*Please note, this post deals with a subject within Orthodox Christianity. If this is offensive to you, kindly skip this post. And it deals with a type of food that I do not eat, so if that is going to upset you, please stop here.*
|Koliva, for we teach ourselves and our children|
not to forget our loved ones when they die.
Today, we held the 40 day memorial for one of our church members, T. It was asked of me to make the koliva, a special food to honor and celebrate this phase of death. Koliva is, in its very basic form, boiled wheat (or rice). It is based off the scripture verse, John 12:24 where Jesus, predicting His own death, says, "Very truly I say unto you, unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." And so, we gather wheat and prepare it and mix it with good things and we bring it to the church and pray for the soul of our friend who has been taken from us in this present life. We remember again that person so recently "fallen asleep". We mourn again their passing. And we celebrate that their memory is eternal, not just in our hearts and minds, but also in the heart and mind of God as well. That God holds them close and they are not forgotten.
It may seem strange to some, but it was, in very large part, the way Orthodox Christians handle death and dying that made me convert and embrace this expression of faith. Life is short. Eternity much longer. How we process our dead matters. How we treat their bodies matters. How we remember them matters. In Orthodoxy, we no longer have to fear death... God went there ahead of us and defeated the sting of it. We kiss our dead. We love and honor their bodies as a sacred part of their very essence and we pray, and sing; hold vigil, celebrate the liturgy with their body in our midst, bury them with more prayers and songs and then have a mercy meal to laugh and cry and remember them together. Forty days later, we pause in the midst of whatever may be going on and pray and remember them again. Then, on the anniversary of their death, we pray and remember them again. And time passes, and we do not forget.
My grandfather died two days before Thanksgiving. My extended family is not Orthodox. I was there beforehand to tell him "thank you" and how very much I loved him. When I heard the news that he had died, I was 30 miles away, but asked my mother to make sure that he wasn't taken away before I came to say goodbye one last time. When I arrived, I went in and kissed him and knelt beside him and prayed. My oldest son, Sailor, had arrived before me and done the same. I took BB in to pray and kiss his great grandfather's hand. Together, we wrapped a little bracelet BB had made as a gift for him around his wrist. We had tried to give it to him a few days earlier, but Grandpa Handsome, as we called him, we not well enough to have visitors when we had stopped by. So, we gave it to him now, simply as a token of affection. In the hours it took for the funeral home to arrive, I sat in vigil for my grandfather. He did not want a funeral, nor a memorial, no grave, no marker, nothing to be done in any way. Perhaps, he was being pragmatic. Or feeling like there was not really much to say about this man who had lived for 95 years. Some said what a gentleman he was to die before Thanksgiving. My heart ached at those words. He was beloved by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His nieces and nephews. Old friends, some much younger than him and one elderly 98 year old woman who had been his friend for over 50 years and lived in the same town.
We all will one day die. It is a part of the nature of this world. And so, let us honor and love our dead and make their memory to be eternal.