Coptic “Holy Bread”
Coptic “Holy Bread”
Since man-made bread it became essential in human life, and has become a symbol of life itself. The word bread and meat had the same pronunciation in Hebrew and Aramaic. Since civilization started, ancient Egyptians made special bread placing signs and seals on it. Such signs later became Christian signs such as the "Dove "and the “cross sign”, such signs appeared on the bread found in Akhmem back to the beginning of the Christian era. It was known that all ancient churches, which followed the Apostles rules, made different seals on the bread which was used in the Eucharist, such as the Romans, Syrians, and Armenians. Those shared common Christian spiritual heritage, before the churches divided. The seal placed on the bread before sanctification during baking has a clear spiritual overview. The seal in the Holy bread plays a role when dividing the holy bread during the prayer of the fraction and this is a general norm in all Coptic churches, particularly in the Coptic Orthodox Church. The holy bread of our church is the essence of Apostolic Christian experience in understanding the Divine Liturgy and in understanding the relationship of Christ to the Church in the Eucharis, all the symbols on the bread explains in a simple way the stages of the liturgy and our relationship with Christ in the Eucharist.
If we look at the shape of the holy bread, we will notice that the circle shape represents the universe and spiritually reflect salvation. Christ is symbolized by the box in the middle of the Holy bread, and is called Alasbadikon , this name was derived from a Greek word which meant Lord- Christ himself . Christ in the center and around him twelve crosses representing the twelve apostles. In some old of the Coptic liturgies, the Alasbadikon was called the cornerstone and those who know construction engineering in Palestine realize that the cornerstone mediates the dome and closes it, in the shape of a cross, the cornerstone is the last stone placed which completes the construction and gives strength and stability. The circle shape of the holy bread appears in the dome above the altar because it is in turn represents the universe, but here in particular built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Ephesians 2: 20-22).
Jesus Christ is the cornerstone and the center of the church, he gathers the Apostles and the people around him in this heavenly feast, in order to make all his sacred body, and as the prophet said: “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body” Paul the apostle explains the reason behind this union which converts abundance to one “for we all share the one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10: 17).
Making the holy bread: 1. Dissolve the yeast in the amount of water according to the quantity required and add the flour and knead thoroughly and consciously and add the water in stages until the dough is not stiff but soft, average softness is required.
2. Cut the dough into the required sizes to form the holy bread, each size has its own stamp, for example small holy bread has a different stamp than that of a large size. The bread is then placed in large trays and is covered with a piece of cloth; preferably the cloth should be one of the church curtains. So that this covered should be dedicated only for making the holy bread and should not be used in any other thing. The cover should be tight so as not to dry the dough crust, to avoid it being unfit to be lamb.
3. In the order cut, dough’s are then stamped with a suitable stamp according to its size, for example a small dough should not be stamped with a large stamp, and the large dough for Lamb should not be stamped with a small stamp, so that it is clear for the priest when dividing during prayer of the fraction, the letters, words and crosses of the stamp should be notable and clear. The stamped bread is then placed in a large tray in order it was stamped and is left for fermentation.
4. After fermentation holes are made in each bread, never make the holes before fermentation since this affects the yeast and its efficiency. The holes made should be suitable to the size of the holy bread, neither large nor small that it might disappear after baking. The numbers of holes are five, three holes on the right and two on the left.
5. Good baking of the holy bread should be in a moderate heated oven; a high oven ruins the bread, and makes it unsuitable to be presented as lamb, because lamb must have no faults. A high temperature oven makes the holy bread dry from the outside, and small pieces drop in the tray. Reasons for the pieces that fall from the Holy bread are:
a. Exposure of the dough to air for a long time before baking.
b. Baking before completion of the fermentation period.
c. not kneading the dough well
d. Baking over high heat.
Jesus promised his pure disciples to give them the Holy Communion, as he has prepared their minds for this event when he said to them “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)
According to the teachings of the church, the following Conditions should be followed when making the Holy Bread:
- To be made from pure wheat flour.
- To be well leavened.
- To be considered special bread
- To be free of salt.
- Should be made round shaped as the sun, which emits heat, warmth, and light, as when we take Holy Communion we are filled with the grace emitted from the sun of righteous- Jesus Christ, as shines in us the light of Christ, who expellees the darkness of sin from our lives, also the circle refers to the eternal Lord Jesus Christ and to eternity (unlimited) as the circle has no beginning and no end. So is our Lord Jesus Christ has no beginning nor end, and is existing since eternity and remains forever, he described himself saying “I am the A to Z, the beginning and the end”.
- The five holes: The five holes in the holy bread refer to Christ’s wounds, the two holes in his hands, the hole in his feet, stabbed with the spearhead, and the thorn crown. Three holes on the right and two holes on the left are made on the holy bread, and are then left for fermentation; this is an indication that after Christ was hanged on the cross he carried our sins with him; it’s then backed in the oven where the fire is a sign of the pain that Christ has suffered. Also the five holes are made to avoid any crackles during backing, so that the holy bread has no faults as Jesus Christ. These holes also remind us with God’s deep love to us, even though we are full of many sins, he gave us his torn body holed with nails, to eat, and gave us his blood, which shed from his wounds to drink, to live by them eternal life.
- A middle cross surrounded by twelve crosses: cut the dough to form the bread and stamp the middle with a large cross and then stamp around the large cross twelve small crosses representing the disciples the nucleus of the first church, and Jesus Christ himself the cornerstone. The large centered cross refers to Jesus Christ, therefore the part of the holy bread that holds this cross in the middle is called "Alasbadikon", and this part is the piece which the priest puts in the goblet, and uses to makes the cross sign on the body three times during the last part of the Divine Liturgy, then returns back this section into the goblet until the time of holy communion. While the twelve crosses surrounding the middle cross refers to the twelve apostles disciples of Christ, this indicates the existence of Jesus Christ always in the middle of his disciples, While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”(Lk 24: 36)
- The three sanctifications: Around the large cross surrounded by the twelve crosses is a circle written on it "Holy God" which means Holy God (three times) as if Christ is surrounding his church in the world, being in the middle so that it will never shake. The three sanctifications "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Living who does not die” is written in a circular motion around the holy bread. This is the prayer we say in each hour of the Psalms (Agpiya), and before reading the Bible in the Divine Liturgy. So what we eat is actually the body of Christ, the Son of God.
The Shape of the holy bread: