At our Church we take bread and wine right after we receive Holy Communion. When I go to the Greek Church, they only take some bread. Also, we all take some bread when we come to kiss the Cross at the end of the Liturgy. They call this “Antidoron,” and the priest gives it to catechumens and non-Orthodox visitors as well as parishioners. What is the meaning of these practices, and why do some Churches give wine and others do not?
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The blessing and distribution of bread to the faithful is a very ancient tradition of the Church. We know that, in some of the early Churches, a meal followed the Liturgy, although St. Paul criticized the practice of the Church at Corinth, in which the rich ate their own food and did not share with the poor. In some other places there was a practice of blessing bread, boiled wheat, wine and olive oil during the “All-night Vigil,” and this practice has survived in monasteries, where the brethren retire to the Narthex or Refectory for such a meal in the midst of certain Vigil services. It also survives in the Litya, which accompanies many of the Vigil Services in our parishes, and in the “Artoclasia,” or “Braking of bread,” which Greek parishes sometimes serve as a Molieben following the Divine Liturgy on the feast day of a saint.
Long after the Liturgy ceased to be served in the context of an ordinary fellowship meal, the practice of distributing blessed bread to those who had received Holy Communion remained.In the west, leavened“Holy Bread” continued to be distributed, long after unleavened “Hosts” were substituted for the Artos, or Leavened Prosphora, in the Latin “Mass.” In North Africa, a double handled “Calix Caritatis,” or “Loving Cup” of wine mixed with water, was passed around among communicants at certain liturgies. Greeks sometimes refer to the Antidoron as “Agape” bread, from the Greek word for Christian Love.
Two impulses seem to account for this tradition. First, it was felt that those who had received the Most Precious and All-Holy Body and Blood of our Lord needed to “Cover the Holy Gifts,” both to prevent the inadvertent spitting forth of a particle from the mouth while singing or praying after reception, and to prevent choking on the particle. Also, it seemed appropriate that those who had fasted from the previous evening in preparation for reception of the Holy Mysteries should be fed something, lest they should “faint by the wayside” for want of nourishment.
Also, as the Church grew and spread, it was common for the faithful to bring offerings of Bread (Prosphora), wine, oil, honey and other commodities to the Church. From among these offerings, usually brought to the Vigil Service, the Deacons would select the best to be used in the Divine Mysteries. The rest, including such items as fruit and grain, would be distributed among the Clergy as part of their support and among the widows and worthy poor of the parish.
From among the Prosphora, or “Offering Loaves”, five or sometimes seven loaves were set aside for a particular Liturgy. From these loaves only a small portion would actually be placed on the Discos as Elevated Gifts, either as the Eucharistic Lamb, or as particles in commemoration of Our Lady, The Holy Saints, or living or departed Orthodox Christians. The remainder of these loaves was, and still is, cut into small portions and distributed to those who have just received Holy Communion in order to, as we said above, “Cover the gifts.” In the Russian tradition this is accompanied by a swallow of wine mixed with hot water. The remainder of these loaves is distributed to those who have failed to prepare for Holy Communion, during the chanting of the Psalm, “I will bless The Lord at all times” which, according to the Service Books, precedes the Dismissal at Liturgy. This bread is called Antidoron (Anti = In place of + doron = Gifts). It is received in place of the Holy Gifts and is also sometimes called “Naphra,” from the Greek word Anaphora, or “Offering.”
The Antidoron should be handled with great respect. Sometimes pieces of it, or a special small Prosphora from which the priest has made commemorations for the living and departed of the family, are carried home and received with reverence, often accompanied by a sip of Holy Water, before breakfast each morning. Obviously, it is intended for Orthodox Christians. Sometimes, as well, small pieces of Antidoron are placed in a covered vessel and remain in the body of the Church throughout the week, to be taken and consumed by those who came into the Temple to pray.