BREAD OR BAP? An uncertain relationship (Life, Worship, and Eucharist in Korean Orthodoxy )

By His Eminence, the Metropolitan Ambrose of Korea


If the Incarnation of the Word did not take place in Palestine during Hellenistic times, but rather in the Far East, would the Eucharistic Bread have been replaced with the daily food of the residents of Southeastern Asia, which is—as it is known—rice in the form of pilaf? And how would the teaching about the Heavenly Bread have been articulated by Jesus (see e.g. Jn 6: 26-60)?


Before we dare to provide any answer, we think it is appropriate to mention a few elements about Asians’ –and more specifically Koreans’ –relationship with rice[1].




The Korean civilization has been called the civilization of rice. This is because rice is the primary staple of life for Koreans, as is evident from the following:


First, each daily meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) includes boiled rice, known as bap (밥). Moreover, the most common Korean foods are: rice mixed with vegetables, meat, egg, and other ingredients (비빔밥 bibimbap), rice with chicken soup (삼계탕 samgye-tang), rice with pork soup (돼지국밥 dwaejigugbap), rice wrapped with seaweed (김밥 kimbap), and in general rice with any number of ingredients. Therefore, there are many kinds of food with rice and various ways to prepare it.


In order to better understand how much the dietary habits of Koreans are dependent on rice, we will only add that if their food does not contain rice, they do not feel that they have eaten a full meal, just as Mediterranean people feel their food is meager without bread.


Furthermore, the invitation to go out for a meal with someone is: “let’s go to eat bap (=rice),” and thus equivalent with Greek hospitality, which in many parts of Greece is expressed as: “sit at our table to eat bread.”


Additionally, rice is not only used as food, but also as the base ingredient for traditional Korean alcoholic drinks (소주 soju, 막걸리 makgeolli, 가아님 kaanim, and others), beverages (식혜 sikhye, and others), and desserts (떡 tteog, 약과 yakgwa, and others).


Koreans also use the dry stem of the rice (짚 jip) as food for animals and for the manufacture of raincoats, sandals (짚신 jipsin), hats (밀짚모자 miljipmoja), mattresses, bedspreads, the roofs (초가지붕 chogajibung) and walls (토벽 tobyeog – bricks made of clay and rice straw) of their houses, and for domestic vessels, tools, and other items.


The abovementioned uses of the derivatives of rice survive today in some remote villages, but in the cities these uses have dwindled because of development and technology.


Of course one can imagine the multitude of idiomatic expressions, proverbs, stories, songs, traditional feasts, customs, and other folkloric elements, that have rice as their main source of inspiration.




First, it is interesting for our topic to note that in the Korean language there exists no word for the western type of bread. The word ppang (빵) that is used today is of Portuguese origin (pan). It arrived in Korea through Japan in the 16th century, during the Dynasty of Joseon, similar to other western products which became known in Korea in the same way (such as the potato and the sweet potato).


Bread, at least as known by the inhabitants of the Mediterranean and nearby areas since ancient times, was completely unknown in Korea until a few decades ago. In fact, Koreans first came in contact with bread during the Korean War (1950-1953). Other western products (coffee, beer, butter, cheese, chocolate, ice-cream and others), had a similar introduction when soldiers of the United Nations brought them to Korea. Despite the fact that bread was unknown in Korea, wheat—of good quality—was known of old. It is strange, however, that wheat flour is scarcely used in traditional Korean cuisine. Even in comparison with rice it is considered a second-rate product. For this reason, an old custom of the poor was to use flour from barley and wheat in order to satisfy their hunger, making various inexpensive foods, such as a form of bread (개떡 gaetteog), soup with flakes of dough (수제비 sujebi), soup with noodles (칼국수 kal-guksu) and others. As one other illustration of the relation (or lack thereof) of Koreans with bread, the following anecdote: A Korean university professor explained to me that seven months after her arrival in Greece for graduate studies she had great difficulty when trying bread for the first time!


The great difference in the way bread is treated between the older and the younger generations of Koreans is noteworthy. This is for the very simple reason that many younger Koreans have tasted bread in their childhood, due to the invasion of western civilization in their country during the last decades, or because they have travelled or studied abroad. Of course we must also clarify that in Korean houses and restaurants even today there is no bread, nor a bakery in one’s neighborhood from which you can buy bread. In various shops (mainly French style) that lately are appearing more and more, one can find pastries (a combination of breads and dessert-like croissants, cakes, etc.), but one rarely finds plain bread.




