Koliva (also transliterated Kolyva) (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.
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) it is consumed on other non-religious occasions as well, often with cream on top.
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 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.
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. ()
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....()
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.
Memorial services are served 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.