Hobnobs on the Altar

   Yesterday was Memorial Saturday in the Orthodox Church, sometimes called Soul Saturday but that rings a bit too funky for me.  In the church calendar there are several of these commemorations of the dead, the Saturday before Pentecost  being one of them. So yesterday an extra Liturgy was celebrated followed by a panikhida or memorial service.

You can have the names of your deceased loved ones read out or you can make your commemoration privately and silently. A panikhida is solemn and beautiful, culminating in the singing of Vechnaya pamyat, Memory Eternal. Then there’s the business of kutya.

Kutya is the mourning food of Russians, the Greeks call it kolyva and it’s the same thing: a kind of sweet porridge of rice or wheat, spiked with raisins and almonds. I imagine it’s a carry-over from the Jewish tradition of bringing food to mourners who were sitting shiva and so unable to cook for themselves. At the Greek church in Venice one parishioner was i/c kolyva. She made it in tooth-rotting industrial quantities and served it in dixie cups with little plastic spoons.

Our Dublin parish is young. People are busy working, raising children, slinging a pizza in the oven at the end of an exhausting day. There was no kutya yesterday or rather, there was kutya 21st century-style. When I saw the packets of Hobnobs on the altar I had to fight an urge to laugh. But then I remembered a salutary exchange with what used to be called an OAP on the subject of Harvest Festival.

When I was a child Harvest Festival was an entirely market-garden affair. You took along what you or your grandad had grown. A cabbage was good, or a marrow. A banana was unthinkable. Then the first can of spaghetti hoops appeared on the chancel steps and many people feared it was the beginning of the end. What next? Powdered soup? A voucher for the Bengal Tandoori? Harvest Festival was no longer a feast for the eyes. But then an elderly neighbour put me straight.

She said, ‘I’m very happy with pineapple chunks, thank you very much. What would I do with a great big cauliflower? I tell you what I’d really like. A tin of sockeye salmon. That’d be a real treat.’

So I do repent of laughing at those Hobnobs yesterday. They were put there in a spirit of remembrance and sharing and I will only say in mitigation that it was the name that touched my funny bone. Rich Tea would hardly have raised a titter. Custard Creams, I might have had to leave the building.

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