Priest makes bread rise without yeast

Every once in a while here at OrthodoxHistory.org, I like to take a break from serious historical study to present completely random, strange pieces of information from the past. Today is one of those days. The following article appeared in the Ogden (Utah) Standard-Examiner on November 15, 1927:

WATERBURY, Conn., Nov. 15. — (By The Associated Press) – Asserting that the church already has been held up to enough public ridicule through the “absurd challenge” of George Invalis of New Britain, George Pistolas, president of the Hellenic Orthodox congregation here, announced Monday night that the Rev. John Gerotheou would ignore all challenges directed at his claimed powers of causing bread to rise without yeast through the use of holy water. Mr. Gerotheou’s powers were disputed also by the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism.

Invalis, a soda clerk, announced that he would post $200 in a Waterbury bank today to back up his challenge, but the posting of the money will go unheeded as the challenge has, according to Pistolas.

The church official said the congregation would continue to worship as it saw fit regardless of challenges launched at it. On days when the ritual of the Orthodox Greek church permits it, however Mr. Gerotheou would continue to raise bread without yeast, Pistolas said, but only as part of the religious ceremonies of the church.

Does anyone have any idea what “religious ceremonies of the church” they might mean? I can’t think of a church service that calls for the miraculous raising of bread with holy water. Was Fr. John Gerotheou baking the holy bread at home, and using holy water instead of yeast?

UPDATE: Over on our Facebook page, there’s been an interesting discussion about this post. First of all, a reader named Elizabeth Riggs made this comment:

My hubby makes Salt Rising Bread – it requires a bacteria rather than a yeast. He adds water to our, mixes into a batter-dough, and lets it sit for 2-3 days. He can tell by the smell when it is right. Making your own sourdough riser is pretty much the same, but you put a towel over it to keep bacteria out, but open it every so often to let the yeast in. It’s an interesting process. That’s how sourdough used to be made in centuries past. God provides what we need when we need it.
That’s pretty interesting, but it turns out that there is actually an old Greek Orthodox tradition involving yeast-free rising bread. John Sandiopoulos wrote:
This is a very common practice in the Greek speaking churches, though relegated especially to monasteries these days. The process is sometimes called “prozimi”. Some include a piece of basil and it is often done on Sept. 14 for the feast of the Holy Cross.
John then linked to a couple of explanatory articles, one in English and two in Greek. From the English article, published at the “Adventures of an Orthodox Mom” blog:
We use something called “prozimi” instead of yeast to make the bread rise. Prozimi itself is a miracle. On either September 14 (Exaltation of the Precious Cross) or on Holy Friday a bowl containing only water and flour is taken into the altar during the Gospel reading. The priest then blesses it. Afterwards our Gerondissa takes it into the kitchen and places it in the oven (the oven is not on) and leaves it there overnight. The next morning the bowl is overflowing with this “yeast”. It is then separated and refrigerated in airtight containers and is used each time prosphoro is made. Every time you make a new batch of dough you tear a small piece off and set aside for next time.
I’ve never heard of this, but it’s definitely an old Greek tradition, and it sounds very likely that Fr. John Gerotheou was carrying on that tradition in New Britain, Connecticut in 1927. Thanks to all the readers who helped solve this mystery!

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