My Great-Grandmother’s Offering
Last week, I baked prosphora for the first time in a while. This is such a special blessing for an Orthodox Christian! To give an offering to our Creator, created from our own hands, one that will be transformed by the Holy Spirit and then returned to us as the Body of our Lord, for the salvation of our souls. A mystery indeed!
As I kneaded, I prayed. I pray for many people when I do this, but the first among them is always my great-grandmother, Kalliope. Perhaps, because my earliest memories of this tradition are thanks to her.
She was old school. Widowed young, dressed in black for the rest of her life. My husband and his friends used to call them ninja-yiayia’s when they were boys. The kind that are rare indeed nowadays. All her life, she was never idle, her hands were always moving. Kneading dough, crocheting an afghan, making the sign of the cross. She lived a long, healthy life, completely dedicated to Christ and His Church. By the time she reposed in 1998, she was 101 years old. What a blessing to play such a vital role in the lives of your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren!
I remember every single Saturday morning, she would bake prosphora. She would wake up before the rest of the house and quietly begin her work. Many times, I would get up early and go into the kitchen to help. I watched her mix the flour, salt and water together in the large stainless steel bowl. Then, she would turn it onto the counter and knead it until the dough shines. I have such a vivid image of her hands, covered in flour, moving slowly and steadily. Of her mouth moving quietly in prayer.
At the time, I didn’t know anything more about the whole process than it was the bread used for Holy Communion. She tried to teach me, I can remember her explaining to me what the seal meant. I don’t remember what she said, but I can picture her finger pointing to the different sections of it. I remember her telling me that by our bringing this bread to church, we are offering our life to Christ. That, once the bread was consumed, our whole church became one with Him.
I didn’t really understand. At that time, I didn’t care to understand too much. Unfortunately. I was just a young girl who loved being in the kitchen and loved the smell of bread baking. Now, I would give anything to be back in that kitchen with her. I wish so much that I would have savored every word she spoke, every instruction, every story, every everything.
As an adult, I think of her every day. I pray for her every day. I see her in everything I am now so desperately trying to get. The things she, through many years of prayer and life experience, understood. It amazes me now, how many things I really did learn from her. Many of them are still being manifested in my life today. Sometimes, I will say something to my children only to later realize they were her words first. It is a lesson to us parents, never underestimate the power of your example. It’s amazing what people, especially children, can pick up even when they’re not paying attention.
Last week, when I was preparing the prosphora with my boys, I tried to explain to them what the seal meant. In just a few seconds, they were too busy swirling flour into shapes on the counter and my voice quickly faded into the background of their giggles and conversation. And that’s ok. I refrained from becoming stern and insisting they listen to me and reminded myself of the words of Elder Porphyrios, words I remind myself of nearly every day.
“Speak more to God about your children, than to your children about God.”
So I did. I whispered a prayer for my children, and your children. For all of our precious Orthodox children.
Then, I took the seal, my great-grandmother’s seal, and pressed it down firmly into the dough.
Angelo opened the cupboard and removed the two little plastic seals.
“Can we do ours now?”
“Do you want to?” I asked, surprised.
“Yeah, we always do that,” he answered. Panteleimon nodded his head in agreement.
I broke off a portion of dough for each of them and watched as they rolled the dough out exactly the way my great-grandmother did. Exactly the way I showed them, when I thought they weren’t listening.
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