|Making Kolyva: in Memory of a Loved One Deceased|
by Katharine Clark
It is six
months since my godmother, Presvytera Irini Cherouveim, died. Thus the
fourth memorial service for her was due recently, following the 9-day,
40-day and quarter-year memorials, to be followed by memorials at the
ninth month and the whole year. She died unexpectedly just after her 79th
birthday still young for a Parian having just cooked a meal
for her two daughters, sons-in-law and five grandchildren, cleaned up
the kitchen with her daughters. She lay down for an afternoon nap and
Kolyva with photo of the Papadheia and accoutrements
One by one we added each ingredient: the sugar, cinnamon, raisins, almonds and pomegranate seeds, filling our thoroughly washed, clean hands cupped full with each, then pouring it over the wheat seeds in the form of a cross while praying aloud, 'Lord God, rest the soul of your servant Presvytera Irini', which was repeated three times. After each prayer (spoken in silence? Well, hardly!) in between each addition, we mixed the ingredient with the wheat. This procedure was done very carefully and took a long time, each step carefully observed and perfect, all of the women working together and all talking at once, giving orders and instructions, making suggestions, checking that each leaf, raisin, nut or seed be perfect, gossiping. (The men were banned to the front porch for the duration.) As we chattered and prayed and worked together, I thought about how often over the past 10,000 years little coveys of women had gathered together, chattering yet punctilious and reverent, to perform their magic and make something wonderful - and about how much magic my noná had made with her own hands in that very same kitchen.
When the mixture was complete, we removed about a third of it and laid it on a large platter forming a sort of loaf of the whole. This was the part of the kolyva that would be brought to the church for the memorial service. (The rest was set aside to be put in the little cups for everyone at the service.) The next step was to spread the finely ground sesame seed meal over the top of the loaf-like kolyva, cover it with non-absorbent wax paper, pat it down firmly into place, and remove the paper. Then the whole was covered with a generous layer of granulated white sugar, making a large, white, oval-shaped mound. (The sesame seed meal prevents the sugar from seeping down into the wheat seed mixture and making it soggy.)
The final step was the decoration. The pattern is decided by each family individually. In our case we did not use the silver beads popular these days, but made a rim around the white mound of kolyva with perfect small parsley leaves alternating with dark red glowing pomegranate seeds to form a pretty, brightly coloured trim around the white sugar loaf. The final touch was a cross of cinnamon sugar, made by placing a cut-out paper pattern over the center of the mound, gently but firmly holding it in place (many hands, much care! repeated admonitions to be careful!), and pouring cinnamon sugar into it. Then finally came the dramatic moment of removing the cross-shaped form quickly, without sloppiness or damage to the design. Finished.
The next morning the kolyva stood on a small table in the church with a photo of my godmother and a little flower. Worshippers laid candles beside it as they entered, to be lit later in her memory.
The service is well known to all and contains the notable text: 'may her memory be eternal' addressed not to ourselves, who will pass, too, in our time but to God and his angels. May they never forget her, or us either! When the service was over, everyone wished everyone else, 'may her prayers be with you', as she is now nearer God than we are, and goodness knows we could use her help! And all left the church with a little cup of kolyva, to savor and enjoy at our leisure, along with the memory of an exemplary person.
That day the priest gave a particularly fine sermon on the importance of the presvytéra, wife of the presvýteros (priest), or, in everyday speech, the papadheiá, wife of the papás. She is unique, he said, in sharing the title of her husband, and is thus accorded great respect. The tradition goes back to Abraham and Sarah, who together welcomed to their table three strangers who turned out to be angels. It was Sarah who provided hospitality to the three, and that is the role of the papadheiá, he said: to be the , the fellow-traveler and succor of her husband the priest on the path of life, offering hospitality to all comers (who may after all turn out to be angels!).
Certainly this is what my noná did. Her door was always open both her house door and her refrigerator door! and no one ever left her house without at least a cup of coffee and a biscuit and very often with a complete meal, with course after course, while her husband the priest saw that the guest got whatever it was he or she had come for comfort, consolation, advice, kindness, or his wife's food. I have seen her produce on the spot, for an important surprise visitor on Good Friday, a fasting feast of shrimps, octopus, salad, olives, nuts, fruit, boiled and fresh vegetables of every sort, and sugar sweets all without oil, butter, eggs, meat, fish or cheese, which are forbidden during the fast. She made this visitor feel that he was at home and could rest at her table, and I saw myself how he relaxed after a very trying time during the weeks of the fast and Easter week, and how grateful he was.
Truly, she was exemplary of her kind. Her prayers be with us all!
The author (right) with the Papadheia and her daughter Lenia.