Koljivo from wheat

Colivă from wheat seeds with raisins

Koliva (also transliterated Kollyva) (Greek, κόλλυβα, kólliva; Serbian, кољиво, koljivo; Romanian, colivă; Bulgarian, коливо, kolivo) is boiled wheat which is used liturgically in the Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholic Churches. It is widely popular in Lebanon where it is known as Snuniye and, more commonly, as "berbara" prepared for Saint Barbara's day, December 4th, which is celebrated with Halloween-like festivities.

This ritual food is blessed after the memorial Divine Liturgy performed at various intervals after a death; after the funeral; during mnemosyna - memorial services; on the first Friday of the Great Lent, at slavas, or at mnemosyna in the Christmas meal. Due to its pleasant taste, in some countries (though not in Greece or Cyprus), it is consumed on other non-religious occasions as well, often with cream on top (though not with cream on fast days).


While recipes may vary widely, the primary ingredient is wheat kernels, which have been boiled until they are soft, and then sweetened with honey, sugar, and some fruit. It may also contain sesame seeds, almonds, ground walnuts, cinnamon, sugar, pomegranate seeds, raisins, anise and parsley. The practice of offering koliva is frequent in Greece and Cyprus, and is known in Russia and many Balkan countries.

When served, the koliva mixture, which looks something like earth, is shaped into a mound or cake to resemble a grave. The whole is then covered with powdered sugar and the initials of the deceased are outlined on the top. A candle, usually placed in the center of the koliva, is lit at the beginning of the memorial service and extinguished at its end. After the liturgy, those attending share in eating the koliva as they speak of the deceased and say, "May God forgive him/her."

Some Orthodox parishes have a designated individual charged with making the koliva. This is in part due to the health risk of fermented wheat if the koliva is not prepared correctly.

Sometimes koliva is made with rice instead of wheat. This custom began as a practical response to a famine that occurred in Soviet Russia, when the faithful did not have wheat available for koliva, so they used rice instead. Some communities continue to use rice for their koliva to this day. In Japan where rice is mainly eaten, koliva is commonly made from rice sweetened with sugar and decorated with raisins, without reference to famine.


The origin of koliva predates Christianity. The word stems from the Ancient Greek work κόλλυβo (kollyvo), which originally meant cereal grain. In the Ancient Greek panspermia, a mixture of cooked seeds and nuts were offered during the festival of the Anthesteria. For this reason, in Greece koliva is also called sperma (i.e., "seed").

The association between death and life, between that which is planted in the ground and that which emerges, is deeply embedded in the making and eating of koliva. The ritual food passed from paganism to early Christianity in Byzantium and later spread to the entire Orthodox world.

Christian interpretation

Orthodox Christians consider koliva to be the symbolic of death and resurrection, according to the words of the Gospel:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. (John 12:24)

Wheat which is planted in the earth and rises in new life is symbolic of those beloved departed who have died in the hope of resurrection, in accordance with the words of Saint Paul:

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body....(I_Corinthians 15:42-44)

This symbolism has its highest expression in the Saints, whose blessed state in heaven have been manifested to the world. For this reason, koliva is blessed not only at memorials for the departed, but also in commemoration of saints.

Occasions of use

Orthodoxer Gottesdienst

Postcard, undated (ca.1916), showing an Orthodox service with the blessing of koliva.

Koliva is used on a number of different occasions:

St Theodore Saturday

The tradition of blessing and eating koliva at the end of the first week of Great Lent is connected with an event in the reign of Julian the Apostate. The tradition states that the Emperor knew that the Christians would be hungry after the first week of strict fasting, and would go to the marketplaces of Constantinople on Saturday to buy food. So he ordered that blood from pagan sacrifices be sprinkled over all the food that was sold there. This made the food unsuitable as Lenten fare (since the Christians could not eat meat products during Lent), and in general as food for Christians, who are forbidden to eat food from such sacrifices. However, St. Theodore Tyro appeared in the dream to Archbishop Eudoxius and advised him that the people should not eat food bought at the marketplace that day, but only boiled wheat mixed with honey.

Memorial services

During requiem services (Greek: Parastas, Slavonic: Panikhida), the family or friends of the departed will often prepare a koliva which is placed in front of the memorial table before which the service is chanted.

Memorial services are held on the third, ninth, and fortieth days after the repose of an Orthodox Christian, as well as on the one-year anniversary. In addition, there are several Soul Saturdays during the church year (mostly during Great Lent), as well as Radonitsa (on the second Tuesday after Pascha), on each of which general commemorations are made for all the departed.

Commemoration of saints

It is also customary in the Slavic practice on the feast of the Patron Saint of a church or of a family, or on the feast of saints of special significance to offer koliva. Instead of serving a memorial service, the koliva is set in front of an icon of the saint and a Moleben is served to that saint.

See also


"1st Saturday of Great Lent St Theodore the Recruit". Retrieved 2007-03-02. 

External links

ru:Кутья fi:Koliva uk:Кутя

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