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Question 80.

Dear Fr Christopher,
Greetings in Christ!

What is the real meaning of the custom of blessing of kollyva in the feasts of saints? Some people say that they are offered as some kind of commemoration of the saint while some others believe that they are offered for the souls of the deceased who were named after the saint. There is also the view that kollyva are brought to church for the sake of those who celebrate the feast. In some villages they are also blessed in the feasts of the Lord and Virgin Mary. Is this correct?

Thank you.

Answer to Question 80.

Dear Constantine,
A form of kolyva was used by the Ancient Greeks in their worship, but in Christian times kolyva began to be used as an offering to commemorate the saints and all departed Christians after the miracle associated to St Theodore of Tyron.
When Julian the Apostate became Emperor (361-363) he declared a great persecution of the Christians. Having knowledge of the Christian fasts and wanting to burden them even further, he ordered the governor of Constantinople, during the first week of Great Lent, to sprinkle all the food provisions in the marketplace with the blood offered to pagan idols, knowing that the people would be hungry after the strict fasting of the first week. Thus he would force the Christians to unwittingly eat food "polluted" with the blood of idolatry or remain hungry. Then, according to tradition, St. Theodore appeared to the Archbishop of Constantinople, Eudoxius, ordering him to inform all the Christians that no one should buy anything at the market, but rather to boil the wheat they had at home and eat it sweetened with honey. Thus the Christians were preserved from the stain of idolatry. Since then the Church has commemorated this miracle on the first Saturday of Great Lent, in order to remind the faithful that fasting and temperance have the power to cleanse all the stains of sin.

According with Christ's words, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12: 24) wheat became a symbol of the general resurrection for just like the wheat that falls to the ground and dies, yet when the season is right a new plant will grow, so also we believe that Christians, when the time is right, will be raised in a renewed body in the resurrection.
Kolyva is offered in commemoration of those departed during the memorial services, but also in commemoration of a Saint. The meaning of both is the same for all Christians live in the hope of the general resurrection when our souls will once again be united to our renewed and incorrupt bodies. But whereas for "ordinary" Christians kolyva are offered in prayer for the remission of their sins and God's mercy upon them, the kolyva offered in commemoration of a Saint is offered in honour of the Saint.
To understand why we do something it is always best to first refer to the prayer associated with the item because there we will usually find the answer. The prayer for the kolyva offered at the commemoration of a saint says clearly why the grain and the various fruits (kolyva) are offered: "for they have been offered by Thy servants to Thy glory, in honour and memory of St. [Name], and for a memorial to those who have fallen asleep in piety of faith." (See prayer below)
As the symbolism of the wheat refers to the renewed bodies that Christians will have at the General Resurrection, kolyva is only offered to the saints that have died and await, like all Christians, for their bodies to be united to the souls. Thus we do not offer kolyva at the feasts of Christ, for he is the Resurrection from the dead, neither the Mother of God, for her body was assumed totally to heaven, passing beyond death and the last judgement, neither at the feasts of the angels who have no body. We neither offer kolyva for the saints tradition says did not die, but were taken bodily into heaven and await to return at a later time to die e.g. Enoch, Elias and St. John the Theologian.



O Lord, who hast brought all things to perfection through Thy word, and hast commanded the earth to bring forth all manner of fruit for our enjoyment and food, who through grain and pulse hadst made the three Children and Daniel to shine fairer that the Babylonians who lived in luxury: Do Thou, O Good King, bless also this grain and the various fruits, and them that partake thereof do Thou sanctify; for they have been offered by Thy servants to Thy glory, in honour and memory of St. [Name], and for a memorial to those who have fallen asleep in piety of faith. Grant, O Good One, to those who have prepared this offering and who keep this memorial, all their petitions that are for their salvation, and the enjoyment of Thine eternal blessings; by the prayers of our most pure, Lady, Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary; of St. [Name] to whose memory we dedicate this day, and of all Thy saints.
For Thou art that blesses and sanctifies all things, O Christ our God, and to Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thine eternal Father and Thine all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and for ever: world without end.

With love in Christ
Fr. Christopher