The 40-day memorial period for the dead person

The 40-day memorial period for the dead person has a major significance in traditions of Eastern Orthodox, Middle Eastern culture and other cultures.​It is believed that the soul of the departed remain wandering on Earth during the 40-day period, coming back home, visiting places the departed has lived in as well as their fresh grave. ​In Russian and Greek​tradition, bread and a glass of water is put in the icon corner in the house of the departed. The bread and water are intended for the departed and other deceased ancestors who will visit to remember him. 

The glass is refilled with fresh water daily while water from the previous day is poured out. It is common to make up the bed for the departed during the 40-day period, donating the bedding to the poor on the 40th Day.

 A towel for the departed is hung next to the window and brought to the church on the 40th Day. The house doors are adorned with spruce branches for the departed to easily find his house and for the passersby to give their respects. On the 40th Day the branches are brought to the cemetery or burned. ​In the Middle East they use palm tree staff, they put fresh staff on the grave.​

All remaining ritual items in memory of the departed are removed from the house, his cloth is donated to the poor. All ceremonial restrictions are also lifted on the 40th Day, it is no longer prohibited to lay on the departed bed, to leave the house empty and locked, to turn off the light in the departed room, to touch the departed cloth, etc.

It is also no longer prohibited to decorate the departed grave.​As some do believe that some souls will come back to the place, wander around, and check on their beds, chair and favorite spots and pets.

The family gathers on the 40th Day inviting those who wish to remember the departed visiting the grave and the church and having a memorial meal at the house. The church serves the 40th Day panihida  with prayers comforting the living and reminding the living of the brevity of life. The meal at the house includes traditional dishes of remembrance:kutia, kissels, honey drinks. In some traditions all night vigils with intense prayers are held on the night before the 40th Day.

The Motive of the 40th Day is “we said goodbye to you, no longer come to us, we will come to you.” After the 40th Day the living can no longer grieve about the departed, they must move on with their lives. All funeral wreaths are removed from the grave and burned.

​In Muslim tradition reading of the holy Quran, prayers will start day before until dawn in memory of the person, and they donate money and food to the poor almost daily to the end of the 40 days .They call it Sadaqa .

There is a belief that the soul continues to wander the Earth for another 40 days after the initial death. While wandering, the soul visits significant places from their life as well as their fresh grave. At the end of the 40 days, the soul finally departs from this world. Many families choose to host another celebration on this 40th-day mark. In this guide, we’ll explore the significance of the 40 days after death.

If you’re not from a tradition that practices the 40th-day memorial after death, you might wonder where it came from. The answer lies in the holy books of Quran ,and  Bible, as  the number 40  is of great significance. The Flood lasts 40 days and 40 nights. Moses was on Mt. Sinai for 40 days. Jesus fasted for 40 days after his Baptism, and so on. ​Same fasting in Islam is 30 days then 10 days to complete.​

Those from Eastern Orthodox traditions use this framework for their own memorials. In Russian funerals , this 40 number also relates to pagan traditions. The 40 days is an opportunity for judgment before God. 

It’s believed in Eastern Orthodox religions that the soul completes many obstacles known as the aerial toll house  . The soul passes through the aerial realm, which is home to evil spirits.

These spirits attempt to drag the soul into hell, and the soul needs to find the strength to stay with God. ​The family will help if they pray and read the holy book and send the reward to the person , that will make the dead person soul very strong and full with God light from the prayers and all bad spirits will vanished and leave the person alone , more good deeds you give in the name of God to the person is greatly helpful for his/her soul. Chinese and Indians also have their own believe about this but because they are not of Abrahamic faith ( semitic) I will not include them here.

This is a judgment of the soul’s sins. At the end of the 40 days, the soul finds its place in the afterlife. 

Like most funeral practices, no two cultures have the same beliefs. Let’s take a closer look at modern traditions and practices for each religion. 

Roman Catholic

The Roman Catholic doctrine rejects the 40th-day belief, despite this belief being so widespread in other sects of Catholicism. According to Roman Catholic beliefs, judgment occurs at the time of death.​ Some Muslim also believe in this .​ The soul will either travel directly to Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell. There are no toll houses or evil spirits. ​But it is not clear cut as many other verses shows that God is God of mercy and will not force the soul until they are ready to leave the place to him , he took the soul in the exact time and the soul now in shock and some still do not know they are dead.​

In Roman Catholic tradition, the soul does not wander the Earth for any period of time. That being said, Catholicism mixed with local cultures and customs around the world to create the 40th-day tradition that is still in practice today.

Filipino Catholicism

In Filipino Catholicism , the 9th and 40th days are significant after the death of a loved one. For 9 days after the death, the family recites prayers.​ In the Middle East culture they do that in the 7th, and the 40th then each year.​ In Filipino tradition, the name for this is “pasiyam” which means “that which is done for 9 days.” 

Where did these beliefs come from, especially considering how many Catholics don’t believe in the 40th-day tradition? Because the Spanish colonized the Philippines, there was a lot of mixing of beliefs and traditions. Today, most Filipino families follow Catholic funeral traditions. 

According to ancient beliefs, the deceased’s soul stays on Earth for up to 9 days after the death. During this time, the family gathers for prayers and a celebratory meal in honor of the deceased. On the 40th day, a rosary is said. This is a way to protect the soul of the departed as they finalize their place in the afterlife. All of these traditions are a way to help with mourning the loss of a loved one.


