Koliva is offered at Soul Saturday services during Orthodox Great Lent. It is custom in the Greek, Serbian, Lebanese and even in the Russian tradition. The weekly services carry much meaning throughout Orthodox Lent. Many laity aren’t even aware but some understanding and time will help you gain clarity on meaning and a new perspective on the culture you were either baptized or converted to.
All Soul Saturdays or “The Prayers of The Dead” is one of those services. While it may seem like a long panikhida to some, the proper way to commemorate All Souls is with Vespers the evening before and with matins and Divine Liturgy on that Saturday. To begin, you should be asked to submit the names of your departed loved ones that you want your priest to remember in the liturgy – or simply give them to him – before the first All Souls service. At Vespers and Liturgy, the names are commemorated and prayed for by name two times (if memory serves) and Psalm 118 is chanted in two parts. At the end, the koliva is either combined or simply shared with everyone present that morning. The main objective is to teach kids and adults, the importance that praying for your deceased loved ones can be just as important as praying for your loved ones that are here with you in your life. This is important to remember as the Orthodox church is composed of both the living and remembering the reposed loved ones.
Koliva is made for memorials, typically on Saturdays of the Souls, and according to different traditions, the day of a Funeral, the 40th day after death, 3rd month, 6th month, 9th month, annually, and even sometimes just on “big” anniversaries only, such as 5 years, 10 years, etc. It symbolizes the eternal cycle. Comparing people to wheat, we must be born to grow and have new life.
The koliva recipe varies by family, culture but they all have the same thing in common: it entails both a process and a learning experience for your family. So, it’s not as quick as you desire but in the end, it is quicker to lose meaning and appreciation when much of our recipes are prepared quickly. To prep (and part of this, I credit the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese website for). It is also not unheard of to have your priest present while you make this recipe because the experience can bring up mixed emotions and questions with your children. Here’s another insightful article by Dr. Albert Rossi to share with your children on talking about death.
To prep koliva, everyone in the family gets a special job if of course there’s not a priest present. Someone can recite opening and closing prayers, someone else can read Scripture throughout the process, someone else can boil and dry the wheat, someone can mix the wheat, spices and raisins, someone can sift powdered sugar over the top and a few others (usually the children) could decorate the koliva using Jordan almonds. If the children are decorating the koliva, teach them to use an appropriate symbol such as the initials of the departed loved one or a cross with ICXC NIKA.
Jordan almonds: These are Spanish almonds but look almost like a pastel colored Easter candy. Check Whole Foods or arts and crafts stores.
That’s the ideal process to strive for but here’s the reality. When you’re a one woman blogger that works during the day, it’s late after you just got home from work and church and you still have koliva to prep tomorrow.I never once had koliva until I learned about researching it for my blog now despite “being tradition.” which saddens me because if traditions and customs which were once apart of our church are not practiced or appreciated or no longer remembered, that’s how they die. Just like people when they are no longer remembered, they die and are long gone. Perhaps that will change or Crumbs will help be the change that comes to the world? I rolled up my sleeves and poured 4 cups of wheat which I boiled and dried overnight.
Wheat in my new, adorable measuring cups from the Pioneer Woman’s houseware line.
In the simple sense, all that’s left to do the morning after is to mix the spices together and sprinkle the remains with powdered sugar. Decorate it with the Jordan almonds (though regular whole almonds and raisins are OK) in the initials of the departed family member or a cross with ICXC NIKA. I popped a beeswax candle in it and I was just about off to my first Souls Saturday service.
But then the phone rang.
It turns out I promised I would give a close relative a ride to the food pantry that they depend on for groceries. The food pantry has an opening every last weekend of the month. I completely forgot about the arrangement. I apologized.
So, I risked my first Souls Saturday service but I am glad they got what they needed. Afterwards, the service was well over now and I remember how much my priest was telling me last week over how he was looking forward to trying the koliva – it’s probably been awhile too. So, I loaded up my dish and delivered it to my priest’s house that day for him and his family to share it. Father, if you’re reading this, I hope I didn’t do too shabby a job and I will definitely remember the Jordan almonds next time.
From my kitchen, where I am bringing tradition back, to yours,
There’s varieties to each recipe. It’s a combination of dried wheat or rice with some spices, natural sweetener and powdered sugar.
4 cups of wheat berries (or rice)
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1 tsp anise seeds
1-1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1-1/2 cup slivered almonds
1-1/2 cup of raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
1 large pomegranate (omit if not in season)
3 cups of confectioner’s sugar
2 cups Jordan almonds or whole almonds, for decorating
Rinse the wheat berries and put them in a saucepan. Add enough water to cover by a few inches with a few pinches of salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the berries are tender, about a little over an hour. It’s key to add more water to the pot to keep the liquid from reducing and the wheat from sticking to the pot. Drain and set aside in the strainer for at least one hour or up to several hours.
Place the cooled berries in a large mixing bowl. Add in the sesame seeds, anise seeds, walnuts, almonds, raisins cinnamon and the pomegranate. Sift in 1 cup of sugar and toss it all together. Sift the remaining sugar over the top to coat it, think almost like a frosting. Decorate with the almonds.
To serve, present the platter. Then, just before eating, mix it all together.