Due to the well-organized western missionaries from the 18th century onwards, Christianity in Korea has been significantly propagated. Today, Christians from all denominations comprise approximately 30% of the total population. The Orthodox Church first appeared in February 1900.


For the topic under examination, we are interested mainly in the Orthodox Church, because the Roman-Catholic Church uses hostia (the Host – unleavened bread) in her worship and the Protestants have abolished the Sacraments.


In a society where rice reigns exclusively, what is the semantic tension of the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Give as this day our daily Bread (Mt 6:11)?


It is characteristic that none of the translations of this text into Korean that have been undertaken by the various Christian Confessions have remained faithful to the Greek original. All have translated τὸν ἄρτον with the polysemous word yangsig (양식), which means anything that can be eaten. And the word ἐπιούσιον with the word pil-yohan (필요한), which means something essential for our preservation and existence.  This perhaps captures more faithfully the term ἐπιούσιος than other European languagesdo, such as the word’s English translation to “daily.[2]


Our next goal is to examine how the word ἄρτος is translated into Korean in other important passages of the New Testament[3]. First we consider it appropriate to note that the word ἄρτος, i.e. the new manna, in the language of the New Testament, interpreted literally, allegorically, and eschatologically has both a spiritual and a material value. It means: a) bread, b) any kind of food[4], c) the divine Word or the divine Eucharist, and d) the ἄρτος of the age to come[5].


The material-spiritual interpretation of ἄρτος is fully harmonized with the dual hypostasis of man as a psychosomatic being. For this reason the biblical meaning of the word ἄρτος is faithfully captured only through the combination of the literal and the allegorical interpretations.


The translators of the text of the New Testament in Korean follow in most cases the abovementioned biblical meaning of the word ἄρτος. In order to have a clearer picture of the task of translation in the Korean text of the New Testament we have divided the relevant passages into three categories:


  1. A) In the first category the passages are presented in which the word ἄρτος is translated with the word pang (빵), i.e. bread:

– ὅν ἐὰν αἰτήσῃ ὁ υἱὸς αὐτοῦ ἄρτον [Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?] (Mt 7:9)

– Οὐκ ἔστι καλὸν λαβεῖν τὸν ἄρτον τῶν τέκνων καὶ βαλεῖν τοῖς κυναρίοις. ἡ δὲ εἶπε· ναί, Κύριε· καὶ γὰρ τὰ κυνάρια ἐσθίει ἀπὸ τῶν ψυχίων τῶν πιπτόντων ἀπὸ τῆς τραπέζης τῶν κυρίων αὐτῶν. [And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”](Mt 15:26-27) In the translation here, the word ἄρτος remains, apparently because of the word τῶν ψυχίων [the crumbs], which follows in the text. (see Mk. 7:27)

– Καὶ ἐπελάθοντο λαβεῖν ἄρτους, καὶ εἰ μὴ ἕνα ἄρτον οὐκ εἶχον μεθ᾽ἑαυτῶν ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ [Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.] (Mk 8:14)

– ἐλήλυθε γὰρ Ἰωάννης ὁ Βαπτιστὴς μήτε ἄρτον ἐσθίων [For John the Baptist has come eating no bread] (Lk 7:33)

– Καὶ λαβὼν ἄρτον εὐχαριστήσας ἔκλασε καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς [And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them] (Lk 22:19) See also Mt 26:26 and 1 Cor 11:23, 24, 26-28

– Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ κατακλιθῆναι αὐτὸν μετ᾽ αὐτῶν λαβὼν τὸν ἄρτον εὐλόγησε, καὶ κλάσας ἐπεδίδου αὐτοῖς [When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.] (Lk 24:30)

– ὅπου ἔφαγον τὸν ἄρτον εὐχαριστήσαντος τοῦ Κυρίου [where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks] (Jn 6:23)

– ἄρτον ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς φαγεῖν [He gave them bread from heaven to eat] (Jn 6:31). Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἄρτος τῆς ζωῆς [I am the bread of life] (Jn 6:35). The word ἄρτος remains untranslated throughout the whole sixth chapter.

