“For You are the resurrection, the life and the repose of Your departed servants, O Christ our God, and to You we give the glory, as to Your Father who is everlasting, and Your all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.” – Prayer of the Trisagion, Funeral and Memorial Service
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
There is a common question that many elderly Orthodox people ask their children and grandchildren. Eventually, we will all have this question posed to us around the dinner table, through an email or while watching a kid’s soccer game. It’s not something they thought about as children and grandchildren themselves, but one day, and all of a sudden, the question pops into their minds. If we are blessed to live a long and productive life, the question will streak through our heads as well; with a dramatic sense of urgency, coupled with slight pangs of panic.
The age-old question:
“Who is going to make Kollyva for ME when I die?”
Of course, this question had more relevance generations ago, before we could call Jim, or Mary or whoever any given parish directs you to “order” Kollyva (boiled Memorial wheat). Back in the day, you didn’t “order” Kollyva; you stayed in the kitchen with Yiayia for an entire Saturday and learned how to make it. And you did this many times throughout your youth, because it, like many things, is harder than it seems, and involves many steps towards completion. And at some time, you were called upon to put all of that practice, experience, and secret ingredients to the test when a Loved One departed this earth and their Memorial Service was approaching.
So, in these “modern times,” the question stands:
Who is going to make Kollyva for me when I die? That’s a rhetorical question for literary sake of course. You will recall, I’m still too young to worry about such things.
Even though the art (and it is an art) of creating beautiful trays of Kollyva has been largely forgotten in many homes, it’s not so tragic, in that Yiayia’s question has less to do with boiled wheat than it does remembrance. What she is really asking is this:
“Will you remember me when I’m gone?”
“Will my positive influences, prayerful lessons, tender moments and fond memories fade with time, or will I live on to posthumously touch your grandchildren through the patterns, traditions, tendencies and mannerisms which you received from me?”
“Will you remember that I loved you more than life itself and continued to make great sacrifices for the sake of your becoming a faithful, productive and decent person?”
“Will you forget about me?”
Our precious Orthodox practice of memorializing the dead answers that question. We keep our loved ones in mind so that their voice never fades and their influence never becomes irrelevant. And as Christians, we remember through prayer. It’s not enough to experience affectionate recollections. We pray for the dead. We pray with the dead. We experience Christ Who is the victory for the dead.
Since Saturday is the day which the Church dedicates to the memory of those who are asleep in the Lord, the practice of dedicating the last two Saturdays before Great Lent, and the first Saturday of Great Lent as Saturdays of the Souls. We set aside this time to collectively lift up those who have gone before us in the hope of the Resurrection.
Piously, and with our grandmother’s question in mind, we bring small bowls of Kollyva to the church in honor of her memory, and ALL of our departed Loved Ones. There isn’t really anybody to bail us out of this practice. It’s one thing to ask “that guy or lady” at church to make Kollyva for a Sunday Memorial – you know, industrial sized for the entire congregation. But the Saturday of the Souls services, while universal in scope, as we are all gathered together in prayer for the same purpose, are also intimate and personal, for we bring our own names, carry our own memories, and lift up our own remembrances.
Don’t forget your Kollyva.
The Kollyva is symbolic of the resurrection of the dead on the day of the Second Coming of Christ. Saint Paul said, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (1 Corinthians 15:34), and Saint John wrote, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (St. John 12:24).
Thus, as the wheat is buried in the soil and disintegrates without actually dying, but is regenerated into a new plant that bears more fruit, so then, our bodies will be raised again from the very corruptible matter from which it was created. However, it will be raised not in its earthly substance but in an incorruptible, transfigured state which “will clad the mortal body with an immortal garment,” in the words of Saint Paul
(1 Corinthians 15:53).
I hope to see you in the church for these services the next three Saturdays. If you are truly unable to prepare and bring a Kollyva, please don’t use that as an excuse not to come. Write down your names (for the departed) and bring them to the services. They will be read and lifted up in prayer, just the same.
“Who is going to make Kollyva for me when I die?”
Don’t worry, Yiayia. We got this!
With Love in Christ,