Lent is only 10 days away and will begin on the 27th of this month. Tomorrow we will celebrate the first of three Saturday of Souls Liturgies. The purpose of this Saturday Liturgy is to remember all of those who have departed from this life and serve the memorial device of the church.
This is one of the most beautiful traditions in the Orthodox church and expresses so much of our theology on death and resurrection. With Saturday of Souls around the corner, I determined that it would be an appropriate time to make this post. Especially for anyone who would like to attempt the traditional task of the memorial wheat preparation.
Unfortunately in our very busy lifestyle, the tradition of making the memorial wheat has been left to pastry shop owners, or abandoned from many churches in many dioceses all together.
The memorial wheat itself is steeped in scripture, tradition and symbolism. Christ Himself says in John 12:24,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”
Because of this scripture passage we use the wheat to symbolize how through death, we walk over the threshold for eternal life which was opened up to us by Christ’s own death, burial and resurrection.The wheat itself is also bitter in remembrance of the bitterness of death
Many recipes also include the use of the pomegranate seed. This, of course, is traditionally the fruit described in the Old testament as producing our fall and exile out of paradise. It also has its roots in Greek mythology in its relation to death. From an Orthodox perspective we also use the blood-red fruit to remind us of the blood shed by Christ for our sake.
Other ingredients typically include items such as parsley, walnuts and sesame seed which are all “foods from the earth” We were formed from the earth and we return to the earth on our death and will be resurrected again through Christ at the second-coming.
When we bring the memorial wheat to the church to commemorate our loved ones we also include the list of all of those who have departed that we would like to commemorate on that day.
I challenge you to attend one of the three Saturday of Souls services in the next three Saturdays and make the memorial wheat yourself! If your church has not seen such a thing, mention the idea to your parish priest and offer to bring the tradition back to your parish. It is an opportunity to teach and grow!
One recipe is as follows:
- 2 cups whole wheat (wheat berries)
- 1/2 cup sesame seeds, toasted
- 1 cup ground walnuts
- 1 cup ground almonds
- 3/4 cup golden raisins
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 cup pomegranate seeds
- 1-1/2 tablespoons rose water (optional)
- 1 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 to 1-1/2 cup(s) confectioner’s sugar, for garnish
Day 1 – Preparation of the Memorial Wheat
Bring a large pot full of lightly salted water to boil. It should be enough water to cover wheat berries by several inches. Add wheat and simmer uncovered for up to 2 hours, until tender, stirring occasionally to keep the wheat from sticking. Drain well and spread wheat out on a lint-free kitchen towel to dry completely.
Day 2 – Assembly of the Memorial Wheat
In a large bowl, combine the dried wheat berries, sesame seeds, nuts, raisins, parsley, pomegranate seeds, rose water (if using), and cinnamon. Add the honey and blend well, using a gentle motion to avoid crushing the wheat or pomegranate seeds.
Sprinkle the confectioner’s sugar over the top and use a piece of plastic wrap to smooth the sugar over the wheat. My family trick is to layer the ground walnuts before placing the sugar on so it doesn’t all melt. You can also use edible decorations of your choice to form the shape of a cross, and/or outline the initials of the departed you are commemorating
As women of the church, as presveteras and as daughters of Christ, we have an obligation to maintain the traditions of our Orthodox church because they not only have meaning and value, but also provide an opportunity for us to witness to our family, our fellow parishioners and our friends. The memorial wheat allows us to teach about our theology of death and resurrection and the life to come. It also allows us to have some personal reflective and prayerful time thinking about those we love whom we have lost. As we think about these people we pray for their souls that they may be saved.
This video, albeit somewhat dry, does a decent job at describing the assembly of the memorial wheat: