The Bread of Holy Oblation (Prosphora)

Last week Fr. R and I made prosphora, aka Holy Bread. Basically, I made the dough and he took care of the baking. It scares me to bake it myself because I can never tell when it’s done inside. Actually, making the dough worries me a little, too, because it’s unlike other kinds I make. Normally I want my bread dough very soft and slightly salty, but that doesn’t work for prosphora.
By the way, what is prosphora??? Prosphora is a Greek word meaning “offering”. Prosphora bread is made for use in the Eucharist in the Orthodox Church.

There are different practices for making prosphora. Below are pictures of the way we do it in our beloved (at least by me) St. Euphrosynos kitchen, using a large stand mixer. I will provide as much instruction as I can.

I started by adding a five pound bag of all purpose bleached flour to the mixing bowl, along with one packet of yeast and approximately 1 tsp of salt. Yes, it’s OK to use bleached flour. You can read more about that HERE. I used a rapid rise yeast, so it wasn’t necessary to dissolve it in water before adding it.

I just noticed this for the first time and thought the graphic was funny.

I started by adding 2 cups of very warm/hot water – not too hot, or it will kill the yeast. You will end up needing more than 2 cups, but it’s better to add more a little at a time than to add too much.

Looking a little dry. Time for another 2 cups of water, slowly added while the machine is mixing.

I ended up having to add a 5th cup, though not all at once. One thing I hate about adding water is the dough starts to separate again, or gets some weird texture and looks like it’s ruined. Every time I added water, I had to step away from the machine because I started having a little panic attack. It seemed like it took forever for the dough to get back to “normal”.

Finally the dough looks okay. It’s smooth and soft, but very firm, not dry. I turned it out into a large bowl, covered it with plastic wrap and left it in a warm, draft-free spot for about an hour. Probably longer because we went out for lunch…you don’t want to leave it too long but in this case it was just doubled in size when we returned, and that was perfect.

I like to take pictures of my fist punching the dough, that’s my favorite part.

Now we tear off equal portions to be rolled out. The size really depends on the tradition in your parish, ask your priest what he prefers. By the way, look closely at Fr. R’s apron – this is a very special new apron of mine that he borrowed from me.

Once again we brought out an old tin to cut a perfect circle.

Almost perfect, anyway.

Just like with the Artoklasia bread, you put one layer on top of the other. Wet the top of the bottom layer first – we keep a cup of water nearby to dip our fingers in, and smear the water on the dough. Place the other layer on top. At this point some people let their loaves rise a second time, for about 30 minutes. We didn’t do that, but since we rolled out all the loaves at once, they probably did rise for about 10-15 minutes while they waited to be sealed.

Anyway, sprinkle the tops lightly with flour and spread it around.

Now for the seal. Isn’t this a cute little loaf? It’s made from scraps.

That is a very clear seal.

Press down very firmly. I like to give it a wiggle, too…but I was also told I had to work FASTER! Or while you’re working on the next loaf, your first loaf might start to puff up and the seal won’t look as awesome.

OhHeSeals. Maybe that will be my next blog…

He’s good at this.

Poke holes in the corners of the Lamb (the center part of the seal) and in a few places around the edge of the loaf to keep the seal from rising and getting distorted as it bakes. We used a chopstick, but you could use a wooden skewer or toothpick.

I need to buy some seals of my own. Stamping the bread with a seal is an ancient tradition. St. John Chrysostom, who lived from 347-407, mentioned it in his writings, noting that all the bread was “sealed”. Probably with a cross.

We preheated the convection oven to about 325. You’ll probably need it hotter in a regular oven. Now is the hard part, figuring out when it’s done. You want it to be a light golden brown (very light). I was also told to knock on it and see if it sounds hollow, but that didn’t work too well for me. So, you can experiment, or you can partner up with an expert and let him, or her, take over here. I left this to Fr. R.

