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Kollyva – Honouring our deceased

Kollyva – Honouring our deceased

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Kollyva, also spelled koliva or colivă, is a sweet dish prepared with boiled wheat berries, nuts, raisins, pomegranate and spices, which is taken to church to commemorate our deceased during funerals or memorials.  


Memorial. (Gr. Μνημόσυνο Mnemosyno – mnee MOH see noh). A special service held in the Orthodox Church for the repose of the souls of the dead.

Memorial services are held on the third, ninth and fortieth day; after six months, and after one or three years after death, then annually.

Boiled wheat is used as a symbol of the resurrection of everyone at the Second Coming of Christ.  From Dictionary of Orthodox Terminology.

My mother died on February 23rd 1996 and each year my sisters in Cyprus arrange to make the Memorial Service at church. 

This is usually done on the Sunday preceding the date of death but it can be held earlier, so before going to Cyprus we decided that it would be a good opportunity to make it earlier so that I could attend as well.

The day before the Memorial we prepare kollyva.  The “Kollyva” is made of boiled wheat grains.

Wheat-based foods, usually sweetened, are highly symbolic of rebirth and regeneration and thus have always been associated with the foods served in honour of the dead.  

Let’s not forget the word “macaroni” which comes from the Greek words “makaria” (meaning food made from barley”) or “blessed” and “aeonia or “eternal” and were offered in ancient Greece after funerals.  

The word “kollyva” also stems from the Ancient Greek word κόλλυβο (kollyvo pr. koh-lee-voh) , 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.  

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 kollyva. 

The ritual food passed from paganism to early Christianity in Byzantium and later spread to the entire Orthodox world.

To make kollyva, the wheat is boiled from the previous day until it is soft and then placed in cold water and then drained overnight.  

It is then spread on a clean towel and covered with another one, so that all the moist is absorbed.  

The following morning, before going to church, It is mixed with several ingredients: Finely chopped parsley or cilantro or fresh mint (a few tablespoons only), cinnamon, anise seeds or crashed coriander seeds and nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts or hazelnuts are some of the ingredients which are added.

After the mnymosyno service is over, people gather outside the church, all the ingredients of the kollyva are mixed well together and offered to the people in small paper bags or cups and a spoon. 

The people attending in their turn will say “May God rest his/her soul”.

My post coincides with PsychoSavvato (Saturdays of the Soul). 

Saturday 21st February is the first PsychoSavvato,  and it will then be celebrated on the 28th February and on the 7th March. 

The dates are not the same every year but the Saturday of the Souls are celebrated on the Two Saturdays before Lent begins: the First Saturday of Lent and the Saturday before Pentecost. 

The third is celebrated on the day of St. Theodore’s miracle.  

On PsychoSavvato a special service takes place in church where kollyva are taken for the resting of the souls of our deceased.

In John 12:24, Jesus says: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

The boiled wheat is used in the Orthodox Church as a symbol of our hope in the Resurrection.

From the grain that died comes the fruit of eternal life.

Why, then, do we call the wheat ‘kollyva’?

This name comes from a term commonly used during the fourth century, particularly where the following miracle occurred.

The Emperor Julian the Apostate tried to have the fruits and vegetables, for use by Christians who were fasting during Great Lent, contaminated!

In a dream, Saint Theodore the Tyron appeared to Patriarch Evdoxios and told him to instruct the faithful to consume only boiled wheat (‘kolyva’).

The faithful responded accordingly and were able to continue the fast! This miracle is commemorated annually on the third Saturday of Souls.

Information from: The Greek Orthodox Church of Holy Resurrection.

Apart from the religious, ritual background behind this food, this is really something which you should try.

In my cookbook  Mint, Cinnamon & Blossom Water, Flavours of Cyprus, Kopiaste as well as in Volume 2 of the e-cookbook, it is listed under desserts because it is sweet and very delicious and it is such a pity we only make this during such unpleasant occasions.

Kollyva image


Yield: 50
Prep Time: 3 hours
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 6 hours 30 minutes

Kollyva, is a sweet dish prepared with boiled wheat berries, nuts, raisins, pomegranate and spices, which is taken to church to commemorate our deceased during funerals or memorials.  


  • 1 kilo (2.20 lbs) wheat berries
  • 1 - 2 bay leaves
  • 300 grams (10.6 oz) roasted white sesame seeds
  • 1 cup powdered vegan biscuits or cookies
  • 100 grams (3.5 oz) icing sugar
  • 1 tsp ground anise seeds
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground coriander seeds
  • 4 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped

To decorate:

  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • 300 grams (10.6 oz) sultana raisins
  • 500 grams (1.10 lbs) blanched almonds
  • The seeds of 1 - 2 pomegranates


  1. Prepare all your ingredients from the previous day: Soak the almonds in water for a whole day so that they can be peeled easily and retain their white colour.  (If they are boiled and then peeled they are not so white).  Leave them on kitchen paper to drain. Peel the pomegranate seeds, roast the sesame
    seeds and clean the raisins from any leftover stems. Prepare a stencil with a cross to fit the size of your platter or tray.
  2. Clean and wash the wheat and leave it to soak in water for at least 2 – 3 hours. Then boil the wheat with the bay leaves and skim off the froth forming on top. Cook the wheat berries until they are soft, about 30 minutes.
  3. Place it in cold water and then drain. Discard the bay leaves. Spread it on a clean kitchen cloth napkin and cover it with another one, so that all the moisture is absorbed.
  4. In the morning powder the cookies or any of the other alternative
    ingredients you may wish to use and mix them with the sesame seeds, cinnamon, coriander, anise seeds and parsley.
  5. Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
  6. Put the mixture on the platter and sieve some icing sugar on top.
  7. Place the stencil over the icing sugar and fill the four sides of the cross with the almonds and pomegranate seeds. Remove the stencil and fill in with the raisins.
  8. Mix all the ingredients before offering.


You can use the almonds, raisins and pomegranate seeds to decorate the kollyva as you please. Make the cross with one of these ingredients and decorate the four sides with the other.

Nutrition Information
Yield 50 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 100Total Fat 91gSaturated Fat 12gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 73gCholesterol 0mgSodium 140mgCarbohydrates 265gFiber 36gSugar 165gProtein 40g

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Tuesday 14th of March 2017

I just love reading about different traditions from different beliefs. It is remarkable how much effort people will put into the death and memorial of a loved one. Let us not forget those who were so dear to us.

Thank you!


Saturday 25th of May 2013

Just a note, kolliva comes from the ancient Greek kollybo which was part of the ancient Greek ritual of offering the mixture of seeds/grain/barley/dried fruit during the funeral. It predates Christianity.


Saturday 25th of May 2013

Thank you for your comment. I agree with you that a lot of Christian traditions come from ancient Greece, this one originating from panspermia and pankarpia.


Wednesday 29th of April 2009

I am a romanian. We are also greek orthodox, even there are a lot of things different from Cyprus church related traditions. When I tasted for the first time this version of kolyva(coliva in our language) I though it was disgusting (and I still think it is). I mean no offence, but is so different then romanian version. Ours you can eat like a sweet after dinner, is that good. Our recipe is with whole wheat, walnuts, biscuits, candies, sugar or honey, no other seeds are added. I am really intrigued, is the greek version different then these also?


Sunday 22nd of February 2009

I learned alot from this post. I find most interesting all the symbolism embedded with each date and ingredient. Although this must have been a difficult post for you to create, you certainly did help the rest of us understand things a little more.

Joan Nova

Saturday 21st of February 2009

Interesting folklore. Thanks for sharing it. Very similar to a Syrian dish I'm familiar with.

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