Download our free printable activity package on the prosphoron and the Proskomide service. It contains:
– Visual chart of holy objects
– Cut and glue craft
– Activity: Match the objects with their names
– Card game
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In the Orthodox Church, the Holy Eucharist or Holy Communion is considered the “Sacrament of Sacraments”. The Holy Eucharist (Efcharistia, thanksgiving) is the central event and highest form of Orthodox worship and the culmination of the service of the Divine Liturgy. Thus, in our website, we will be devoting a number of resources to the Divine Liturgy and the Holy Eucharist, starting with a lesson about the necessary materials, the holy objects and the special way in which the gifts are prepared.
When discussing the topic with young children, we have found it useful to combine the following two themes:
- The prosphoron
- The preparatory service of the Proskomide
Generally, children in the age group our material addresses (Preschool and early Elementary) don’t have the ability to process or remember complex details. The key points we feel they can retain from this lesson are:
- Τhe faithful offer the wine and a special kind of bread – the prosphoron – for Holy Communion.
- The priest prepares the offerings in a special way, before the Divine Liturgy begins.
- These offerings will eventually become the Body and Blood of Christ with the intervention of the Holy Spirit.
- The prosphoron is stamped with a seal which has a special meaning.
- Only the central part of the prosphoron, the Lamb (Amnos or Host), will become the Body of Christ. The letters on it, ICXC NIKA or IΣΧΣ NIKA (Ιησούς Χριστός Νικά), mean “Jesus Christ Conquers”.
- The priest uses special objects to prepare our offered gifts, such as the Paten, the Chalice and the Asterisc, and the preparation service is called the Proskomide.
With the above key points in mind, objectives for this lesson could be set up as follows.
At the end of the lesson, the children should be able to:
- Explain that the bread and the wine become Body and Blood of Christ with the intervention of the Holy Spirit.
- Describe the bread used for Holy Communion as round and stamped with a special seal.
- State that the gifts are prepared by the priest in a special way.
The older children within this age group should also be able to:
- Name the Proskomide service, prosphoron, Chalice, Paten, and Asterisc.
- Identify the Lamb on the prosphoron, specify that it is the only part of the prosphoron that becomes the Body of Christ, and explain what ICXC NIKA means.
While working on the above objectives, many opportunities arise to introduce the fundamental Orthodox teaching that the bread and wine, at some point in the Divine Liturgy but not from the beginning, truly – not symbolically – become the Body and Blood of Christ, of which the faithful partake when receiving Holy Communion. Also, to clarify that the Holy Spirit, and not the priest, is the one Who makes this transformation.
Additionally, this lesson offers an opportunity to encourage the children to actively participate in the Divine Liturgy. During the Great Entrance, when the priest walks through the church, he is holding the prepared gifts. Now that the children can recognize the prepared gifts, they can be encouraged to look out for the Great Entrance when they are at church next time, and identify the priest holding the gifts.
Presenting the topic
One way to present the topic could be to first show our free animation to attract the students’ attention. Then, using the first page of our free printables, the various items could be introduced. Finally, the animation could be shown for a second time, pausing to discuss and explain, so the children understand what they saw and grasp the main points.
When we teach, we follow up the topic presentation and discussion with various hands-on activities, to help the children internalize what has been taught – and to make the lesson more enjoyable.
Using our free printables, the children could complete a fun worksheet, do a craft and/or play a game.
For us, a very enjoyable and memorable addition to this lesson has also been to prepare a sample prosphoron at home to show to the children. After presenting it, and describing the seal, we cut it up and enjoy it together. A recipe and instructions can be found below.
Another fun activity is to make a salt dough prosphoron as a craft. The children can shape it, stamp it and pierce the holes all around with a wooden skewer. If done in a Sunday School setting, the teacher can either bake it after class and bring it at the next lesson to show to the children, or let it air dry until the following week. We have seen similar activities being done with playdough, but we personally feel playdough to be too secular a material for this kind of project – we think salt dough would be more appropriate, and the children would feel they are working with something very close to the real bread dough. Instructions for this can be found below as well.
Finally, a great complementary resource for this lesson could be the book Yiayia and the Prosphoron by Egle-Ekaterini Potamitis, Potamitis Publishing.
If you would like to try making a teaching prosphoron for class, not one to be offered for Holy Communion, you may use the following easy recipe which produces good results. A real prosphoron, to be offered to church, requires special preparation, which is briefly discussed in the Background section below.
