The origin of the Serbian kolyivo (wheat cake)
The emperor Julian "the Apostate" (renegade) who had embraced Christianity in his youth and upon becoming emperor denied Christ and again became an idolater and a great persecutor of Christians, knowing that Christians fast during Lent and especially during the first week so as to be able to take Holy Communion, intended to violate church ordinances. Therefore he secretly ordered the governor of Constantinople to sprinkle all the food at the marketplace with the blood of the sacrificed animals so as to desecrate the Christians. But St Theodore Tyron sent word to the Christians through the Patriarch Eudoxius of Constantinople not to buy any food at the marketplace , but to eat boiled wheat with honey. They did so and throughout the first week of the Lenten fast they ate only "kolyivo." In remembrance of this event the Orthodox Church has established the preparing of kolyivo which is given to the people on the Friday and the Saturday of the first week of the Lenten fast, after the Liturgy. Later on, it was also used when celebrating the day of the Patron Saint among the Serbs, the Slava. The grain of wheat is a symbol of death and resurrection: the grain thrown into the soil lets forth a sprout and disintegrates, but it brings forth an ear with many more grains.
Who the kolyivo is prepared for?
The kolyivo is prepared as a sacrifice of thanks to God for the earthly fruits He has given us, while at the same time we commemorate the saint whose day we are celebrating, and in memory of all our ancestors who lived and died in our faith. This is confirmed by the prayer read during the blessing of the kolyivo:"…O most good King, bless also this seed with its various fruits and the faithful that will eat of it, for it is brought forth by Thy servants and in the honour of St ……and in remembrance of those who died in our honorable faith."
The Slava rituals and customs are for the living - for their health, prosperity and well-being, but it is quite natural for a Christian to remember his deceased ancestors and relatives and to pray to God for them when celebrating the feast of his Patron Saint, their Protector, whom his ancestors had also venerated and celebrated and turned to in their prayers.
It should be stressed that the kolyivo is never prepared for the repose of the soul of the saint whose feast it is, as some people mistakenly think. Just as no one has ever served a requiem (parastos) in Church for a saint, or prepared kolyivo for the repose of his soul, it should not be done at a Slava, either. For all the saints are alive in God and stand before Him as our intercessors who pray for us, therefore the kolyivo is prepared solely in their honor, never for the repose of their souls.
For this reason, kolyivo is always to be prepared for all Slava days, including that of St. Michael the Archangel, St. Ilija (Elias) as well as for all the feasts of the Theotokos and our Lord Jesus Christ.