Today Is A Bitter Sweet Day
Today is my birthday. It is also the one year anniversary of my papou’s passing.
My papou was a good man. He didn’t want anybody to worry about him or fuss after him, especially once he was gone. I think that’s why he wanted to be cremated.
My Papou’s Cremation
Cremation is not a practice of the Orthodox Church. My papou chose to be cremated and he made it very clear to all of us. He told us over and over again for a few years and made sure that everybody knew his intentions. My papou didn’t want to be buried. I personally believe that we should respect the wishes of our loved ones when they pass away and do what they have asked. Despite rules or religious beliefs.
Having said that, my Papou was christened Orthodox. He was an alter boy when he was young and his mother, my great- yiayia was very religious. It seemed appropriate to have a blessing in the Church before his cremation. Our Church was very accommodating of this and offered a blessing for our family to say good-bye.
I was very confused about the death. Not so much about my Papou’s passing. I knew that was coming. He was sick for a while and we were anticipating it. However I was very confused about all of the traditions that surrounded the death and what we were “supposed to do” “should do” “shouldn’t do” etc. Everybody says different things. Everybody seems to have an opinion or a story about their own experience.
There are so many rules and it’s hard to know which “rules” are Orthodox Traditions and which are superstitious old wives tales.
I will write about these “rules” another day in another post.
You “Should” Do This… They Say…
Today’s post is supposed to be focused on kollyva, so I don’t want to get too side tracked.
I made kollyva for the Church, because that is what I was “supposed” to do. I was told to prepare a small bowl of kollyva for the Church and a larger bowl for everyone to eat later. I used a recipe from Previtera Vassi and attempted it on my own for the very first time. It was a difficult task. It took me hours to prepare. I put a lot of thought, time and emotional energy in to making the kollyva. It was nice.
When we arrived at Church for the blessing, people told me that I shouldn’t have prepared it and I shouldn’t have taken it to Church. Some said that kollyva should not be prepared for a cremation. Kollyva should only be prepared if there is a burial.
A few days later after all the commotion calmed down, I asked three different Priests for their opinion on the matter. They all gave me different answers.
One Priest said:
“The kollyva is only prepared for a memorial service. If kollyva is present at a funeral it is poured in to the grave after the casket is lowered”.
Another Priest said:
“If kollyva is offered on the day of the funeral it is made plain with no sugar and thrown in to the grave with the oil and the soil. Kollyva is not prepared, if cremated as there is no grave to throw kollyva in to.”
Another Priest said:
“Come and let’s talk face to face and I’ll explain it all in a way that will help. There aren’t that many rules, but there are lots of customs that express our Christian Faith”
Should You Make Kollyva For A Cremation?
In my personal opinion, the act of making the Kollyva was meditative and healing as Pressi Vassi describes on her blog. You should prepare Kollyva for your loved ones when they pass away because the practice is important for us, those who are left behind, so that we remember those who have passed.
Preparing kollyva is one way that we can pray for our loved ones as it symbolises eternal life.
However, Orthodox Christians believe that the physical body is eternal and will be reunited with the soul during the Last Judgement. Therefore if a body is destroyed then we can not pray for eternal life.
This is why kollyva is not prepared for a cremation.
How To Make Kollyva For A Burial
Tips For Making Kollyva for a Burial/Funeral:
- Use a good recipe from a close family member or ask someone to prepare it for you. You can use Yiayia Eleni’s recipe here: Kollyva + Prosforo Recipe For Soul Saturday or learn more about kollyva here: How To Make Koliva
- Don’t add sugar or any decoration for the funeral and burial. Keep the bowl of wheat plain. The sugar and decoration can be used at future memorial services.
- Only make a small bowl of the kollyva. Kollyva is not eaten at a funeral. It is only eaten at future memorial services.
- Ensure the small bowl is glass – The Priest will throw it in to the grave after the coffin has been lowered and the bowl will smash.
When To Make Kollyva:
Traditionally Kollyva is offered to the Church on the following dates after a loved one has passed:
- On the day of a funeral/burial (a small plain bowl, if you choose to do so)
- 40 days
- 90 days
- 6 months
- 9 months
- 1 year
- Yearly or every 3 years
I can only share with you the information that I know. For the best answer, I suggest that you speak with your Priest for more information about the traditions and customs of the Orthodox Church.
Please share your own story in the comments.
What did you do for the funeral, burial or cremation of your loved ones? Are there any should and should nots that you were told about?
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