Orthodox Sacramental Bread


(Prosphora – Proskura – Prescura in Romanian)

I was always in love with traditions in my country, especially traditions related to old Orthodox rituals or those regarding the village life. I spent a part of my childhood in a small village located in the middle of Romania, in southern Transylvania.
It happens that I am in the possession of an old special wooden seal (the oldest object in my house), which I cherished with all my heart. It is dated 1888 and it was used for stamping the sacramental bread (prosphora) before baking it for being used for the Eucharist. The initials stamped are hard to be deciphered but according to an Orthodox site (link) they are IIS-HRI-NI-KA, what means Jesus Christ Wins. It is been said said that prosphora symbolizes the world (usually they are small round breads), but its form differs throughout the Orthodox world. It means sacrifice, offering, symbolizing the sacrifice of Christ, the two natures of the Redeemer (being sometimes baked in two layers) or the Multiplication of Bread also known as the „miracle of the five loaves and two fish” among other things.
You can find explanations also in Wikipedia (link).
In my village and in others too, bread is offered as a special handout in funeral ceremonies, at the cemetery gate, along with a candle. I still remember my life as a child there when I went to funerals and I was impressed by the slightly sweet taste of that special bread (that one made in bakeries), maybe one of the most memorable and pleasant tastes in my life. The explanation may be the fact that I was under the influence of the solemn and special ceremony marking those sad events and I was still very young. There life was quiet and pure and those who passed their final gate went into the old cemetery earth, located on a hillock, on a upper level than the village houses, where ancient crosses blend with wild grasses and a few tall fir trees stay like guardian angels.
I was sad to see my old relatives parting from this world and I will tell you what said one of my great aunts, who died aged 92. „It is hard when you are old but one must take the gift of life as long God grants it. And I think that anyway it is better to stay on the floor level than in the basement.” (She had her favorite words and jokes).
So meanwhile I am still looking from time to time to my special seal (pistornic  in Romanian), thinking that many things survive for a long, long time on this Earth. This is why our short lives should be filled with joy and peace altogether, this is the only offer that was made for our life time, to cherish and respect life in all its forms.

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