Of the many ways of supporting our Church, there are few which
stand out as uniquely personal offerings of faith. The offering of
Prosforo bread for the Divine Liturgy is one of them. The following is
an overview of the purpose of Prosforo and some suggestions as to how
you and your family can participate in this holy task. I am personally
thankful to a handful of ladies who have faithfully fulfilled this
responsibility over the years and I invite more of our faithful -
especially young families with children - to make this a part of their
lives as well.
A very meaningful project for the Orthodox Christian family is to
bake a loaf of altar bread and bring it to church for the liturgy. The
altar bread represents Jesus Who is the Bread of Life. It is baked by
someone in the congregation and brought to the priest for each
celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
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 prosforo, which means "an offering to God." Bread represents life
because it is a staff of life. Once consumed it becomes part of us,
i.e., our flesh and bones. Thus, in bringing the loaf of bread to God,
we are offering our life to Him as a 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 is so pleased with the gift of our life that He
transforms it through the Holy Spirit and gives it back to us as His
precious Body for Holy Communion. We give ourselves to God and He, in
turn gives Himself to us. We come to the liturgy not just to receive
Christ but also to give ourselves to Christ.
An Offering of Great Value
Suppose there is a little girl, say four or five, who sees her
father give her mother a birthday present at breakfast. It's Mommy's
birthday! Then she too will want to give her mother a birthday present.
What can she do? She wanders out into the garden and there the bright
yellow glow of a dandelion flower catches her eye. It is only a weed,
really: but she does not know that. To her it is a pretty flower. So she
plucks it, toddles into the house and gives it to her mother as a
birthday present. The mother, of course, is delighted. Why? Does she
want a dandelion? Obviously not for herself it has no value. But it is a
gift from her daughter; and because it is a gift it has meaning. It
represents the love of that little girl, and that is why it is so
precious to the mother. Clearly, then, a gift which is poor in value
such as a dandelion can be rich in meaning because of what it expresses
and what it means.
And so it is with us and God. We give Him a present. In itself
this present consists of a round loaf of bread - a very small value! But
because it is a gift, it bears the meaning we put into it. We should,
then, make it mean all that we can in the way of praise and love; we
should put ourselves into that bread just as the child put herself into
the flower. Then it will be precious to God as the flower was to the
Our Offering of Ourselves
That is our part in the sacrifice of the liturgy. When the priest
holds up the bread and wine at the altar, he tells God what we intend
them to mean. It is not just the priest but everybody in the
congregation who is helping to offer the sacrifice through their
prayers. We put ourselves into that paten with the Altar Bread, offering
to God our mind and heart, our soul and body, all that we have and are.
We must, as it were, pour our heart out into the chalice with the wine,
and put into it all our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows, our love
and adoration, our obedience and commitment of our whole self. For all
this is to go to God in the shape of a gift. That is our part at this
point in the sacrifice: we are to make this offering a part of our lives
by offering ourselves.
A Community Work
The word "liturgy" means a community work, something that many
people are doing together. That is why all the prayers in the liturgy
are in the plural. The priest does not say "I offer this sacrifice to
You, Lord...but we..." This means only one thing: the liturgy is
something that we do all together -priest and people. During the liturgy
we are all offering a sacrifice to God. We are not just watching
something being done by the priest at the altar. Nor is it being offered
for us even at our request or with our approval, in our presence. We
ourselves are offering it. We are sacrificing. We are bringing the bread
and wine to God. We are laying our lives on the altar in complete
surrender to God. We are in effect saying to God, "Dear Lord, like the
little girl who brought dandelions for her mother's birthday, so I bring
you this bread and wine. It is really of no value, Lord, except as a
sign signifying that under the symbols of bread and wine I place my
whole life on your holy altar because I love you."
Stamped with a Seal
A special seal is stamped on top of the loaf before it is baked.
Your priest will know where you can borrow or purchase such a seal. The
middle part of the seal contains a square piece of bread with the word
ICXC, NIKA. This is a Greek abbreviation for "Jesus Christ Conquers."
Since this is the piece that will be changed into the Body of Christ, it
is called the Lamb of God. A large triangular piece is removed from the
left of the Lamb of God and placed on the paten. This represents the
Virgin Mary, our Lord's mother. Then nine smaller triangular pieces are
removed from the seal to commemorate the angels, prophets, apostles and
saints of the Church. These are placed on the platen to the right of the
Lamb of God. Following this, the priest prays for the living members of
the congregation especially for those whose names have been submitted
to him. As he prays for each name he cuts a small piece of bread
representing the person prayed for, and places it immediately below
Jesus, the Lamb of God. Finally, he removes a piece of bread for each
deceased person for whom we have requested prayers. Thus, around the
Lamb of God on the paten is gathered the entire Church consisting of the
angels, saints and loved ones in heaven together with members of the
local congregation. All are alive in God's presence and all constitute
the one living Body of Christ.
Since the loaf represents us, it is recommended that the family
submit a list of names to the priest when presenting the loaf. One
column should be entitled "Living," containing the names of members of
the Orthodox Christians who you wish to have remembered in prayer. A
second column should be entitled "Departed," under which may be listed
the names of departed Orthodox Christians to be commemorated.
A Prayer of Offering
After the bread has been baked, the following prayer may be said in unison by the family:
"Dear Lord, this bread that we have baked represents each one of us
in this family and in our congregation. We are offering ourselves to
You, our very life, in humble obedience and total commitment to You.
Accept our gift and make us worthy to receive the greater Gift that You
will give us when You consecrate this bread and give it back to us as
Your Precious Body. Amen."
We Are On the Altar
By baking the altar bread and bringing it to church, we come to
realize that we are not only at the altar but "on" the altar in every
liturgy. The bread and wine which the priest places on the altar have
been put there with prayers in remembrance of us.
When the priest elevates the bread and wine (chalice and paten) at
the altar, we remember that these are our gifts the priest is offering
to God: our love, our thanksgiving, our obedience, our life. We
remember that we are symbolically on the altar offering ourselves to
God, but Jesus Christ is actually present through the reality of these
gifts becoming the true Body and Blood of Christ at the consecration.
Text is by Father Anthony Conairis with editions by Father John Touloumes and Father Peter Orfanakos
On Preparing Prosforo Bread for the Divine Liturgy
2 tsp yeast (1 pkg)
1 tsp sugar
¼ cup warm water
5 cups pre-sifted, unbleached flour (King Arthur preferred)
1 tsp salt
1 ½ cup warm water
Place yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Add ¼ cup warm water and whisk to mix well. Cover with plastic wrap to allow yeast to rise for approximately 10 minutes. Place flour and salt in a mixing bowl, add yeast, add 1 ½ cup warm water slowly mixing to form dough. Dough should be soft but not sticky. Place dough on floured surface and knead to make a smooth round ball. Place in pan and press down. Sprinkle flour on a clean, dry surface and press with seal to make an imprint on the dough. Remove seal carefully keeping seal in tact. Bake in 350 degree oven for approximately 45 minutes. While baking 20 minutes spray bread with water and allow to continue baking.
Prepare a list of names of Orthodox Christians who you would like
commemorated in the service. Use first names only. On the left side,
write "Living" at the top and list the names below. On the right side,
write "Departed" and write the names of departed below. Bring the list
and the bread to the Church before the start of Orthros (or the day
Note: It is traditional to have an icon and a lighted
candle in the area where the Prosforo is being prepared, as it is an
offering of faith. The Jesus Prayer may be used during the preparation.