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Prosphora - offering for the Liturgy

" I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread he will live forever; an the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh"

"Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me"

The Meaning of the Offering

Bread is used not only to represent Jesus Who is the Bread of Life, of which, if any man eat, he shall never hunger, but also to express the offering of our life to God. The Greek word for altar bread is prosphora which means an offering to God. Bread is used as an offering because it represents life. Once consumed, it becomes part of us, i.e., our flesh and bones.

Baking with a prayer

Preparing the prosphora for Divine Liturgy is the ancient and meaningful Orthodox Church tradition. It is a great privilege and requires a blessing from the priest.

By reflecting on the bread's use, the baking of it becomes a prayerful and solemn undertaking. Needless to say, before one begins the baking process, prayers are in order. After the bread has been baked, the prayer may be said by the family.

Prosphora seals

The Slavic tradition uses a small seal, stamped on five loaves, in honor of the "feeding of the 5000." These small loaves are made with two layers to represent both the two-fold nature of Christ and the uniting of heaven and earth.

Slavic Prosphora seal    Greek Prosphora seal

Thus, in bringing the loaf of bread to God, we are, in effect, offering our life to Him. It is the gift of our love.

The priest accepts the gift and places it on the holy altar. This act represents God accepting our gift. It now passes into His possession. God transforms it through the Holy Spirit and gives it back to us as His Precious Body. We give ourselves to God and He, in turn, gives Himself to us. We come to the Liturgy not just receive Christ, but also to give ourselves to Christ.

The Greek style, which uses one large loaf marked with IC-XC NIKA in the center, surrounded by several other seals, signifies the one Body of Christ.

About the Proskomedia

The Proskomedia is performed by the priest in a quiet voice at the Table of Preparation when the altar is closed.

The priest takes the first prosphora and with a small spear (a small, wedge-shaped knife) makes the sign of the Cross over it three times, saying the words, "In remembrance of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ." The priest then cuts a cube out of the center of the prosphora. This portion of the prosphora, called the Lamb is placed on the holy paten (diskos), a metal plate. Then the priest cuts a cross in the bottom of the Lamb.

Then he pierces the right side of the Lamb with the spear, saying the words of the Evangelist, "One of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith there came out blood and water. And he that saw it bore record, and his record is true". In accordance with these words wine is poured into the chalice mixed with water.

From the second prosphora, the priest cuts out one portion in honor of the Theotokos and places it on the right side of the Lamb on the diskos.

From the third prosphora, which is called "that of the nine ranks," are taken nine portions in honor of the saints, John the Forerunner and Baptist, the prophets, the Apostles, the hierarchs, the martyrs, the monastic saints, the unmercenary physicians, the grandparents of Jesus, Joachim and Anna, the saint who is celebrated that day, the saint to whom the church is dedicated, and finally the saint who composed the liturgy being celebrated.

These portions are placed on the left side the Lamb. From the fourth prosphora, portions are removed for the hierarchs, the priesthood, and all the living.

From the fifth prosphora, portions are taken for those Orthodox Christians who have reposed.

Finally, portions are removed from those prosphoras donated by the faithful, as the names of the health and salvation of living and for the repose of the dead. All these portions are placed on the diskos below the Lamb.

At the end of the Proskomedia the priest covers the bread with a metal asterisk (star) and then covers the diskos and chalice with special veils, censes the diskos and the chalice and prays that the Lord bless the offered Gifts and remember those who have offered them and those for whom they are offered.

The sacred instruments used and actions performed in the Proskomedia have symbolic meanings. The diskos signifies the caves in Bethlehem and Golgotha; the star, the star of Bethlehem and the Cross; the veils, the swaddling clothes and the winding sheet at the tomb of the Savior; the chalice, the cup in which Jesus Christ sanctified the Proscomediawine; the prepared Lamb, the judgment, passion, and death of Jesus Christ; and its piercing by the spear, the piercing of Christ's body by one of the soldiers. The arrangement of all the portions in a certain order on the diskos signifies the entire Kingdom of God, whose members consist of the Virgin Mary, the angels, all the holy men who have been pleasing to God, all the faithful Orthodox Christians, living and dead, and, in the center its head — the Lord Himself, our Savior. The censing signifies the overshadowing by the Holy Spirit, whose grace is shared in the Mystery of Holy Communion.

Get Prosphora Baking Recipes (printable)

Greek Style
Russian Style