Last time we discussed preparing for the Divine Liturgy through practices such as attending Vespers, preparing for communion, and making use of the great gift of Confession. There are other ways that we can prepare for the Divine Liturgy, in addition to those already discussed.
Preparing to Hear the Word: Many people prepare for the coming Liturgy by reading over the Epistle and the Gospel passages which will be used that week. Praying and reflecting on the Scriptures can help us ready ourselves to receive them in the context of the liturgy.
Preparing the Holy Bread: While in some non-Byzantine Eastern Churches only the clergy are able to bake the Holy Bread, in our tradition we are fortunate to be able to contribute to the prosphora used at liturgy as parishioners. In some ways, it reflects the role the Theotokos had in offering her body to become the tabernacle of the Divine Presence. A basic bread recipe is used, but one of the elements which distinguishes the Holy Bread from ordinary bread is the seal stamped into the loaf before baking. This seal consists of a cross and the Greek inscription IC XC NIKA (Jesus Christ is victorious). These seals can be simple or elaborate, and are available from liturgical suppliers as well as occasionally at grocers who serve Eastern communities. While recipes may vary, one popular recipe is as follows:
1 package compressed dry yeast
2 ½ cups water
2 teaspoons salt
7 cups unbleached flower
Dilute yeast in warm water, add salt and then half of the flour and stir. Mix the other half of the flour by hand until firm. Knead until smooth. Divide dough and place in 8, 9, or 10” pans which have been floured: do not grease the pan. Take the Eucharistic seal and dip into flour, then press firmly and evenly in the center of the dough. Remove the seal and let the dough rise. Take care that it does not rise so much that the seal will be erased (remember it will continue to rise in the oven, too). Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Before baking, cut the dough at an angle around the perimeter of the bread midway between the edge of the pan and the seal, but do not cut through to the bottom. Bake for 30 minutes or until done. Immediately after removing from the oven, wipe the face of the bread with a clean, damp cloth which has been soaked in cold water. Cover the bread with a dry cloth and allow to cool.