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A Note About Prosphora Prayers

(Opinion Article, oroignally writte 16 Dec 00, revised 27 Apr 04)

As you can imagine, gets a lot of traffic, and I get a lot on email from around the planet.  I'm glad, since it tells me that the Church is not only thriving but growing into the entire world.  Words cannot express my gratitude to all the people who have contributed to making this site what it is.
On a number of occasions, people have emailed asking about special prayers to say either while or after baking prosphora.  At first, I was skeptical, but went about doing my research.  My attitude was based on all the information I had gathered to originally set up the website.  My research revealed a wide array of traditions, the only thing being common was white flour and yeast.  I found no universal prayers for prosphora other than the blessing by the priest during proskomide.  That got me to thinking: why should we be praying over something (i.e. making a blessing) of what the priest has to bless a second time in order to use?  It seems redundant, and so I have told people not to bless bread with any prayers other than for themselves.
Next, I looked to other liturgical arts.  Iconography is a good example.  Iconographers are convinced that the icon transforms the painter, rather than the painter transforming the medium.  He or she is 'transfigured' by the art, and the art becomes a conduit for God's grace to enter the artist. 
Why not the same thing in prosphora baking?  Does it somehow require less skill?  You haven't had really good bread then, or you haven't seen really bad iconography!  I believe prosphora baking has changed me, and I believe it is another way of entering into communion with God, just as the iconographer would say of his art.  I need the prayer, not the dough.
Third, there is a practical issue: new bakers don't need to feel guilty about pouring holy water and making long prayers over bread which will come out so bad they will wonder if God isn't angry with them!  Even with the perfect recipe, the baker needs time to grow into his art.  By refraining from making holy expectations of experimental bread, the baker than freely toss a rock-hard loaf into the dumpster without fearing the defilement of the holy.  Once you can produce perfect loaves every time, then you can do whatever you want.  Just remember, a store-bought loaf becomes just as sanctified once the priest has blessed it during the proskomide.  There isn't more or less holy when it comes to the bread of the Eucharist.  It either is or it isn't.
If we begin to doubt the 'holiness' of bread because of our actions, then we have become victims of our own pride.  'Yes,' we think to ourselves, 'I must do this perfectly and properly, otherwise the bread will not be effectual.'  What foolishness!  Are we not all sinners, jam-packed with wickedness and in desperate need of repentance?  When it comes to evil, that's probably the only thing we could do properly if we set our minds to it.  The things we do always lack, and we must therefore rely on God to fill in what is lacking.  We ourselves do not offer the Eucharist, but God within us offers Himself to Himself.  We are passive observers in the mysteries of the Kingdom, called to witness and cooperate when called.  When called to bake, we bake.  Nothing more.  We ought not see ourselves as founts of holiness, oozing our miraculous powers onto our doughballs.
Lastly, I spoke to many experienced bakers, and found a range of responses.  Some recite the psalms while the bread is in the oven, while others still just played tapes of the psalms.  Others said nothing at all.  The trick is that whatever you do in the secular world should follow what you do in your spiritual life and visa-versa.  Christianity is not an on-again-off-again walk.  We do it 24/7, and so I don't urge anyone to think they have to do special prayers while baking that they don't do while mowing the lawn.  Pray constantly.
Getting back to the iconography argument, several friend who lived in monasteries recalled how they prepared themselves with prayer before commencing any task, and this included prosphora.  I believe this is the fullest expression of our Faith, to begin all tasks with a prayer for guidance.  "Oh God, please help me," is the perfect prayer (I used it a lot during final exams) in whatever form it comes out as.
I hope this has been helpful.