Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,
Christ is born! Truly He is born!
I cannot begin to tell you how very important and necessary are the Parish Ministries. Our Holy Orthodox Church in addition to its Liturgies, Sacraments, and various Prayers such as the Hours, Morning (Orthros) and Evening (Vespers), also has special services known as blessings i.e., Artoklasia (lit. "breaking of bread'), baking the prosphora (bread of oblation) for the Divine Liturgy, and the preparation of Koliva.
Artoclasia is a Greek compound word artos meaning bread, and klasis meaning breaking. Together, the term means "break of bread". The artoclasia is service traditionally held at the end of the Great Vespers Service of a Major Holy Feast-Day, or at the end of Orthros (Matins) Service. Out of economia, it is now often held at the end of the Divine Liturgy.
Five round loaves of usually sweet bread, together with wine and olive oil are offered by individual faithful as a sign of devotion for personal or family anniversaries, feasts, blessing upon the parish, for the protection and the granting of health for those that have offered it. For example: "Again we pray for mercy, life, peace, health, safekeeping, protection, pardon and remissions of sins of the servants of God, all devout and Orthodox Christians..." who celebrated this holy festival. (Here are named the persons of who have made the offering of the Loaves.)
Blessing of the Loaves
"Lord Jesus Christ our God, You blessed the five loaves in the wilderness, and from them fed five thousand. Will You likewise bless these loaves -- the wheat, the wine and the oil -- and multiply them in this city and parish, and in allYour world; and bless Your faithful servants who will partake of them. For You bless and sanctify all things, Christ our God, and to You we offer up glory, as to Your Father Who is from everlasting, and Your All-Holy Good and Life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen."
Through the Blessing of the Five Loaves of Bread we express our sincere gratitude to Our Lord for granting us His many blessings in our life. Oil, wine, wheat, are basic elements necessary for life.
The Five Loaves of bread are baked according to a traditional recipe. Over the years in America, the tradition of baking of the Artos has become somewhat of a lost art. However, it is a very important Orthodox tradition that must continue and be passed on to future generations.
For those interested classes can be provided on how to prepare the Artos (bread).
Koliva is boiled wheat with (depending on the recipe) a combination of some or all of the following ingredients: powdered sugar, almonds, ground walnuts, sesame seeds, cinnamon, pomegranate seeds, raisings, parsley, anise, and more. Koliva is made for memorials, typically on Saturdays of the Souls, and according to different traditions, the 40th day after death, 9th month, annually, and even sometimes just on "major" anniversary only, such as 5 years, 10 years, etc.
In Saint John's Gospel we find this quote: "Christ said, 'Unless a wheat grain falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (St. John 12:24). As Orthodox Christians we are awaiting the Second Coming and the General Resurrection of the dead, through Christ we have Life! But, remembering our deceased loved ones is an opportunity to pray for the salvation of their souls.
The bread prepared for the Divine Liturgy is called Prosphora (from the Greek word Προσφέρω=to offer) as an offering to God, by lay Orthodox Christians. It is totally necessary for the Divine Liturgy since there can be no Liturgy without it. During the celebration of the Divine Liturgy the bread and wine are consecrated and are changed by God the Holy Spirit into the Precious Body and Blood of Christ. Into the loaf is pressed a special seal from which the elements to be consecrated are taken.
Leavened Bread vs. Unleavened
The Orthodox Church uses leavened bread unlike the Protestants and Roman Catholics who use unleavened bread.
Roman-rite Catholics are not permitted to use leavened bread, however (Code of Canon Law 926).
"Leavened bread has always been used in the Orthodox Church. In fact, at one point in time, a great controversy raged over the fact that in the Eastern Orthodox Church leavened bread was used, while in the Christian West unleavened bread was the norm.
In the Christian East there is no concern for using the exact type of bread used at the Last Supper--known in the Orthodox Church as the "Mystical Supper." Christ "leavens" our lives, so to speak, and the purpose of the Eucharistic celebration is not to "recreate" or "reproduce" a past event but, rather, to participate in an event that is beyond time and space and which, in fact, continues to happen each time the Divine Eucharist is celebrated in fulfillment of Our Lord's command." (Orthodox Church in America)
Saint John Chrysostom writes: "Hear at least what Christ saith to His disciples, 'The Kingdom of heaven is like unto a woman who took leaven and hid it in the three measures of meal.' So that the righteous have the power of leaven, in order that they may transfer the wicked to their own manner of conduct. But the righteous are few, for the leaven is small. But the smallness in no way injures the lump, but that little quantity converts the whole of the meal to itself by means of the power inherent in it. So accordingly the power also of the righteous has its force not in the magnitude of their number, but in the grace of the Spirit. There were twelve Apostles. Does thou see how little is the leaven? The whole world was in unbelief. Dost thou see how great is the lump? But those twelve turned the whole world to themselves. The leaven and the lump had the same nature but not the same manner of conduct. On this accord he left the wicked in the midst of the good, that since they are of the same nature as the righteous they may also become of the same purpose? (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 3 - On Demons, sect 2).
Saint Ignatius writes, "Lay aside, therefore, the evil, the old, the sour leaven and be ye changed into the new leaven, which is Jesus Christ."
Saint Irenaeus writes, "And that the Savior received first-fruits of those whom He was to save. Paul declared when he said, 'And if the first-fruits be holy, the lump is also holy,' teaching that the expression "first-fruits" denoted that which is spiritual, but that 'the lump' meant us, that is, the animal Church, the lump of which they say He assumed, and blended it with Himself, inasmuch as He is 'the leaven.' "
It is my recommendation that more of you are involved in these most important and necessary parish ministries and blessings. Those of you interested contact me as soon as possible so that we can all meet and begin classes for making the Artos, Koliva and Prosphora. There are men, and women, who, I know, would be willing to teach you. I cannot see me turning to our sister parishes in Indiana to purchase what we need from them. Can you? Please volunteer and know that God bless you and your family.
With love in Christ,