An artoclasia tray is a liturgical vessel that holds the bread, wine, oil and wheat to be blessed in a vigil service. It holds three chalices, a ciborium and a triple candlestick. The consecration occurs at the reading of the litany during an all-night vigil. Presumably, the rite has its origin in the old custom of the agape, an evening meal which brought together the faithful of the early church that for joint prayer and communion.
The term litany derives from the word Ancient Greek litaneía – translated as ‘supplication’ – and refers to the part of an all-night vigil performed on the eve of a great feast during which the clergy came out of the Altar. A distinct feature of a litany is multiple chanting of “Lord have mercy”.
During a litany, the blessing of the five loaves is performed (also known as the Artoklasia). It is reminiscent of the five loaves that Jesus Christ blessed in the desert and by which five thousand of His hearers were fed. As we read in the gospel,
“And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.” (Matthew 14:19–21).
The blessing of the five loaves is rooted in the tradition of the ancient monasteries in Palestine.
During the great feasts the monastics – most of whom lived in sketes around the monastery – would come together for the worship. Large numbers of pilgrims came with them.
Due to great distances, it was not possible for the monks to return for the liturgy early next morning, and so the all-night vigil in these days took the whole night.
This gave rise to the tradition to bless the loaves and give to give each worshipper a slice of bread and a cup of water or wine to keep their energy levels. The blessed bread was divided into portions for the vespers and the matins. The modern-day litany of the blessing of the loaves separates the vespers and the matins.
Prayer of the blessing of the loaves
In the litany of the blessing of the loaves, wheat, wine and oil, the priest asks the Lord to send and multiply these gifts and sanctify all the people who partake of them:
Lord, Jesus Christ, our God, You blessed the five loaves in the wilderness and from them, five thousand men were filled. Bless now these loaves, the wheat, the wine and oil and multiply them in this holy church, this city, in the homes of those who celebrate today, and in Your whole world. And sanctify Your faithful servants who partake of them. For You are He who blesses and sanctifies all things, Christ our God, and to You we offer up glory together with Your eternal Father and Your holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.
Did you know?
1. During the Litany, the priest asks Christ to send and multiply the fruits of the earth. In some monasteries, the blessed wheat s mixed in with the wheat stocks to sanctify them. The Church hieratikon recommends that this wheat be sowed or ground into flour.
2. The blessed oil is most commonly used by a priest to perform the rite of tracing a cross on the forehead of a worshipper. Sometimes, it is also added to food.
3. The custom of distributing bread and wine has survived to this day; in a vigil, worshipers are still given a small piece of bread soaked in wine.
4. In the past, the litany was performed in the forechurch. This was an area designated for the baptism candidates waiting to accept the Holy Baptism. The clergy would perform the litany in front of the catechumen to keep them a part of church life. The current practice is to read the litany in the main in the forechurch and the main part of the temple.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds