Prosphora means “offering” in Greek. It is the bread we use on the altar. Many of us know about two kinds of altar bread: one, the wafer that Roman Catholics use, and the Prosphora which Byzantine Christians use for the consecration during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. It is the bread that Jesus would have used at the last supper. It is made from four ingredients: wheat flour, yeast, salt, and water.
Generally any member of the church who is in good standing can bake Prosphora. In some parishes women take turns baking this communion bread. In monasteries one of the monks used to do it. In our Eparchy the Sisters were assigned the task. Many priests or their wives take the responsibility. Usually the baker of the Prosphora tries to keep a religious state of mind when baking it.
There are no secrets about baking the bread and for that reason very often the baking of the Prosphora is demonstrated to children as part of their catechism. While it is proper to present one whole loaf for the prayers of preparation (Proskomedia) before each Divine Liturgy, the practice of pre-cutting the large and small hosts has been introduced into the church for the sake of convenience. The older practice of the one Prosphora for each Divine Liturgy should be reintroduced.
The Prosphora itself is actually two small pieces of dough which are placed one on top of the other and baked together to form one loaf. This double loaf has the symbolism of the two natures of Christ, human and divine.
It is very common in Ukraine and now around the world to stamp the top of the Prosphora with a round seal which bear very important symbols. The symbols appear on top of the baked bread. There is first of all a cross with the Greek name for Jesus Christ. The lower two quarters include the Greek word NI KA which means conquers. So the Prosphora reads – “Jesus Christ conquers.”
When the priest prays the Proskomedia before the liturgy he cuts one triangular portion of the Prosphora which represents the Mother of God. A further nine small triangular portions are cut and they represent the nine orders of angels and saints. Then he cuts as many portions as are needed to represent the deceased members of the church and the living ones. The preparatory prayers performed at the side altar at the beginning of the liturgy are full of religious meaning and are part of our rich religious culture.