The term Artos (Greek: Áρτος, "leavened loaf") refers to a loaf of leavened bread that is blessed during services in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. A larger Artos is baked especially for use at Pascha (Easter), smaller round loaves (used five at a time) are blessed during the All-Night Vigil in a ritual called Artoklasia.
Artos in Ancient Greek meant "cake" or "loaf of wheat-bread", but in Modern Greek now only refers to bread used in church. The earliest form of the word is the Mycenaean Greek a-to, written in Linear b syllabic script.
Near the end of the Paschal Vigil, after the Prayer Before the Ambo, a single large loaf of bread, the Artos, is brought to the priest. Depicted on the top of the Artos are either the symbol of Christ's victory over death—the Cross, surmounted by a crown of thorns—or the Resurrection of Christ. The Artos symbolizes the physical presence of the resurrected Christ among the disciples. The priest blesses the Artos with a special prayer and sprinkles it with Holy Water. The Artos is then placed on a small table before the Iconostasis where it remains throughout Bright Week. It is customary, whenever the faithful enter the Temple, for them to kiss the Artos as a way of greeting the Risen Christ. On every day of Bright Week, after the Paschal Divine Liturgy (or, alternatively, after Paschal Matins), the Artos is carried in a solemn Crucession around the outside of the church.
In monasteries, the Artos is carried to the Trapeza every day of Bright Week, where at the end of the festive meal, it is lifted in a ceremony called the Lifting of the Artos. The one performing the ceremony will lift up the Artos (symbolizing Christ's Resurrection) and say, "Christ is Risen!" All will respond, "He is truly Risen!" The celebrant will then make the sign of the Cross with the Artos as he says, "We worship His Resurrection on the third day!" Then two Paschal hymns are sung and everyone comes forward to kiss the Artos and receive the Superior's blessing, as all sing the Paschal troparion many times.
The significance of the Artos is that it serves to remind all Christians of the events connected with the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. While still living on earth, the Lord called Himself the Bread of Life, saying: I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and He who believes in Me shall never thirst (John 6:35). After His Resurrection, more than once Jesus appeared to His disciples, ate before them and blessed their own food. For example, as evening fell on the first day of His Resurrection, He was recognized in Emmaus by two of His disciples as He blessed and broke bread (Luke 24:13-35).
On the 40th day after His Resurrection, the Lord ascended into heaven, and His disciples and followers found comfort in their memories of the Lord: they recalled His every word, His every step and His every action. When they met for common prayer, they would partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, remembering the Last Supper. When they sat down to an ordinary meal, they would leave a place at the head of the table empty for the invisibly present Lord and would lay bread on that place.
Remembering this custom of the Apostles, the Fathers of the Church made it their custom to put out the Artos at the Paschal Feast in memory of the appearances of the Risen Lord to His disciples, and also in memory of the fact that the Lord Who suffered and was resurrected for our justification has made Himself the true Bread of Life and is invisibly present in His church always, to the close of the age (Mattew 28:20).
Whereas special Paschal breads, called kulichi are broken and eaten on the first day of Pascha, the Artos is kept whole throughout the whole of Bright Week as a reminder of the presence of the Risen Savior in the midst of those who believe in Him and is only divided and distributed on Saturday. In this way Bright Week begins and ends with the eating of especially baked and blessed bread.
The Artos may also be compared to the unleavened bread of the Old Testament, of which ancient Israel, delivered from their captivity in the land of Egypt, ate during the week of the Passover (Ex. 12:15-20). As Cyril, Bishop of Turov, who lived during the 12th Century in Russia, said in a sermon for the Sunday after Pascha:
Even as the Jews bore the unleavened bread upon their heads out of Egypt through the desert (Exodus 12:34) until they had crossed the Red Sea, after which they dedicated the bread to God, divided it amongst all their host, and having all eaten thereof, became...terrible to their enemies, even so do we, saved by our Resurrected Lord from the captivity of that Pharaoh of the mind, the Devil, bear forth the blessed bread the Artos from the day of the Resurrection of Christ and, finally, having dedicated this bread to God, we eat of it and preserve it to the health of body and soul.
It is a custom among Russian Orthodox Christians to this day to keep a portion of the Artos throughout the year and with due reverence and faith to eat of it in time of illness or distress. This is eaten, often together with a drink of Holy Water, which had been blessed at the Feast of the Theophany of Our Lord.
The loaves baked for Artoklasia will be similar to the Prosphora used at the Divine Liturgy, except that the stamp used to seal them will be different. It may have an Icon of a saint on it, or it may be a simple cross—perhaps inscribed with a prayer on it, such as "May the Blessing of the Lord be upon us. Amen."
At the Vigil on Sundays and Feast Days throughout the year, near the conclusion of Vespers, all go in procession to the Narthex of the church, where special petitions called the Litia are prayed. Then, during the chanting of the Troparion of the Day (Apolytikon), the deacon censes a tray on which have been placed five leavened loaves, wheat, wine, and oil, which the priest then blesses. After the blessing he breaks one of the loaves (from which action the rite receives its name: Artoklasia, "breaking of bread"). These items are then taken back into the sanctuary where they are prepared for later distribution. After the reading of the Gospel at Matins, the faithful come forward to venerate the Gospel Book (if it is Sunday) or the Icon of the Feast (if it is a weekday). The priest then anoints them on the forehead with some of the oil, and each person receives a piece of the blessed Artos dipped in some of the wine.
A similar Artoklasia is performed at the end of the Vesperal Divine Liturgy on Great Saturday, except that oil and wheat are not blessed, but only the five loaves and a cup of wine. This Artoklasia is a remnant from the days when the faithful would not leave the church all day on Great Saturday, but wait in prayerful anticipation for the beginning of the Paschal Vigil. Each person would be given bread, dried fruit, and a cup of wine as all listened to the reading of the Acts of the Apostles.
- ἄρτος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
- Palaeolexicon, Word study tool of ancient languages
- Cf. Lifting of the Panagia.
- Alternatively, the Artos may be carried to the Trapeza, where the prayer is said and everyone partakes of it before the common meal. Sometimes, in parishes, the priest will wait until after the Liturgy on Thomas Sunday to break and distribute the Artos.
- The five loaves are reminiscent of the miracle of the feeding of the multitude (Matthew 14:17, etc.).
- The wheat is traditionally kept for sowing, to be eventually harvested and ground to make Prosphora.
- Paschal Artos (Photo)