for silence,--for no one dared pertinaciously to withstand him,--he made them all quiet, and yet, nevertheless, sat down on the footstool of the chair; and the solemnities of the mass having been celebrated as usual, each one of the faithful returned to his own home.
        But the man of God sending for the clergy. with tranquil and serene mind, charged them with rashness, saying, "How is it that ye blush not for having joined the cry of the laity, and reproaching me? Howbeit. since your reproach flows not from the muddy torrent of arrogance. but from the pure fountain of love, I will unfold to you the secret of this mystery. Very often when I wish to draw near to that seat, I see a virtue as it were sitting upon it, exceeding radiant with the brightness of its light. Then, being in suspense between joy and fear, I acknowledge that I am altogether unworthy to sit upon such a seat, and if I did not hesitate to cause an occasion of offence to the people, without doubt I should not even venture to sit upon the stool itself. Thus it is, my beloved sons, that I seem to you, in this, to transgress the pontifical rule. Nevertheless, many times when I see it vacant, as ye yourselves are witnesses, I refuse not to sit upon the chair after the accustomed manner. Wherefore do ye, now that ye are acquainted with my secret, and being well assured that, if I shall be indulged, I will sit upon the chair, for I hold not in slight esteem the dignity of my order, cease any further from joining in the exclamations of the populace." This explanation the most holy father whilst he was yet alive, was compelled to give to the clergy. The faithful of Christ, therefore, remembering all this with pious devotion, brought his sacred body, and caused it to sit upon the episcopal throne. As much joy and exultation arose then to heaven from the people, as if they were attending him alive and in the body. Then embalming him with sweet spices, they wrapped him in silken coverings; what each one of them could be the first to bring, this he accounted to himself as greatest gain. Then carrying palms, the tokens of victory,. with flaming tapers, with sounding hymns, and with fragrant incense, celebrating the triumph of his heavenly victory, they laid down the sacred relics, and buried them in the cemetery which had been long ago constructed by him, where too from henceforth, and even to this day, miraculous virtues cease not to show themselves.

    Please pray for me.
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