As I write this, we’ve just returned home from the annual provody ceremony at the Ukrainian Orthodox church a couple of miles from here. It is an important part of the Orthodox faith and something we’ve done since Roy’s parents died in the early 1980s.
For six weeks after Ukrainian Easter (which can fall any time from early March to late April, depending on the lunar calendar), priests make their rounds to their various parishes to celebrate this special service for the dead.
If your church is getting the morning service, including Divine Liturgy, it can take several hours. Other churches get the abbreviated afternoon service because of how many parishes the priest needs to serve and how the scheduling works out. In either case there is a procession to and service at the cemetery. Traditionally prayers are said, holy water sprinkled onto the pomana, and names of the deceased read from the pomennyk. Today, for the first time in my memory, the blessing was done inside the church because of rain.
The pomana is the ceremonial presentation of food items, sometimes done with a candle in memory of the deceased person for whom and on whose behalf the recipient is asked or expected to pray. It may include a kolach, or round braided bread; pieces of fruit; and sweets. If I prepare a pomana for Hilary to receive, I make sure there are no allergens in the ingredients; if Grady is the recipient, a package or two of Cars candies and other treats are included.
Normally, before walking up and down each row in the cemetery and blessing each grave, headstone, and pomana, the priest reads dozens of names from the stack of pomennyks (a little book in which families list the names of their dead). The procession around the cemetery includes a man carrying a cross, another carrying a holy banner, and the choir singing. The priest pauses at each grave, says a few words of prayer for the deceased, and then blesses it with holy water. His assistant carries a pail of water and a Kadylo, or censer for the incense that is so much a part of the Orthodox faith.
These days a potluck meal often follows in the church hall or basement, or families head home or to a restaurant to eat. Back in the day, though, individual families set up complete meals right at the graves of their relatives. It involved tables and folding chairs, great food, and a gallon of wine. Getting a pomana was (and is) an honour and a treat.
Of course the danger today is the dwindling number of people attending church and keeping these customs and traditions alive. Will there be anyone there to visit our graves once we’re gone? Will it matter to them or to us? I don’t know, but for now we do what we can to preserve the tradition, from where I sit.
Hazel Anaka’s first novel is Lucky Dog. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter @anakawrites.