Kollyva (Κόλλυβα)

In the loving arms of our Mother church no-one, living or dead, is forgotten. Why do we pray for the dead? We know that there is no repentance after we die. A person’s eternal destiny repentance is determined immediately upon death. Praying for them is an expression of love – a love that survives and transcends death. We pray for those who have died, just as we pray for those who are living because we are all members of Christ’s Church.

The family of the departed prepare a plate of kollyva (κόλλυβα – boiled wheat), which is placed on a table in front of the altar. The kollyva can be mixed with several ingredients, including pomegranate, sesame, almonds, walnuts, cinnamon, sugar, sultanas, parsley and shaped into a mould to resemble a grave with a cross decorated on top. A list of first names of the deceased loved ones is given to the priest. At the end of the service, the kollyva are distributed to the faithful who respond with “May God rest his/her soul”.

The connection between wheat and memorial services is based on the words of Jesus in reference to the resurrection: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Just as new life rises from the buried kernel of wheat, so the Church believes that the one buried will rise one day to a new life in God. The wheat is covered in sugar and sultanas to symbolise the bliss of eternal life in heaven. Memorial services with kollyva are conducted for the dead on the 40th day after their departure, and then again on the 3rd, 6th, 9th and 12 months and every year just prior to the anniversary of their passing.

Every Saturday in the Orthodox Church is dedicated to remembrance of the dead. In addition, we have general commemorations for all the departed (known as the Saturday of souls) on the second Saturday preceding Great Lent and the Saturday before Pentecost. The Saturday at the end of the first week of Lent is the remembrance of the miracle of the kollyva by St Theodore of Tyron. Exactly to what extent our prayers for our departed loved ones bring any benefit to them we do not know. We leave this to the mercy of God. But one thing we are certain. Such prayers do benefit those who pray for the departed. They remind us that we too are going to die. They assist our spiritual struggle by making us more diligent and cautious in getting ready for that ultimate journey.

Source: Lychnos February / March 2017