Christ is risen! This past Saturday, as every Bright Saturday in our Church tradition, the special Paschal bread called the ‘Artos’, was broken at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy. This special loaf, adorned with an icon of the Resurrection of Christ, was blessed at the conclusion of the Paschal Liturgy on the Feast of Feasts, and each day during Bright Week has been present on the solea of the Church during the Paschal Liturgies, blessed with Holy Water and with special prayers. After its symbolic cutting at the end of the Liturgy on Bright Saturday, it is now being prepared by either your priest or sisterhood or other members of the parish: the large loaf is being cut into small pieces, which will be distributed to each of you over the coming days and weeks by whatever means is best suited to the quarantine-related circumstances in your parish.
It is especially important, given the unique circumstances of the present year, that all Orthodox faithful understand the tradition of the Artos and its place in our spiritual life. This bread is not the same as Holy Communion (it is not consecrated to become the Body of Christ), yet at the same time it is blessed in a very profound way during the pinnacle moment of the Church’s liturgical year, with special prayers reserved solely for the Artos (for example, normal prosphoras are not blessed in the same way). It is our custom that each family receives a portion of this Artos after Bright Week has concluded, and retains it in their home icon corner throughout the coming year, specially cared for; and on occasions when one cannot be in church for the Divine Services ‘for reason worthy of a blessing’, the family instead prays at home before the holy icons, keeping a morning fast in the same way that they would before attending the Liturgy — and at the end of their prayers, receives a small portion of this Artos, together with a small portion of Holy Water (also kept in the home), which unites them to the blessings of the liturgical life of the Church when they cannot be in the temple, by receiving the grace of this blessed bread that has been united to our Paschal celebrations. For obvious reasons, this tradition is especially relevant to us all in our present circumstances, when the coronavirus restrictions mean that many must be at home when they would otherwise be in church: partaking of the Artos in this manner is yet another way that the Church ensures the grace of our life sacramental life is never interrupted, even when external circumstances impede movements, etc.
For this reason, I instruct each family to be especially diligent in contacting your parish priest to arrange for a piece of this year’s new Artos to be obtained by you. Please do your part in actively contacting your priest, rather than relying solely on him contacting you: our priests are at the moment working extraordinarily hard to meet the many needs of our faithful in difficult times; it will help them immensely if you reach out to them! It is also essential that, once you receive your portion of the Artos, you prepare it and look after it properly: each family is normally given a small piece in a plastic bag (for convenience sake): you must not keep it in this bag (or it will grow mouldy), rather, as soon as it is at home you should use a sharp knife to cut it into very small portions (to last you for the year), and put these on a plate in the open air so that they dry out completely and harden. Once entirely dried, you should then put them in an appropriate jar, with a lid, that you will keep in your icon corner, opening it to remove a piece when needed, throughout the year.
In this manner, my beloved brothers and sisters and children, we receive yet another grace that Christ bestows on us through His Church, and our spiritual lives are deeply enriched. Christ is risen!
Bishop of London and Western Europe