I made prosphora this week, the bread that is used for the Sunday liturgy.
As I kneaded the four simple ingredients into life I prayed the prayers of the church and named the members of our community one by one. I said each name aloud with the list open before me on the kitchen table. This is how prosphora is made and has always been made.
Kneading bread is hard work. The raw flour and water initially resist all efforts to be combined. It will fight back. You must lean in with the full body of your weight against the kitchen table with the lump of dough caught between it and your hand. The heel of my of palm is a tool and my fingers are rolled in a fist. For a short moment, in the quiet of my kitchen, I am god of the dough and from it I can bring life. I fold and pummel, beat and stretch. The dough, will gradually soften and yield to the pressure of my hard working hands. Under the weight of this work flour, water, salt and yeast are transformed. Dead things are given life, hard things yield. And prayer is like this too. Participation in the eucharist is like this too. This is how we love one another in the church, working, watching, waiting for the signs of Christ at work in us, at work in the world.
Arms aching and shoulders stinging I sit waiting for the bread to prove: waiting for proof that the dough is alive. How can I not compare this to the disciples in the upper room? Him three days in the grave, no one understanding why the Saviour of mankind has succumbed to death. I do not know if the yeast in my loaf will come alive, if it has what it takes to raise a loaf. The stone is rolled over the door of the tomb and the Roman guard marks the place. Inside that grave the silent and invisible work of bringing him alive has begun.
When the loaf is ready for the oven, I seal it with the mark of the cross and I prick it in the places where the priest will cut it up. IC XC NIKA “Jesus Christ Conquers”, this is how we mark the bread. The centre of the loaf that will be consecrated and added to the cup during the proskomedia, the liturgy of preparation. It is from this that the faithful will eat.
Why would you want a wafer or bread from Tesco, wrapped in plastic and made by a stranger, when someone from amongst you can participate in the transformational work of making the bread? They can pray for you by name, and stand with you through the celebration of Christ’s resurrection week by week.
Is it possible for rational people, raised in a secular world to believe that God could change the nature of the cosmos in the single life of Christ who dying on the cross? This is how I pray when I stand in line on Sunday for my crumb and for the wine. How? Why?The choir sing and the priest raises the spoon to our trembling lips and not one of us knows for sure but we all have faith as we share in this food.
A scientist can tell us the chemistry of grain, yeast and water transformed into bread but no priest or theologian will ever be able to explain how this loaf will be raised from the table, body of Christ broken for us. The Holy things for the Holy and from the kitchen, my ordinary life is swept up in salvation’s plan of cosmological size, along with the names of the people I prayed and all the imperfections of this loaf, split from its base and bubbles rising under the crust.
“Let our mouths be filled with your praise, O Lord, that we may sing of your glory, for you have counted us worth to partake of your holy, divine, immortal and life-giving, Mysteries; keep us in your holiness, that we may meditate on your righteousness all the day long, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
If you want to know more about how Orthodox Christians celebrate the eucharist there are some resources below to help, but the best way is to go along to a Sunday morning liturgy and see for yourself.