St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church
872 N. 29th St. Boise, ID
an American parish of the Russian Orthodox Church
Prosphora: Offering of the People of God - St. Sebastian (Dabovich)

Continued from last month.

These particles (taken from the 5 prosphorii during the preparation) represent the souls of the saints, and of all the Orthodox in whose name they were put there.  When during the Consecration the principal part, which is taken from the first loaf, becomes transmuted into the Real Body of Christ, and the wine in the chalice becomes the Very Blood of Christ – then it is plainly understood, that from the moment the particles lying upon the paten and the souls of the people they represent, do stand before the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, invisibly and mystically present upon the Holy Table in the Holy Sacrament.  Finally, after the clergy and people partake of Holy Communion, all the particles are put off from the paten into the chalice, and they absorb the Life-giving Blood of Christ.  Consequently, the souls of the living and dead are brought into a mutual, gracious communion with the Lord Jesus Christ.

To the spiritual view of all standing and praying in the temple at that time, the following should be pictured:  Upon the Heavenly Throne, He, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, is seated, our Redeemer and Savior.  And before Him stand: the Most Holy Mother of God, ‘ever constant in prayer’ before her Son and God for the whole race of mankind: then all the saints, also our intercessors and mediators; all the living and departed of the faithful, in whose names parts have been set aside, who are expecting from the Lord for themselves, through the prayers of the Mother of God, all the saints, and all the believers, mercy, forgiveness of sins, and eternal salvation.  At that moment to all before the Lamb, the saving Grace of God is communicated from the throne.  When the particles absorb the Life Giving Blood, at the time when the priest prays ‘Wash away, O Lord, the sins of all those remembered here through the prayers of Thy saints’ – then the souls, which are represented by the particles, are brought into a mutual communion with the Lord Redeemer, and thereby the saints of God obtain a greater glory and happiness in Heaven, while the living and the dead washed in the most Precious Blood of the Son of God, receive the forgiveness of sins and inherit life eternal.The significance of the particle taken out by the priest for some one of our relatives or friends is such.  The soul of the one mentioned appears before the Throne of God and prays to the Lord in devout fear; its prayer, strengthened by the intercessions of the prayers of all the blessed ones in heaven, and the earnest prayer of all the faithful present, especially of these who brought the loaf and asked for the prayers of the priest, and also by the prayers of the priest himself who offers the Sacrament – such a prayer of the soul becomes efficient and powerful.  The Lord mercifully accepts such a prayer from the soul.  Sinners themselves have appeared from the other world, and revealed to their relatives how great a relief they have experienced in their condition beyond the grave after the Divine Liturgy has been offered on earth in which a particle was set aside in remembrance and for the forgiveness of their sins.

And the living?  The living also receive forgiveness of sins, and by this all that which is necessary for life and piety. [In our parish a list is kept in the Altar of the members of this parish, living and departed, and particles are taken out and set upon the paten at each liturgy for those persons – Fr. David] Our offering of the loaves in the temple of the Lord so that particles may be cut from them is of much importance for ourselves also.

And for ourselves we must pray and put before the Lamb a particle of bread.  The priest at the offertory must put upon the paten a particle for himself also, at the same time praying in these words: ‘Be mindful, O Lord, of me an unworthy one, and forgive me all sins, voluntary and involuntary.’  We should, each one of us, put our own names in the book of remembrance, so that the priest may take out a particle for us as well, and thereby move in prayer for us the whole Church so that, when we stand before the face of the Lord, we may enter into a gracious communion with Him at the time our particle, together with the others, becomes immersed during the Liturgy in the Life-giving Blood of the Son of God.

Besides this, a prosphora is brought into the temple as an offering to God.  Any gift of ours, any sacrifice of ours, is pleasing to God when it expresses our gratefulness, our love to God, from who we ourselves receive ‘every good and perfect gift.’  On coming into the Church, we buy and light candles before the Holy icons.  This is our offering to God, and it shows that we come into the temple – the place of God’s habitation – to pray as constantly and fervently, as brightly and warmly, as our candles burn before the holy icons.  The prosphora, which we buy and give into the Altar that particles may be taken from it, though it is returned to us, yet it is our gift to God also, which testifies to our desire to pray with greater zeal for ourselves and for those who are dear to our hearts.  This little gift of ours reminds us of Christian custom in the early days of Christ’s Church.  At that time all the faithful, when they came to the Church for Holy Liturgy, brought bread and wine. From all that was brought the priest selected what was necessary for the Sacrament, and the remaining bread and wine was divided among all those present.  A brotherly table was spread with the rest, which showed that the faithful lived in love and close communion. (This is not unlike the potluck meal that we share after the Divine Liturgy in this parish – Fr. David).

Now we offer only a small loaf in the Church; yet this bread is our gift to God, our offering to the Divine Liturgy, wherefore the very name of it is prosphora, which in the Greek language means ‘offering’.  From it is taken but a small, necessary particle for our communication with the Grace of God, while nearly the entire loaf is returned to us from the Altar, which we for our sanctification eat with thanksgiving.

As a gift of God, brought to the Holy Table, which was used in taking the particles which have such an important signification, then given to us as a blessing and for our sanctification by partaking of it – the prosphora should be received as blessed bread, with appropriate religious consideration.  Hereby is explained the custom of taking the loaf back from the Altar, making the sign of the Cross upon oneself, kissing it, and then after the service carefully taking it home and dividing it among the members of the family, to be eaten before other food.  Below is an incident told in the life of St. Zosima the wonderworker.  St. Zosima once gave to a merchant a prosphoron as a blessing, but the merchant on his way home carelessly dropped it.  A dog running up was about to eat it, but each time when it was about to take it a flame came forth out of the prosphoron and kept it back.  The monk Macarius of the Solovetsky Monastery saw this; he drove away the dog and, devoutly crossing himself, brought the prosphoron to St. Zosima,  who recognized the prospheron which he had given to the merchant.  And so the Church loaf is holy bread, and we should handle it carefully and devoutly.

Such, then, is the significance of the prosphora which we offer in Church.  Therefore, let anyone who desires for himself, for his relatives and friend, health and salvation, and for the departed the forgiveness of sins and the kingdom of heaven – let such a one pray earnestly to God, especially during the Liturgy and not neglect, on account of carelessness, to bring into the Church a prosphoron.  Let such a one not begrudge a few cents for the loaf.  When the priest takes from the loaf particles for the one who brought it, and for those who are mentioned in the book of remembrances brought with it, and puts the particles on the paten before the face of the Lord so that they may later absorb the Life-giving Blood of the Lord – such a prayer must then be more real and profitable, as for the one who brought the offering, likewise also for those for whom prayers are asked.  When this loaf is brought home and eaten, thereby such a person with his family partakes of the blessing of God.