A Note About Prosphora
(Opinion Article, oroignally writte 16 Dec
00, revised 27 Apr 04)
As you can imagine,
www.prosphora.org 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
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
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
I hope this has been helpful.