Here’s a finished loaf. Let’s talk abut the meaning of the symbols. I’m just learning this myself, I was told to read The Prothesis from The Order of Preparation for Divine Liturgy from the red service book (I don’t know if there’s some official name for the book, but that’s what we all call it). First, notice the IC XC NIKA in the small squares on the top & bottom, and the large square in the center of the loaf. IC XC NIKA is an abbreviation which means “Jesus Christ conquers.”

Typically the large center square is the Lamb, cut out and used for Holy Communion. Then the small square on the top is removed in honor of the living, and the one on the bottom in memory of the dead. Then other portions are removed in honor of various other things.

This triangular piece is for the Theotokos. Theotokos is a Greek word that means God-bearer, or Birth-giver to God. In the year 431, the Council of Ephesus decreed that Mary is Theotokos because her son Jesus is one person who is both God and man, divine and human. So she not only gave birth to his human nature, but also to God Himself.

The Greek letters mu & theta are an abbreviation for “Mother of God.” Looking closely at the triangle, you’ll see it’s formed by kind of stacking the theta on the mu. Hovering on either side are the spear and the sponge (you can see those more clearly on the picture of the seal itself).

The 9 small triangles on the right represent the 9 ranks of commemorations:

1. Michael & Gabriel, and all the angels of heaven
2. Baptist John and all the Prophets
3. Apostles
4. Hierarchs
5. Martyrs
6. The Holy Ascetics
7. The Unmercenary Healers
8. Sts. Joachim and Anna, and the saints of the day
9. Saint whose liturgy we celebrate (St. John Chrysostom or St. Basil)

And these little guys that fill in the empty spaces are, apparently, just for good looks.*** But from there, or elsewhere, other portions are removed in honor of the Archbishop, Bishop and every order of clergy. *UPDATE!* I am told the “fillers” are not just ornamental, but also functional. They keep air bubbles from forming. Neat!

Each portion is usually cut from a separate loaf, using five loaves total. The remaining bread is used for the antidoron – yet another Greek word, it means “instead of the gifts,” and it is a blessed bread not used for Communion. Customs vary, but generally it’s distributed anyone present, including non-Orthodox (the lamb being reserved for Orthodox Christians since it’s in the Eucharist).

Just in case anyone thought this was fancy sandwich bread….


18 thoughts on “The Bread of Holy Oblation (Prosphora)

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  2. I just made five loaves of Prosphora ( Qurban in the antiochian tradition ). I use the same recipe as yours, but each of the five loaves is about 9 inches round and not stacked. Yours looked beautiful–what jurisdiction is your church? I would really love a stand mixer ! Seems to make it so much easier. Thank you for sharing the lovely pics and the explanation of the meaning of the Lamb in our Eucharist. Blessings,
    st. George orthodox church, Houston


    • Hi Marlene!

      I’m also Antiochian Orthodox. I like kneading the dough myself, but it really is a lot of work! The machine is so helpful, giving my arms a rest, keeping me from getting sticky dough all over my hands…and it’s faster. It’s wonderful that you make the bread for your parish, I hope I can do it more often.

      Is your parish hosting the next national convention?


    • Interesting! I’m Antiochian as well, here in NZ. I’ve never seen a double-layered loaf. I watched my father baking it for years when I was a kid (he was a priest), but tomorrow is his first anniversary and it was suggested that I should bake the Prosphora. It’s 20 years since I left home, and given that I don’t have my dad around to consult, pray that I do it right!
      Also, we don’t use 5 loaves in our church – just one, and a second for Memorial services. Maybe it’s because we have small congregations here?


      • I’m praying for you!!
        We have around 500 in our parish, and the kids like to eat the bread like it’s a meal :) I hope it turns out well. May your father’s memory be eternal!


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  4. NICE! Great resource with pictures to help take my Sunday School class through the Sacrament of Remembrance! So, we will be reading great directions (with pictures) from you and learning while we make “play dough” Seals, while learning the meaning of each design. Thanks so much for your blog and pictures.

    Kh. Jeanetta Issa in Kansas City, St. Basil’s Antiochian Church


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