- 2 pounds white flour
- 1,5-2 cups lukewarm water
- 1 packet dry yeast
- 2 tsp salt
- a prosphoron seal – a cheap plastic one which is great for this purpose can be found here. Ideally, we suggest to use a different seal for the sample prosphoron from the one you would use to prepare real prosphora.
Mix the 1,5 cup water with the yeast, then add in the flour and salt. Knead well, either using a mixer or by hand. The dough needs to be pretty firm. If needed, a little water can be gradually added, until the right consistency is reached. After kneading well, form the dough into a ball, with as smooth a surface as possible.
Line a 9-inch round cake pan with non-stick parchment paper. Place the ball of dough inside the pan and lightly dust the top with a little flour. Lightly dust the seal with some flour as well. Press the seal in the center of the dough ball using both hands, as hard as possible. It should go deep down into the dough, almost to the bottom of the pan. Slowly and carefully remove the seal. Inserting the tip of a small sharp knife under one side of the seal can help. With a wooden skewer pierce some holes all around the cross on the stamped design, as pictured. Let the dough rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours, until the sealed part has risen back up to the surface of the loaf. Bake at 350°F for about an hour, until the prosphoron is golden in color.
Salt dough prosphoron
- 5-1/4 cups white flour
- 2-1/2 cups salt
- 2-1/2 cups water
- Plastic prosphoron seal (not to be used for preparing real prosphora)
Mix all ingredients well, adding a little more flour as necessary. The dough should feel firm but pliable like playdough.
Shape a round loaf. Press the seal firmly on the top of the loaf until the design is clearly stamped. Carefully remove the seal. Provide wooden skewers so the children can poke holes in the design as pictured.
The salt dough prosphoron can be either oven-dried at 200 °F for about two hours or air-dried for several days.
When preparing a real prosphoron to be offered to church for Holy Communion, we do it with reverence and we must observe special instructions. First, we must use the purest ingredients available, as free as possible from chemicals and additives. If we have the ability, it is better not to use yeast, but sourdough starter, a special one prepared for this purpose on the day of the Elevation of the Cross (September 14). If such starter is not available, the purest and most natural yeast should be used. Finally, it is best not to mix and knead the prosphoron by mixer, but by hand.
The area where we will be preparing the prosphoron should be clean and tidy. The tools used for making prosphoron should ideally be used for no other purpose. The seal should be a wooden one (example). Traditionally, and so that the dough doesn’t stick, the pans used to bake the prosphoron are lined with a thin film of pure bee’s wax, using a pure bee’s wax candle, as follows: We place the pans in a hot oven for a couple of minutes. We remove the hot pans and scrape them all over inside with the candle so that their interior is covered by a thin layer of wax. If they cool down during the process, we place them in the oven again for a few seconds and continue.
To make the prosphoron, first, we light up some incense and cense our home. Then, we say a preparation prayer. There are different traditions on which prayer to say, so getting advice from our priest is a good idea. We have placed an icon and lit a vigil lamp where we will be preparing the prosphoron. While working, we usually read the Salutations to the Theotokos (Akathist). Other family members can also assist with kneading and reciting the prayers.
We offer our prosphoron either after Vespers, in the evening before the Divine Liturgy, or very early on the morning of the Divine Liturgy. We accompany it with a bottle of the special wine for Holy Communion, a bottle of good-quality olive oil for the church vigil lamps, some candles and two printed lists of our loved ones’ names: The names of the living and the names of the deceased. These will be commemorated by the priest during the Proskomide.
Right before the Divine Liturgy, a special preparatory service takes place, the Proskomide or Prothesis (meaning: to bring my offering forward). Without the Proskomide we cannot celebrate the Divine Liturgy. During the Proskomide, the priest prepares the bread and the wine – the offering brought by the faithful – for the Holy Communion. The people in the church don’t witness this service because it takes place privately in the Sanctuary, during Orthros or Matins (the early morning service), at a special table named Prothesis, which is located on the left of the Altar table.
The details of the service of the Proskomide are described in the following GOArch video, We Offer These Gifts.
- The Church Fathers on the Holy Eucharist, by Fr. Joseph Bittle of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese.
- OCA article on the Holy Eucharist.
- OCA article on the Proskomide service, including detailed photos.
- GOArch article on the Proskomide service, describing each object in detail and including a prosphoron recipe.
Special thanks to the Department of Religious Education of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America for allowing us to embed their video into our webpage.
Scrapbooking paper used in the illustrations: