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Table prepared with loaves, wheat, wine and oil for artoklasia.

The Artoklasia (Greek: ἀρτοκλασία; Church Slavonic: Лития,'litiya'; Romanian: litia) is a service held near the end of Vespers in the Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholic churches. Five round loaves of leavened bread are blessed, together with wheat, wine and oil. In East Slavic (Russian, Belorussian and Ukrainian) usage, wheat is not used. The items are arranged on a special artokasia tray, which is adorned with candles. The blessing is performed on Sundays and Feast days, as part of the All-Night Vigil. During the singing of the troparion of the feast, the deacon censes the items on the artoklasia tray. The priest holds one of the loaves in his right hand while he says the prayer of blessing, and points to each of the items being blessed as he mentions them, thus making the sign of the Cross. He then breaks the loaf in half, from which the service gets its name, meaning literally, "breaking of bread."

Later during the service, the loaves and wine are distributed to the faithful to help sustain them with physical nourishment for the rest of the Vigil. The blessed oil is used to anoint the faithful to provide them with spiritual nourisment, and the wheat may either be planted in the earth, or ground into flour to be used for making prosphora. The faithful may also take some of the blessed items home to friends or family who were not able to attend the service.

The loaves of bread are offered by the faithful as a sign of devotion for personal or family anniversaries such as name days, feast days, and other special occasions. The five loaves are reminiscent of the five loaves that Jesus Christ blessed in the desert and by which five thousand of His hearers were fed (Matthew 14:15-21, Mark 6:35-44, Luke 9:12-17, John 6:5-14).

Eastern Orthodox bishop blessing loaves for the Nativity Vigil on Christmas Eve, Sanok, Poland.

Artoklasia also symbolizes and brings into practice the Agape meals of the very early Christian communities. After the faithful had received the Body and Blood of Christ, they would gather in a common meal, thus signifying the brotherly association established between them by their common faith and by their receiving the same sacramental Lord. The Agape meals also served a charitable purpose by providing meals to the poorer from among them.

The significance behind the artoklasia includes also the fact that, among the Orthodox, bread continues to be highly valued not only as a basic food but also as the supreme symbol of the Body of Christ - for it is the bread which is changed by consecration in the Liturgy into the Body of Christ. Christ has been repeatedly designated as the Bread of Life, and also as "the Bread which came from heaven". Bread symbolizes the Church of Christ, which has spread everywhere, as the wheat on the mountains, and which was gathered by Christ into one body. Thus, bread has been given a mystical meaning according to which it constitutes the essence of the spiritual life of the Christian.

The blessed bread of the artoklasia has been from ancient times considered to effect personal sanctification and to help the individual against bodily infirmities and illness, if taken with faith. The Greek term "artoklasia" derives from the very words used by the Evangelists in describing the Last Supper at which Christ "broke bread" and offered it to His disciples as His own Body. Also, "bread is broken" in the artoklasia, signifying not only an identity in terms but a far more significant affinity between the Lord's and His Church's breaking of bread.

Sometimes, for reasons of economy, the service may be transferred from Vespers to Orthros (Matins), or even the Divine Liturgy (Mass).

On Great Saturday of Holy Week there is a special artoklasia celebrated at the end of the Vesperal Divine Liturgy. At this artoklasia, only bread, wine and figs are blessed (the use of oil being forbidden on that day, according to the fasting laws of the Orthodox Church).

See also

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