I am interested in what I understand to be an Orthodox tradition/custom of prayers, etc. on anniversaries of the death of a loved one. Any information would be very much appreciated.
While there are a number of variations depending on place and time, in general prayers for the departed are offered immediately upon the death of an Orthodox Christian:
There is a special Rite for the Parting of the Soul from the Body which may be celebrated at the moment of death.
During the period of time between the actual death and burial: Special services for the departed, variously known as the “Panikhida,” “Parastas,” “Pomen,” “Mnemosyno,” etc. are celebrated as the time of the Funeral Service approaches. In some traditions the Divine Liturgy is also celebrated on the morning of burial, in which case the Funeral Service is often celebrated the preceding night. A brief “Panikhida,” sometimes called a “Litiya,” is celebrated at the burial site, followed the prayers for the “sealing” of the grave.
On the third, ninth, and fortieth days after death: Again a “Panikhida” is generally celebrated on these days. A “Panikhida” may, of course, be celebrated at any other convenient time as well. [The observance of a 40-day “official” period of mourning after the death of a loved one is a very ancient and somewhat widely-practiced one. For example, members of the Jewish faith retain a similar period of mourning known as “Shiva.” During this mourning period the family receives visitors in their home, with whom they “sit Shiva” in honor of the newly-departed.]
On the sixth month anniversary of death and the annual anniversary of death: A “Panikhida” is usually celebrated at these times. Many Orthodox Christians offer a “Panikhida” every year on the anniversary of a loved one’s death, celebrating in a certain sense their “birthday” into life eternal.
At any other appropriate time: A “Panikhida” may be celebrated at any time as requested by the family. For example, many people celebrate such services on special days associated with the life of the departed, such as the anniversary of his or her birth, wedding anniversary, etc. It is also customary to celebrate such services in conjunction with the dedication of the cross placed on the departed person’s grave, together with special prayers of blessing.
On Church-appointed “Memorial Saturdays”: There are five Saturdays during the course of the year dedicated to the departed. On these Saturdays it is customary to celebrate the Divine Liturgy followed by a “Panikhida” for all the faithful departed.
On the Second Tuesday after Holy Pascha [Easter]: This day, known since early times as the “Day of Rejoicing,” is a traditional time to visit the graves of loved ones, request that their graves be blessed, and offer prayers and services for their repose. In many places today, this celebration occurs on the Sunday after Holy Pascha [Saint Thomas Sunday]. In some places it occurs in conjunction with Memorial Day observances.
In our daily prayers: In the Evening Prayers which Orthodox Christians recite each day there are special commemorations for the departed.
At every Divine Liturgy: There are petitions in the Litany which follows the Gospel and Homily in which the departed are remembered. In many parishes it is possible to add the names of the departed to a special list for commemoration at that time. In some parishes an additional “Litany for the Departed” is on occasion added to the Liturgy. Finally, in the preparation of the eucharistic bread, which occurs before the public portion of the Divine Liturgy, the priest takes particles of bread, each commemorating one of the faithful departed, and places them on the diskos, or special plate, on which the bread which will later become the Body of Christ is placed. As the priest removes each particle he mentions the name of a specific departed individual, generally from lists of names submitted before the beginning of the Liturgy by the faithful.
Again, there are slight variations in how Orthodox Christians in various places and at various times have offered prayers for the dead, but in general, that which is described above is universal in all Orthodox churches. And there are other customs which for some Orthodox Christians surround the commemorations noted above. For example, some Orthodox Christians prepare a special dish of boiled wheat and honey [other ingredients are often added], significant of new life, and bring it to the church in conjunction with the celebration of a “Panikhida.”