Prosphora - the Bread of Life

Holy Bread is central to Orthodox Christians, in light of our Lord's saying: "I am the Bread of Life..."

During the church year, one might partake in several types of breads, all leavened. Prosphora is a Greek term for the leavened bread baked for use at the Divine Liturgy. A prosphoron (in the Slavic tradition, such as ours) is often a round, double-decker loaf of bread which varies in size depending on the size of the parish. Prosphora are baked using flour, water, salt, and yeast, and prepared with traditional prayers. The top of each prosphoron is marked with a seal at the time of baking. In our tradition, the seal is often a square in four quadrants "IC XC" and underneath "NI KA." This says, in Greek, "Jesus Christ Conquers."

During a service before the Divine Liturgy—called the Proskomedia—the priest prepares five of these little loaves (with obvious reference to the feeding of the 5,000) for communion. From the center of the first one is cut a cube-shaped portion called "the Lamb:' This one is later consecrated as the body of Christ and distributed to the faithful as communion; from the second, a particle in remembrance of the Mother of God is taken; from the third, nine small particles representing John the Baptist, the Apostles, Prophets, Martyrs, and other saints; from the fourth, two particles representing the Metropolitan and/or Local Bishop and the local and civil authorities; and from the fifth, a particle to remember the departed. Each of these particles is placed in a special location on the diskos (paten, liturgical plate) with reference to the "Lamb" (representing Jesus Christ) which is in the center. All together on the diskos, the various particles are arranged to show the whole world surrounding Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, and through this service, the whole world is prayed for—including all the clergy, all the members of the parish and their families and friends, all by name.

The remaining bread (everything but these particles) is blessed and called antidoron, a Greek term which means "instead of the gifts." This bread is placed in a bowl or basket and is consumed by the faithful after receiving communion, and in many communities, by visitors, as a liturgical sign of friendship and/or hospitality.

At some festal services of Vespers, there is a set of prayers for the blessing of bread, wheat, wine, and oil. The breaking of this bread is called Artoklasia, another Greek term which means (surprise!) "the breaking of bread." This loaf is often sweetened and/or aromatic. The bread is divided and each piece dipped into the blessed wine. All present are welcome to partake of this beautiful bread as they are anointed on the forehead with the blessed oil.

The Artos (Greek for "bread") is the last special bread that we have in the Orthodox Tradition, and it is baked only once a year: at Pascha, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This beautiful, sweetened, leavened loaf is often decorated with the signs of Christ's trampling down death by death. It is blessed with a special prayer and with the sprinkling of Holy Water, immediately following the Diving Liturgy of Pascha. It is then placed on a tray/table in the royal doors where it remains (and is venerated by the faithful) during Bright Week, the seven festal days following the Resurrection. It is broken and distributed to the faithful on the following Saturday. †

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