Prosphora 101: The Beginning

For several years I’ve wanted to post about making prosphoron, the bread Orthodox Christians bake for communion in church. From the theology to the how to’s, I could write a thousand posts and not run out of subject matter. But so many failures on the baking side of things have left me unmotivated, afraid I might pass on more bad advice than good! Who wants to learn how to bake prosphoron from someone whose loaves consistently split and look like alien beings? And how humbling is it that I wrote a whole children’s book about this very subject?!!!

However…I’ve hurdled over some important obstacles recently and several consistent batches, one after the next after the next, have fed my courage. Glory to God!

So here are the very basics–the details will come as I continue to please my priest–and granted they keep me on the baking rotation at church. 🙂

Who: People who bake prosphora are awesome! They are sometimes priests, sometimes monks or nuns, and often they are lay people. They boldly mix and mold and press in that seal. They hover over their ovens, and say prayers all the while. They don’t mind flour in their hair and sometimes they even speak Greek! (Wish I did, but Italian is close.)

What: Prosphoron is singular for the Greek, Prosphora. It literally means offering. Some traditions call for the baking of five loaves of bread as the offering, while others bake just one very large loaf (and some others make lots of tiny little loaves…). The bread is leavened and only wheat flour, water, salt and yeast are used. When it’s my turn to bake, I make six loaves just in case one isn’t usable. If they are all usable then my priest simply freezes the extra loaf in case he needs emergency backup! The seal that I most often use is resin, and made by Father George, who has a website all about prosphora, complete with recipes and historical information.

Where: Baked in an oven; of course! I’d love to have a community wood-fired oven, wouldn’t that be amazing? I should put that request in our church’s comments box!

When: Prosphora is baked for every Divine Liturgy, any time the faithful are taking communion. At our church that means every Sunday, plus every feast day (there are 12 feasts throughout the year), plus every Wednesday during fast seasons, and at a few various other times. Orthodox need a lot of prosphora throughout the year.

How: Baked with love, and prayers. I’ll post a recipe soon–that will be my very next task. Right now I’m using an adapted recipe from Sacred Meals, written by Father John Finley. It has a second short rise, which I find important for hand-shaped loaves. I haven’t yet tried baking in pans, nor in pans that have a seal directly imprinted in them.

Why: Because offering something to the church community that we’ve labored over is lovely. Because being a community means everyone contributes–something. Plus baking bread is like participating in a miracle, and I just love those little, everyday miracles.

Questions: If you have any specific questions that you want me to address sooner rather than later, please leave them in the comment section!

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8 thoughts on “Prosphora 101: The Beginning

  1. Pingback: Orthodox Collective

  2. Hi Jane, I haven’t baked Prosphora for my Church yet but plan to try it in 2013. Your blog encourages me! The photo of the Prosphora is so beautiful that (after coming back to the blog, again and again) I’ve decided to print it, frame it, and put it in my kitchen for inspiration! Thanks, Myra

  3. Love your cut and dry explanation. Love your photos, as always.

    Our church recently put together a committee to bake the prosphora on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. I’ve shared your post with the committee chair. Formerly our priest has been baking the bread and he still does when committee members can’t schedule a baking.

    • Hilarene. Wonderful! I pray your church can develop a community of bakers so your priest isn’t always responsible. We have about 10-12 bakers, maybe more, who rotate through. There is a new wave of folks learning right now, and so we’ve had little prosphora get-togethers where one baker goes over the basics with a group of interested folks. And people are always talking to each other, asking for tips. It’s beautiful work, and a gift to participate that way in the preparation of the eucharist…

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