A dish with sweets for the senses, and the soul:
At church last night before Vespers there was a candlelight Moleben, a supplication service. This one was a memorial for a young man in Ukraine. After the chanting and incense and prayers, the young man’s aunt led everyone to the back of the church and gathered them all around. She opened up a big bowl of kutia, and dished it up in paper cups for everyone.
The kutia was unspeakably delicious. It was wheat berries cooked very soft and chewy, served with honey, slivered almonds, all kinds of dried fruits like apricots and cherries and some fragrant tangy citrusy bits, and a sprinkle of diced fresh mint leaves. It was like the best and moistest fruit cake in a cup. The different tastes sparkled together, like the different flavors of sweet sympathy brought by this mix of worshippers. (They gave the leftover kutia to me. I carried it home for three Catholic sisters who came for dinner, and told them this story, and how when we eat this we remember Aunt’s nephew.)
Anyway, we all nestled in together on the benches along the back wall and ate in silence. The summer sunset slanted in on the icons and candles and flowers. Then Aunt talked about her nephew and told us his story, all about what happened. Everybody listened and had something to say for her. Then while they finished eating, they pulled out photos of Mount Athos and huddled close to show them. One of our men just made a pilgrimage and brought back hundreds of beautiful pictures, and he brought prints to church. So they gave her the prints and narrated for her all the different churches and icons on the sunlit mountains and sea.
I savored my sweet, nestled in with Aunt on one side and our pilgrim on the other, listening to memorial stories and looking at these radiant photos of the Holy Mountain. And thinking: with news of a great grief like that, no one would blame her if she stayed in her house and lay down quietly. But no, she got to work and made this wheat pudding. She packed it up in a big bowl and took three buses across town to a mostly unfamiliar church. “This kutia tastes like your good intentions,” I told her. “One can really feel that it came <strong>от чистого сердца</strong> — from a pure heart.”
She said “I had to do <em>some</em>thing for him.”
And the people in the church didn’t look composed and shake hands and say “I’m sorry for your loss” and go about their business. No, instead of turning on the lights and starting Vespers on the minute they gave her kisses and hugs and then piled in with her on little wood benches in the flickering sunset light and passed around her food, and they filled her hands with a <em>change of scene, </em>views of the place on earth that is so cherished by Orthodox people.
Their hospitality to her, and her hospitality to us, was the extra ingredient in this kutia: a dish to get busy and make when life turns bitter, because sweetness is something that we cook and share with other people.
Светлая память = Bright Memory!