Monday, August 25, 2014

How many loaves is too many or too few?

The number of loaves used in preparation of the Gifts is a debated topic that is often oversimplified. The blog Classical Christianity has presented the below in an article entitled "On Multiple Loaves for the Divine Liturgy." Even the shortest study of the topic will show that the number of loaves used, the organization of the particles, and the prayers said have gone through alterations in different times and in different places so that it is impossible to trace a single "pan-Orthodox" process that would be agreeable to all. "Five loaves is the ancient process" doesn't hold up under any scrutiny but neither does proclaiming a single loaf as the truest form while disdaining the use of five loaves show respect for natural changes that permeates Orthodoxy.

In our Russian Church, we use five Prosphora loaves for the Proskomide [the Service of Preparation, or Prothesis, also called Proskomedia, and despite the clear derivation from the Greek, ("proskomizo") or "to offer," Prokimidi and Proskimidia]. In other traditions, they use one with five seals on it. Also, some use two layers for the loaf, others one. Can you explain this?

The use of more than one Prosphoron (plural, ta Prosphora) (loaf) for the celebration of the Eucharist is not the very ancient practice of the Church and departs from the Scriptural symbolism of the “one bread” in St. Paul’s commentary on the Divine Eucharist (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Nonetheless, early on in the liturgical texts we find references to a number of Prosphora, as in the fourteenth-century Diataxis of Patriarch Philotheos. St. Symeon of Thessaloniki (+1430), the noted liturgical expert, also describes the Proskomide service in some detail, noting that “one” of the loaves on the Table of Preparation is used for the initial blessing service (St. Symeon, Archbishop of Thessaloniki, Ta Apanta, Thessaloniki, 1983, p. 110) — though there is no indication that more than one loaf was actually used for the Eucharist. Nonetheless, the use of a number of loaves is part of what some scholars call a clear development from about the tenth century on. (See, for example, Father Lawrence Barriger, “The Legacy of Constantinople in the Russian Liturgical Tradition” [Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Vol. 33 (4), pp. 387-416], whose curious view of such things as the “Litany of the Catechumens” may, however, impugn his general expertise in Orthodox liturgical matters.) Others see this trend as the result of a possible confusion among less-educated clergy of the Proskomide with the blessing of the Five Loaves, or Artoklasia. On Mt. Athos, the Eucharist is usually celebrated with two Prosphora, the triangle honoring the Theotokos and the particles for the Saints and other commemorations coming from the second loaf...

Complete article here.


  1. As someone is going to ask. Here is the quote on the Litany of the Catechumens from Fr. Barriger's article:

    If a little is good, then more must certainly be better! Practical liturgical gestures, whose
    original meaning is lost, have a tendency to become tualized" and continue to exist. (As a modern example, some argue that the "Litany for the Catechumens" must be re- tained even though the Catechumens, as a group, no longer exist. The Litany is given a new "spiritual" interpretation: the "catechumens" that the priest calls upon to depart are the worldly and sinful thoughts that exist in our hearts).

  2. Catechumens no longer exist? That would be news to a decent number of people I should think :-).

    1. Well, as a group invited or ordered to depart from the nave of the building before the ritual celebration of the Holy Mysteries they really don't exist.
      I've seen attempts as a Latin, usually during Lent, to try to revive this practice but it is always awkward and doesn't make any sense.
      Between books and videos all of the Holy Mysteries are documented and explicated for anyone who wants to learn about them.

    2. Though I have been in parishes in the US where this is done. Not many certainly, but they exist.

    3. I've more often heard people specifically take issue with asking the catechumens to depart when you in fact don't expect them to do any such thing. I remember that as a catechumen, I almost wish that they did make us leave. Even just saying it painted in very stark terms that whatever happened after, I had no right to be there, but was a guest, until I was baptized. From that point on the liturgy is a private family affair, and I wasn't family yet. It only made me yearn that much more strongly for baptism and the eucharist.

      I only rememer one time when a certain priest skipped the litany of the catechumens (and their dismissal). I experienced it as a great loss: ironically, by not being ordered (symbolically) to depart, I was being completely left out.