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In Ford City, baking a holiday tradition

| Monday, Dec. 24, 2012, 12:02 a.m.
Louis B. Ruediger
Jean Meleason measures off dough while volunteering to make 'Prosphora' a Christmas bread with Mary Ann Gribik and Marcey Hospodar at St.Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Churgh in Ford City. Thursday Dec, 20, 2012 Louis B. Ruediger | Leadrr Times
Louis B. Ruediger
The Rev. John Gribik of St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Ford City on Thursday, Dec, 20, 2012, blesses the freshly baked prosphora, a traditional bread served on Christmas Eve. Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
Louis B. Ruediger
The Prosphora, a Christmas bread that is prepared by parishioners at St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Ford City has been a long heritage tradition. Thursday Dec, 20, 2012 Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
Louis B. Ruediger
George Madzy, 84 removes the Prosphora from the oven while volunteering at St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Ford City Thursday Dec, 20, 2012 Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times

FORD CITY – The comforting aroma of freshly baked bread wafted through St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church on Thursday morning in preparation for Christmas.

While the Rev. John Gribik gave communion to a handful of parishioners, several others, including his mother, Mary Ann, were busy in the basement kitchen kneading and baking about 200 round loaves of prosphora for Christmas Eve.

Mary Ann said the prosphora (which means offering in Greek) is made of flour, water and a small amount of yeast and represents Christ, the bread of life.

According to George Madzy, 84, the church has been baking the traditional bread every year since 1950.

After all the trays of golden loaves had cooled, Fr. Gribik gave them a blessing and a sprinkling of holy water. Each one was bagged up and distributed to the parishioners to take home and share during their family meal on Christmas Eve.

Mary Ann said that according to the Eastern European tradition, the patriarch of each family blesses the prosphora at the start of the meal before cubing it up and dipping the pieces in honey.

“My dad would bless my mother with honey and she in turn would bless each of us and say ‘May you be sweet like honey,'” said Mary Ann.

“We never were,” she added with a laugh.

Jean Meleason, 77, recalls Christmas Eve when she was a child.

“We never turned on the Christmas lights until the Christmas Eve supper,” she said.

A single candle was lit and placed on the table to represent the star of Bethlehem lighting the way.

“In our tradition we refer to God as the light,” said Meleason.

She still continues those traditions, including the scattering of straw under the table on Christmas Eve to represent the manger.

But the younger generations doesn't seem as interested in continuing those traditions, Meleason said as she, Mary Ann and Marcey Hospodar, 86, loaded up trays with 3-ounce portions of dough.

“We hardly have any young people helping us. The young ones can't keep up,” said Meleason, adding that since most households today rely on two incomes there is little time to devote to some of the more time-consuming preparations associated with the season.

So for now, the tradition of preparing prosphora is being kept by those few who are willing and able to share it with others.

Meleason plans to host a family Christmas Eve supper for 35, so she figures she'll need at least three loaves of prosphora.

“I'll have plenty of food – I just don't know about the table space,” she said.

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com.

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