kollyva – a sweet offering

Posted by on November 8, 2014 in blog, reflections | Comments Off on kollyva – a sweet offering

In our lives as Orthodox Christians we journey through many seasons, both within the year of the liturgical cycle in the Church, and also through out our lives, and the lives of our families and friendships.  There are seasons of preparation, fasting and feasting.  There are seasons of joy and of lament; seasons of birth and death, of growing and of learning.
And you know what?  Sometimes, there are even seasons of unlearning, but as liturgical beings, we experience the changes of our lives within the steadfast constancy of the Church.
These bonds of love we forge in our lives are strong; and so even after the loss of  family or friend, that love always remains.  Their absence from our daily lives can leave a great pain.
 Unlike the ways of this world,  Faith tends to be counter-intuitive.   The modern world, in all of it’s conventional wisdom markets us to pursue happiness ~ mostly economic  ~ and mostly through gain and acquisition – but not of what is needful.  There isn’t really a plan for loss.   The modern formula to deal with tragedy usually involves pharmaceuticals and generally those are offered within weeks after it occurs.    This can leave a person fractured and tangled in the wrong net.  But there is another way…
 “Whoever does not have the Church as his mother cannot have God as his father.” Saint Cyprian of Carthage

Memorial Service

Herein lies a great blessing!    For a mother provides wisdom, nourishment and guidance for her children.   And so it is that one finds through loss, the possibility to become whole.   When we embrace the prayers offered by our Mother the Church,  Christ grafts healing and mends within our hearts the fullness of a fiercely gentle but unyielding hope.
A sacrifice of thanksgiving…  Again and again, praying for our departed loved ones, we fix our gaze toward Eternity, rather than focus on our loss and there  ~  in that space  ~ it is despite our burden  ~  or precisely because of it, that we find rest in the yoke of His Resurrection.
Death is a threshold, not an end.   We do not grieve as those who have no hope, but rest in the assurance that God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.  ( 1 Thessalonians 4:14)


It is traditional for Orthodox families to offer a memorial service in Church on the third, ninth and fourtieth day after the passing of a loved one; and then each year commemorating the anniversary of their death.    During our memorial service, the family of the departed offers a sweet wheat known as kollyva.     Kollyva is boiled wheat with sugar and raisins, spices and nuts.   It is usually decorated with powdered sugar and jordan almonds.
This offering of boiled wheat is a remembrance of the resurrection  ~  for as a grain of wheat must be buried before it can bring forth fruit, so a man must be buried in order to be resurrected for eternity.


During an Orthodox Memorial Service a candle will be placed in the wheat and then the memorial service is chanted for the soul of the departed.


With the saints give rest, O Christ to the soul of your servants,  

Where sickness and sorrow are no more, but life everlasting.

May the memory of all of our departed loved ones be eternal!


There are several different recipes for kollyva but the main ingredient is soft white wheat and sugar.  This is the recipe our family uses, but many other ones may be found here.



  • 1 pound soft white wheat
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1-1/2 cups golden raisins
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds
  • powdered sugar
  • jordan almonds
  • parchment or wax paper for smoothing sugar



  • Add the wheat to boiling water and let simmer for a half and hour.  You want the wheat to be soft but not mushy so be careful not to overcook it.
  • Once it is cooked, strain and rinse the wheat with cold water to stop the cooking.  Place it on a dry white tablecloth and spread it out.  Cover with another white cloth.  Let it sit for two hours or overnight.  This drains the water from the wheat.
  • After the wheat has rested, place in a large bowl with remaining ingredients and stir well.
  • Shape the top of the wheat so that it is smooth.  You may smooth it so it is flat within the vessel you are using or rounded like ours.
  • Top the wheat with powdered sugar.   It should be about 1/4 inch thick all over.  Then take parchment to flatten and smooth the sugar.
  • Now decorate with jordan almonds.



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