On Praying for the Dead, Prosphora Baking, and Family Recipes

I spent this past Sunday afternoon cooking. I made my grandmother’s cheese and onion enchiladas (changed around a bit to my own style), my dad’s Spanish rice (a recipe combo from his mother and Tia Pina), and refried beans with chorizo like how Manny’s grandpa made them. I closed the doors coming into my kitchen and told the kids to “stay out” while I cooked. So I had a quiet (relatively quiet–I do have a house full of people!), soul-refreshing afternoon cooking some of my favorite foods.

I cannot eat those enchiladas, or Spanish rice without thinking of my grandparents. I have fond food-related memories of my paternal grandparents. It was such a treat to get my Grandma Jessie’s homemade red tortillas when I was a kid, and I remember her teaching me how to make them once. My grandfather loved, loved, loved Mexican food. He would take us out for Mexican food anytime we visited him.

My husband also loves Mexican food. Manny eventually made his way into my domain, lead by a hungry stomach, and the smell of roasted chiles in the air. He sat down while I started making the refried beans which starts with frying the chorizo sausage. This, of course, got him talking about his Grandpa Campos because that is how he would refry his beans. I love hearing Manny tell stories about his grandfather, his smile and eyes cannot hide how much he loved him. It never fails that he ends those stories with, “Ah, I sure miss that crazy old man.”

As I wrapped up cooking and started serving plates of food, I started thinking about those who have passed away in both mine and Manny’s families. I naturally started praying for them as I ate, especially our grandparents. Praying for those who have gone before us isn’t something I grew up doing (I was raised in a non-denominational Protestant home), but years of praying for the dead as an Eastern Catholic have made the praying routine.

Liturgically, we pray for the dead on Saturdays during Great Lent (also most Saturdays after DL at the monastery). The dead are also remembered during every Divine Liturgy and on anniversaries of passing. But learning to pray for those passed away outside of liturgical services was something I learned from years of baking prosphora (communion bread). Along with the prosphora, I take a list of names of both the departed and living to church to be prayed for during Divine Liturgy; I also pray for those people while baking. It’s amazing to think how a humble loaf of prosphora will become the body of Christ by the hands of the priest and the power of the Holy Spirit. Prosfora made by my hands in my kitchen. While kneading it, I’m putting the names of family and friends into the bread; I’m remembering to pray for those who hate or have troubled me; I also pray for the world. This act of baking prosphora has helped me to see how any act of work can be an act of prayer and any thought of others is an opportunity to pray for them. 

I certainly fail enough at making all of my acts of work, acts of prayer and the remembrance of others a chance to pray for them. But I’m thankful for those times, like when making relative’s recipes, or when baking prosphora, that I get it right. I’m also thankful to have been able to learn so much from years of prosphora baking. It’s all still sinking in, but that’s the work of a lifetime anyway.

For those not familiar with the practice of prosphora baking and want to know more, this link is to previous posts I’ve written on the subject: http://www.everyhomeamonastery.com/tag/prosphora/

This church website shares prosphora baking from the Slavic tradition: https://www.orthodoxct.org/prosphora_bread.html


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