Waiting in Joyful Hope
They, the ones beneath the smooth, snowy mounds of graves, are the living. We, yet to be perfected, are the dead.
I am making a grave. In my clean morning kitchen, I pour onto a platter the mix of boiled wheat berries, nuts, and dried fruits. I pat it into an oval mound, and it rises like a newly made grave. My grandfather died two years ago,and I am making this dish, called "kolliva," to bring to a memorial service.
In the Orthodox Church, at regular times of the year, we hold a group memorial service. Members of the church give the priest a list of the names they'd like remembered at the service, and each family brings a dish of kolliva as well. The wheat berries, small nut-like grains with a satisfying crunch, symbolize the hope of new life; as Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). Once it has been mixed with fruits, nuts, and honey, the concoction is heaped on a platter and shaped into a mound. It is then covered with white powdered sugar to symbolize purity--the state of the soul newly received into Heaven. Candy and fruit decorations mark the kolliva with a cross.
Before the memorial service begins, all the plates of kolliva are placed on a table near the front of the church. Candles are plunked into each mound, one to represent each person you are remembering. The candles represent light and resurrection. At Christ's death on Holy and Great Friday, darkness covered the earth, but we know that he rose again; he is the light that extinguishes all darkness.
At the end of the service, the sweet kolliva is served up for everyone to eat. When everyone has been served and there are still leftovers, women start going around with their platters, doling out extra helpings. Before long,there is an assortment of different kinds of homemade kolliva on your plate, representing several different families' prayers. Everyone's kolliva is mixed together, just like everybody's loved ones, who are now acquainted and "mixed" together in the Place of Eternal Rest.
After many, many years of waiting and hoping, I am now four months pregnant for the first time in my life. Early this morning as I patted my little mound of kolliva, layer after layer of patting, smoothing, feeling the curvature of its little grave-like mound, I could not help but notice that it feels exactly as my budding belly feels these days. I am just beginning to swell, and the shape, at the end of four months, is the same as my little kolliva. The firmness was like the strange firmness to my stomach. The curve ofone imitated the curve of the other.