The word "prosphora" (in Greek, prosphoron; pl. prosphora) originally meant any gift that the faithful made to the church. Today it refers to the loaves of bread used in the Proskomedia. In the Greek tradition, one large prosphora is used; the Russians and Serbs use five smaller loaves, one of which is prepared as the Lamb. Each prosphora is made of two joined circles of dough, representing the two natures of Christ. The breads are made from wheat flour (the Lord Himself compared Himself to a grain of wheat-cf. John 12:24), and are stamped with a seal bearing a cross and the letters "IC XC NIKA," an abbreviation from the Greek, meaning "Jesus Christ Victorious" (or "Conqueror"). The prosphora representing the Mother of God may be imprinted with her icon instead of the cross.
In ancient times, in Russia, making prosphoras was a special occupation entrusted usually to monastics or the widows of clergy or other particularly pious persons. In Greece and other Eastern countries, one can purchase prosphoras at certain bakeries and bring them to church. Or, following the ancient custom, the faithful bake the prosphoras themselves. In cathedrals and large parishes, this may not be practical, but in small parishes, it is nice for parishioners to share this labor of love and contribute by bringing prosphoras, the work of their hands, as a gift to the altar.
Like icon painting, however, making prosphoras is an art; the breads should not be spongy, or have big air bubbles, or be hard as rocks; nor is it something to do while the television is on or after returning from a party. In order to bake prosphoras, one should have the blessing of the parish priest, prayer, and a good recipe!
Prayer at the Commencement of Making Prosphoras
Making the Sign of the Cross, say
Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy upon us. Amen. Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee.
O God, whose only-begotten Son hast said, "Without Me, ye can do nothing," my Lord and my God, in faith I bend the knees of my soul to bow before Thy fatherly goodness and raise my hands to Thee: help me, a sinner, to do this work in conformity with Thy will. And send down Thy Holy Spirit to guide me in the making of these prosphora, that they may be worthy of the use for which they are intended.
And blessing the assembled ingredients with the Sign of the Cross, say: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Lord have mercy (thrice).
O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, through the prayers of Thy Most Pure Mother, by the power of the precious and life-giving Cross, by the intercessions of blessed Michael the Archangel, of the holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist, John, of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, of [your patron saint or the patron saint of the church in which the Divine Liturgy is to be served], of my holy Guardian Angel, and of all the saints, have mercy upon me and save me. Amen.
RECIPE 4 cups warm water 4 lbs flour 1 pkg yeast 1 tsp salt
In large bowl, dissolve yeast and salt in water. Gradually mix in enough flour to make a soft dough. Turn out onto floured board and knead well (20-30 mins.), adding more flour as necessary, until dough becomes smooth and elastic. Roll out to a uniform 1/4'' thickness. Cut out bottoms and place on baking sheets (covered with foil and lightly dusted with flour), spacing about 1/2" apart. Then roll out dough for smaller circles; stamp these firmly with the seal and place on another baking sheet. As each tray is filled, cover with a tea towel. Let stand at room temperature for 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 325o. Dip finger in water and gently moisten tops of larger circles (bottoms); prick all over with hat pin. Place smaller, stamped circles on top; prick through both layers, pricking several times around the outer edge of the seal and once or twice near the center. Bake 15 minutes, turn pan and bake another 15 minutes while putting together the next tray. Remove prosphora from baking sheets and cover with several layers of towel while they cool to prevent crust from forming. Cool thoroughly. Store in plastic bags in freezer. Yield: approx. 42 prosphoras.
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