Customs and Traditions
At the sacred memorials, as we know, kollyva is offered, a practice which can be traced to the middle of the fourth century. Kollyva, in antiquity, referred to special cakes made of boiled wheat with sugar, dried raisins, pomegranate seeds, nuts, herbs, etc. Bread and wine with olives or cheese or rice were offered in memorials of earlier times. The offering of these gifts served the purpose of charity, and those who partook of them would pray, “Blessed be his/her memory!” This is why they were called makariae (blessings), and had their origin at the meals or the funeral meals of which the Apostolic Constitution mention.+ As a continuation of that ancient custom are the meals offered today by the relatives of the deceased to those who prayed with them at the sacred memorial services.
The boiled wheat grains of kollyva, which finally prevailed over the other gifts, conceal a profound and most didactic symbolism. They symbolize the resurrection of the bodies from the dead of the bodies. They remind us that man, too, is a seed that is at death buried in the earth as is the seed of wheat. This seed will be resurrected again by the power of God. For this reason, as Saint Symeon of Thessalonike observes, in the kollyva we add various other seeds (raisins, walnuts, almonds, sesame, etc.).++ But the basic element is always wheat because the Savior Himself likened His immaculate body and His resurrection to wheat, saying: “Verily, verily, I say to you, unless the grain of the wheat that falleth into the earth should die, it abideth alone; but if it should die, it beareth much fruit [Jn. 12:24].”+++
In the Scriptures, we also read: “But someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised? And with what body do they come?’ Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not made alive, unless it should die. And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not the body which shall come into being, but a bare grain – it may be of wheat or some of the rest; but God giveth to it a body even as He willed, and to each of the seeds its own body [1 Cor. 15:35-38].” Thus, the kollyva symbolizes the promise of resurrection from the dead, while its sweetness signifies the delights of Paradise.
+Cf. Apostolic Constitutions, Book 8, 44.
++Saint Symeon of Thessalonike, Regarding Our Death, 371; P.G. 155:688D-689B.
+++Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis, The Mystery of Death, trans. by Peter A. Chamberas (Athens, GR: The Orthodox Brotherhood of Theologians, “The Savior,” January, 1997), p. 425.
Source: The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church, Triodion. Holy Apostles Convent, Buena Vista, Colorado.