Written by Andrew Athanasiou
Many times we take for granted the bread that not only is part of communion but also the antidoron that is given after the service is over. Prosforo, the name given to the bread that is offered, is Greek meaning “the offering.” We make the mistake that it is the Church’s offering to us for showing up. It is actually supposed to be our offering, but unfortunately only a couple people actually take on this task of offering up the bread. We have our groups of yiayias who made bread not only for the 52 Sundays of the year, but also for numerous weekday liturgies too.
So if we wanted to begin to make the prosforo, what will we need to make it stand out over other breads? The answer is the “Seal.” This seal is circle that circumscribes a cross. The cross is broken into 5 squares. The middle, top and bottom squares have a smaller cross on it with the inscription in the four corners of the square, IC XC – NI KA, which means “Jesus Christ Conquers.” The seal is important for the liturgy as it gives the priest the ability to have the entire Church represented in the Body of Christ. The Lamb, the center piece is what represents our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and this portion is cut out first during the Proskomide service. The Proskomide service is done before liturgy and typically during Orthros. To the right-hand side of the Lamb (to us the left side), we find a triangle for the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary.
To the left-hand side of the Lamb, we find 9 small triangles representing the 9 orders of saints–St. John the Baptist, the Prophets, the Apostles, the Holy Hierarchs, the Martyrs, the Holy Monastics, the Unmercinaries, the Ancestors of God and saint of the Church, and lastly the saint whose liturgy we celebrate (St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil, St. James and so on). Then a small triangle is cut, not from inside the sealed area, which represents the Bishop whom the liturgy is presided over, followed by crumbs for all the living and all the dead remembered. As we can see, the prosforo ends up bringing us all together (Christ, Theotokos, Saints, Bishop, Living and Dead) and we are made into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit.
Making the bread is not a big secret, as you can find recipes by just Googling “prosforo recipe.” In our modern day we are so removed from the understanding of nature that our forefathers had. We can go to the grocery and get the flour, turn on the faucet for water, get salt out of the pantry, and we have yeast ready to go, in individual sized pouches nonetheless. What we fail to understand is that prosforo was a real offering of time and concentration and sacrifice. The grain needed planted and tended to, then picked and crushed, the water needed to be carried from the well, the yeast needed to be naturally cultivated, and the wood needed cut to be able to “bake” the prosforo. We take God’s creation, mold it into our own “creation,” different than it was before, and give it to God as an offering, and he in turn gives it back to us as the Body of Christ. We are called the Priests of Creation and we are the connection between the Creation and the Creator.