Prosphoro - an introduction
Bread has been the emblem of God’s providence for us, throughout humanity’s history. Both physical (bread as food) and spiritual - the επιούσιον (epiousion) or “supersubstantial” bread of the Lord’s prayer, the bread of Holy Communion.
In the Orthodox Christian church, the pinnacle of our worship is union with Christ, both spiritually but also physically, by consuming the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life - He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him - He who eats this bread will live forever” John 6:53
Our Lord established this practice - the 'new covenant'.(Matthew 14:22-24). Christians have done this since the Last Supper.
Biblical references to 'bread'. Genesis 3:19, Psalm 50: 1-19, St Matthew 26:19, 26-30, Mark14:16, 22-26, Luke 22:13-20, John 6:47-51. ( The Lord's discourses during the Last Supper in St John's chapters 13-17)
PROSPHORO is an offering to God, made from His material gifts to us, and prepared lovingly and prayerfully.
This website deals with this ‘proper’ method of preparation of the holy gift according to the Greek Orthodox tradition. (We will also touch upon some of the other traditions.)
By ‘proper’, I do not mean to imply that any preparation of prosphoro that differs from ours is ‘improper’, or that it will be less acceptable to your clergy, or to God. Any offering made with love and faith, could not possibly be unappreciated by the God of Love and Truth. Rather, I hope that by following the methods presented here, your prosphora will be more consistently successful, and beautiful...A fitting offering for the Holy Altar.
“Beauty will save the world” (Dostoyevsky - explanation here)
Re Proper- "firstfruits" implies giving our best. Cain's offering is conspicuous for its absence in light of the description of Abel's offering as "fat portions" and "firstborn" ( Gen 4:3b-4a )
The ideal prosphoro
Before anything else, the gift offering should be prepared lovingly and prayerfully. We believe the Lord sees our hearts in the same way as He knew Cain's heart, as opposed to his brother Abel's when they made their offering.
The ideal prosphoro looks beautiful. We try to not handle it with unclean hands nor rest it on surfaces unnecessarily.
It has a clean, clearly legible impression of the stamp with all the motifs unblemished. The central, area "the lamb" must be free of air cavities under the skin. The prosphoro needs to be at least 6 cms deep.
There should be no flour or other stain on the surface.
The ideal crust is thin and elastic and without splits or tears, not hard and brittle (crunchy). The colour should be a light golden or rosy tan - not dark or brown.
The crumb should be firm and fairly dense, but spongy with mostly small cells and a springy feel. We aim to minimise large air cells.
The taste should be delicious, aromatic and very mild with barely a hint of sourness.
A wooden prosphoro seal (sfragida) is used to stamp a special design on the dough before baking. They are made to different sizes and with various style designs, but all have the essential characters and motifs required for the service.
Many are hand carved by monastics.
Less expensive plastic stamps are available, but they rarely offer a deep enough impression to last throughout the rising of the dough. (Prosphoro Seals - Blog)
Many people including priests and monastics recommend that the wooden seal be strengthened by the application of oil. Variously they recommend olive or safflower oil. Unfortunately, this makes the seal unusable for weeks until the oil is soaked into the wood. Also, oil will become rancid after a while and the seal may become smelly and unusable. We find that provided you are very careful when handling the seal, it does not need to be oiled.
During preparation of the Eucharist, the priest conducts the proskomidi service. Parts of the prosphoro are cut out and placed on a paten, in preparation to be used in the cup.The words of these prayers are wonderful. He first cuts out the center of the stamped design - a square portion that says "IC,XC, NIKA (Jesus Christ Conquers). It becomes the Body of Christ, and is referred to as the Lamb.
The large triangle on the left is then cut in honour of the Virgin Mary. On the right of the lamb, the nine small triangles are cut to commemorate the angels, prophets, apostles, holy fathers and prelates, martyrs, ascetics, holy unmercenaries, Joachim and Anna, and all the saints, including the saint honoured in that day's liturgy.
The last cuts are tiny crumbs or pieces added to remember certain people that the priest has been asked to include (the living). We also include names of Christians who have gone before us (the departed).
An excellent explanation of the proskomidi service can be seen on this video
More about the impression of the seal here