The Russian Orthodox Tradition  has strict beliefs around the days following a death. It is important for memorial prayers to be said on the 1st, 3rd, 9th, and 40th days after the death of a loved one. It’s also tradition to host a memorial on every anniversary of the family member’s death. Why are these numbers significant for Russians in particular? 

  • 1st day – After the death of a loved one, the family says special prayers to ensure their loved one’s soul has safe travels from the body. The soul spends the first three days traveling to places of significance, such as relative’s homes.
  • 3rd day – On the 3rd day after death, the soul passes through the toll-houses. 
  • 9th day – The soul completed the toll-house journey. Now, it wanders between both Heaven and Hell. It doesn’t know where it belongs just yet. 
  • 40th day – On the 40th day, the soul finds its final place in Heaven or Hell. 

In the Russian funeral tradition , families gather on these days to say prayers and enjoy a meal. Families enjoy a delicacy known as kolyva. This is a dish made of fruit and wheat. It’s often decorated with sweets and other local favorites.

Because many Russian traditions have their basis in folk traditions, other unique practices go along with the 40th day tradition. First, candles are placed in the kolyva, then blessed before meals. Next, the family leaves a towel and a cup of water by the window. This is because the deceased’s soul visits the home during the 40 days, and this gives them a space to rest. At the end of the mourning period, the family shakes the towel into the cemetery to release the soul from the home. 

Finally, the family places bread and a glass of water in front of religious icons to help ancestors remember the deceased. The family replenishes this bread and water over the full 40 days. After this period of mourning is over, the family no longer visits the loved one’s grave. Though these traditions might sound unusual, they’re a way of bringing the family peace and comfort in a time of need. 


Greek Orthodox  are similar to other Orthodox sects. The mourning process is strict in this tradition. The family will avoid social gatherings for at least 40 days after the passing of a loved one. During this time, the family wears all black. Close male relatives don’t shave for 40 days. 

Throughout the mourning period, friends and family will bring flowers to the grave. The gravesite is cleaned and kept in perfect condition. Again, this is a way to show respect as the soul transitions to the afterlife. 

There is a memorial service hosted close to the 40th day after death. This will be hosted on a Sunday, likely during mass. Many families in the Greek-Orthodox tradition also hold a “Trisagion Service.” This is a brief service performed by a priest specifically for a person who died. The family goes with the priest to perform this ceremony at the gravesite. 

Many modern Greek-Orthodox individuals believe the soul lingers on Earth until the 40th day. Others simply believe it’s important to pay respects to the dead on these historic days. Either way, this tradition is a way to bring families and congregations together. 


Believe it or not, Catholicism isn’t the only religion that practices the 40 day mourning period after death. In Islam, it’s traditional to have a 40 day long mourning period as well. This period could be shorter or longer, depending on the relationship to the deceased. For example, widows observe a longer mourning period of up to four months and ten days​.

Like in Catholic traditions, the Islamic funeral  focuses on the separation of the soul from the body. Again, the soul is tested after death. There are some differing beliefs in how the soul is treated after death, but most believe there is some form of judgment. The righteous achieve peace and comfort in the afterlife while sinners face punishment. Life is merely a test in preparation for God. 

In Islam, the soul is not believed to stick around in the Earthly realm. Judgment or trials are immediate after death. However, families typically mourn the death for up to 40 days. They do a number of things to reflect on their belief in God. Common practices are:

  • Reading from the Qur’an
  • Private meditation
  • Reciting prayers
  • Joining together with family and friends
  • Quiet reflections of grief
  • ​Donating money, food, clothes to the poor and needy​

Like other traditions, Muslims use this time of mourning to reflect on life and grow closer with those they love. 

Paying Respects for 40 Days

It’s interesting to compare the post-funeral traditions across the globe. There are striking similarities in how people from a variety of cultures pay respects to those they love. Mourning is a time to come together, reflect, and focus on the importance of life. In many traditions, the 40 days after the death of a loved one are vital. The souls of loved ones are currently undergoing the biggest transition from Earthly life to the afterlife. 

Families and friends use their customs and practices to aid the deceased during this transition. While these practices above all help the soul of the deceased, they also help the family find its own peace. Finding peace in the passing of loved ones is a part of life. What can you do to prepare yourself for such a day, Start from now as it is never too late 1- repent just between you and God you don’t have to go to the priest or any body just kneel and ask God and tell him you want to repent for good, and you did  this and that and you are judging yourself now and explain to him from all your heart with humility and ask him in his name and not in any other name .Then ask for forgiveness and make sure to go back for the same sin again, Donate food or anything you can to the poor , your poor friends, relatives and those who are needy, food bank etc, Ask God that you do this for your soul and to keep these merets for your souls , read the holy book and donate the reward for your soul and those you love, Pray and make doa , listen to the holy book and reward this to you and the love one ,everything is counted, feeding weak animal, pets, helping the birds and any other creature of God to relive their suffering , act of kindness, and so on remember to say God I do this in your name as a kind act i don’t ask for a reward but i leave it to you to have mercy on my soul and assist me, open my mind to accept your well.

Those who dies in Friday, Or dies and then buried in Friday will have God mercy and will have no judgment at the grave as for the muslim faith.

I just done the 40 days memories prayers , doa and Salat for the mother of the most dearest friend ever in my life.May God bless her along with my parents. and all those who passed .

SAAD RAMZI ISMAIL ( Steve Ramsey)-

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