The Service of the Artoklasia, or "Breaking of Bread"

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

Most of you have seen and witnessed the holy service of Artoklasia (Greek άρτοκλασία, meaning "breaking of bread"; also 'litiya' in Church Slavonic) is a service at the end of Great Vespers, Orthros (Matins), or even at the end of the Divine Liturgy.

In the Artoklasia five round loaves of sweet bread are offered as a sign of devotion for personal, family, or parish anniversaries such as name days, feast days, and other significant occasions. Five loaves are used, reminiscent of the five loaves that Jesus Christ blessed and multiplied in the desert to feed five thousand of His hearers.

The Artoklasia also symbolizes and brings into practice today the Agape (Love) meals of the very early Christian communities. In those days, after the faithful received the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord in the Divine Liturgy, they would gather for a common meal signifying the fraternal community in Christ established between them through their common faith and by their receiving the same Holy Eucharist.

The significance behind the Orthodox Artoklasia includes also the fact that, among the Orthodox Christians, bread continues to be highly valued not only as a basic food but also as the supreme symbol of the Body of Christ-for it is the bread which is changed by the Holy Spirit at the consecration in the Divine Liturgy into the very Body of Christ. Together with the wine that is likewise changed at that time into His Most-Precious and Life-Giving Blood, the bread that has become His Most Sacred Body is our participation in the crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. Bread thus has a profound mystical meaning signifying the essence of both physical and spiritual life. Christ has been repeatedly designated as the Bread of Life, and also as "the Bread which came from heaven." Bread also symbolizes the Church of Christ, which has spread all over as the wheat on the mountains and which was gathered by Christ into one body.

The blessed bread of the Holy Orthodox Church Artoklasia has from ancient times been considered to effect personal sanctification and to help the individual against bodily infirmities and illness "if taken with faith." The Greek term "artoklasia" derives from the very words used by the Evangelists in describing the Mystical Supper at which Christ "broke bread" and offered it to His disciples as His own Body. Also, "bread is broken" in the Orthodox service of artoklasia. Through this act, a very real unity is established between the Lord and His Church, much like when the Resurrected Lord became apparent in the breaking of the bread in the Gospel of Saint John's "Road to Emmaus" narrative. After the Holy Service, the bread is cut and distributed to the faithful.

The term "Artoklasia" (Artoklasia) derives from two Greek words: "άρτος" which means "wheat bread," and "κλάω (klao) which means "break". At the service of artoklasia names are given to the celebrant priest by the person or family to be read and entreat the Lord to keep them healthy or to bring healing to those who may be ill.

Another biblical reference to bread is found in the book of Genesis chapter 16. God provides the children of Israel food in the desert: Manna and Quail. "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'I have heard the complaints of the children of Israel. Speak to them, saying, 'At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know I am the Lord your God.'

So it was that quail came up at evening and covered the camp, and in the morning the dew lay all around the camp. But when the layer of dew lifted, there, on the surface of the desert, was a small round substance, white like coriander seed, like frost on the ground. So when the children of Israel saw it, they said to one another, "What is this?" For they did not know what it was. Thus Moses said to them, "This is the bread the Lord gives you to eat" (Exodus 16:11-15). The Lord "rained bread out of heaven" for them. It was a type of Christ, "the bread of life (St. John 6:48-51). In the Church, He gives Himself and His life to the Church in the Divine Eucharist (St. John 6:53-58).

I pray that the above explanation will help you appreciate the holy service of Artoklasia, and by participating, receive sanctification from our Lord.

With sincere agape,

+Father George