51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. 52 The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? 53 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. 54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. – John 6:51-56
Once a month I am given the opportunity to bake Prosphora (blessed bread) for our small Parish. Prosphora or (blessed bread) has significant meaning in the Orthodox church.
In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus told us pray “give us this day our daily bread.” It is the only thing we are told to ask for since it represents all the food that we need to sustain our life. And Jesus said, “I am the living Bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51). At the Last Supper, Jesus used bread as a way to continue to share in the lives of His Disciples. He took a loaf of bread and broke it. Just as the loaf is broken and consumed to give us life, so His body, broken on the cross, would give us everlasting life. He asked us to do this in remembrance of Him. When we participate in the Eucharist, we do just that!
Excerpt from http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/inchurch/prosphor.htm
Prosphora itself is not easy but I find that I truly enjoy the process and feel blessed to be given the opportunity to contribute in such a way. It’s taken me months of practice and even now, I still produced a less than perfect batch last night. Instead of sliding off the pan fully intact, the bottom layer of a handful or so broke off leaving a small circle of bread stuck to the pan. In the past I’ve had too soft, too hard, I’ve even had parchment paper stuck to the bottom. In normal baking these may seem like a small hiccups but when it comes to Prosphora, I want to give nothing short of my very best.
I’m learning that when working with live yeast, as with most things in life you don’t have full control . There are outside forces that can affect the outcome. For me it’s room temperature, yeast potency, the amount of time spend kneading the dough. I’m trying to decide if I should deem last nights Prosphora unworthy and make another batch right now. It’s humbling, to have done everything step by step and have it turn out different each time but I’m learning humility and growing in skill with each batch. If you are a struggling with your Prosphora, remember the following encouragement.
A word to the beginner…
Baking is an art. That means, just because you followed the recipe doesn’t mean the bread always comes out the way you intended. Just like singing or painting icons, it takes some practice and still there will be mistakes. Go easy on yourself as you learn. Don’t pour holy water in the dough or make long prayers in front of your first loaf, since you will more than likely be feeding it to the birds or wishing you could put jam on it as you eat your mistakes. You are not in the 5th century, so you don’t bake bread daily. If you do bake every day, then your prosphora probably comes out pretty reliable. For those of us in this century, it takes years to acquire the skill…and still we have problems. After all, yeast is a living creature. Most of all, enjoy learning! It is the Christian calling to grow in the life with God, and so try to grow as a baker and continue developing your skills all your life. Learn from your mistakes, glorify God for your successes and never cease to relish the feel of well-kneaded dough! Fr. George Aquaro – Prosphora.org