Kollyva – Ancient superfood
Kollyva (plr.), or kollyfa in our Cyprus dialect, is a special food we prepare to commemorate our deceased. Preparing and sharing kollyva is a burial custom related to the ancient Athenian festival ‘Anthesteria” which was dedicated to the god Dionysus. The last day of the festival the ritual panspermia took place, according which a mixture of various nuts and fruits was offered in memory of the dead.
Modern day Kollyva mainly consist of boiled wheat mixed with raisins, almonds, sesame seeds, walnuts, pomegranate seeds and cinnamon. Wheat, which is main the ingredient symbolises resurrection and rebirth.
Memorial services are usually held at the end of the Sunday morning liturgy, i.e. mass, and kollyva are offered outside the church to the congregation, as well as passers- by. So if you happen to be near a church on a Sunday morning, get your share of Kollyva and say “Eonia tou i mnimi” meaning “May his/her memory live forever”.
This pagan ritual infiltrated into Christian customs and spread to the entire Orthodox world during byzantine times. However, it all started in 361 AD, with a blasphemous act and a divine intervention.
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In 361 AD, Byzantine Emperor Julian the Apostate, a persistent enemy of Christianity, was determined to revive paganism. In the first week of Lent he ordered to have all the food set out for sale in the markets sprinkled with the blood of animals that had been sacrificed to gods. This would be a big sacrilege for Christians who cannot consume any animal products during the Lent fasting period. However, a miracle happened! By divine command, the Great Martyr Theodore the Tyron appeared in Patriarch Eudoxious’ dream. He revealed to him the emperor’s plan and instructed him to warn the Christians against purchasing food from the market. Instead, Christians made kollyva to eat. Thus, the plan of Julian the Apostate failed and since then the Orthodox Church has commemorated this miracle on the first Saturday of Great Lent.