Information About Koliva in the Greek Orthodox Church
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Whenever there is a Memorial Service in the Greek Orthodox Church, it is the tradition to serve a dish known as koliva. Typically, the family brings a platter of koliva to the church. It is placed on the table where the memorial prayers will be said. After that, it is served to the parishioners at the church.
There is a special significance attached to this tradition. Here’s more information about what koliva is, why it’s significant, and what you need to do if you are planning a memorial service in the Greek church:
What is Koliva?
Koliva is a boiled wheat dish that is traditional served at funerals or memorial services. When it is served at a funeral, no sugar is added to the dish. Sugar is associated with “sweet” occasions so many look at it as inappropriate to add this ingredient to the dish.
Memorial services are held starting at 40 days after the individual’s death and then at regular intervals, such as yearly. Starting at the memorial services, sugar is permitted and embraced.
What is the Symbolism of Koliva?
Koliva is a tradition that is part of the Orthodox Christian church for funerals and memorial services. It is important to understand that its use is purely symbolic and is not actually a requirement.
To an Orthodox Christian, this dish is symbolic of life, death, and regeneration. Wheat originates in the earth. A wheat seed is planted in the earth and bears fruit. Eventually the plant bears fruit and we are able to derive nourishment from it.
Seeds that develop from the fruit are then buried in the ground to make more plants. Once the original plant goes to seed, it eventually dies. The journey the wheat plant takes resembles the cycle of life. It is for this reason that Orthodox Christians serve this dish during funerals and memorial services – because it serves as a reminder.
What is the History of Koliva?
Ancient recipes for koliva actually predate Christianity. The Ancient Greek word κόλλυβo (kollyvo) means “cereal grain.” It was a common food to eat in Ancient Greece. Original versions of this dish from Ancient Greece involved cooked grains mixed with fresh and dried fruit.
Use of it can be traced to a festival known as “Anthesteria”, which was an Ancient Athenian festival that honored Dionysius. When the Greeks converted to Christianity, the dish adopted a Christian significance.
If you have any questions about koliva or about the details of a memorial service in the Orthodox Christian Church, be sure to speak with your priest. You are welcome to make your own koliva or you can buy it already prepared. Consult the church for more details for someone reputable to make your koliva.
The Religion section on GreekBoston.com was written by Greeks to help people understand some of the traditions of the Orthodox Christian religion, which is a religion practiced by people in countries such as Greece, Russia, United States, and other nations throughout the world. This article is not a substitute for information found in the Holy Bible or by our church fathers, priests, and other clergy members.
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