– ὁ τρώγων μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ τὸν ἄρτον [He that eats bread with me] (Jn 13:18)

– ὀψάριον ἐπικείμενον καὶ ἄρτον [with fish laid out on it, and bread] (Jn 21:9)

– ἔρχεται οὖν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ λαμβάνει τὸν ἄρτον καὶ δίδωσιν αὐτοῖς [Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish] (Jn 21:13)

– κλῶντές τε κατ᾽ οἶκον ἄρτον [breaking bread in their homes]

(Acts 2:46)

– εἶπὼν δὲ ταῦτα καὶ λαβὼν ἄρτον εὐχαρίστησε τῷ Θεῷ ἐνώπιον πάντων, καὶ κλάσας ἤρξατο ἐσθίειν [And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat.] (Acts 27:35)

– τὸν ἄρτον ὅν κλῶμεν, οὐχὶ κοινωνία τοῦ σώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐστιν; [The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?] (1 Cor 10:16, 17)

– καὶ ἄρτον εἰς βρῶσιν [bread for food] (2 Cor 9:10) In the Roman-Catholic Church’s translation from 2005 the word ἄρτος in this and in the following passage is translated as food.

‑ οὐδὲ δωρεὰν ἄρτον ἐφάγομεν [nor did we eat anyone’s bread] (2 Thes 3:8).


  1. B) In the second category the passages are included in which the word ἄρτος is translated with the word eumsig (음식), i.e. nourishment.

‑ Οὐ γὰρ νίπτονται τὰς χεῖρας αὐτῶν ὅταν ἄρτον ἐσθίωσιν [For they do not wash their hands when they eat (bread).] (Mt 15:2)

‑ Καὶ ἔρχονται εἰς οἶκον· καὶ συνέρχεται πάλιν ὄχλος, ὥστε μὴ δύνασθαι αὐτοὺς μηδὲ ἄρτον φαγεῖν. [and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat (bread)] (Mk 3:20)

‑ ἀλλὰ ἀνίπτοις χερσὶν ἐσθίουσι τὸν ἄρτον; [but eat (bread) with defiled hands?] (Mk 7:5) See also Mk 7:2.

‑ Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ ἐλθεῖν αὐτὸν εἰς οἶκόν τινος τῶν ἀρχόντων τῶν Φαρισαίων σαββάτῳ φαγεῖν ἄρτον [One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees] (Lk 14:1)

‑ ἵνα μετὰ ἡσυχίας ἐργαζόμενοι τὸν ἑαυτῶν ἄρτον ἐσθίωσιν [to do their work quietly and to eat their own bread] (2 Thess 3:12). In the Roman-Catholic translation the word ἄρτος in this passage is translated as food (양식 yangsig).


  1. C) In the third category very few passages are included in which the word ἄρτος has been translated either as Divine Eucharist or something different:

‑ Καὶ παρήγγειλεν αὐτοῖς ἵνα μηδὲν αἴρωσιν εἰς ὁδὸν εἰ μὴ ράβδον μόνον, μὴ πήραν, μὴ ἄρτον, μὴ εἰς τὴν ζώνην χαλκόν. [He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts] (Mk 6:8) The word ἄρτος has been translated as meog-eulgeos (먹을것), which means nourishment. See the same passage in Lk 9:3, where the word ἄρτος remains. In the Roman-Catholic translation, in both passages, the word ἄρτος is translated as bread.

‑ συνηγμένων τῶν μαθητῶν κλάσαι ἄρτον [when we were gathered together to break bread] (Acts 20:7). The word ἄρτος is translated as Divine Eucharist. In the Roman-Catholic translation the word ἄρτος is translated as bread.

‑ ἀναβὰς δὲ καὶ κλάσας ἄρτον καὶ γευσάμενος [when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten] (Acts 20:11). The phrase κλάσας ἄρτον [had broken bread] in the original, even though in the previous passage it is translated as Eucharistic bread, here it is translated as bread. The same is true about the Roman-Catholic translation.




The different treatment of bread between older and younger generations of Koreans is also evident in the way that Orthodox Koreans treat bread in Worship.


I have noticed that those who are older are hesitant to receive large portions of ἀντίδωρον or ἄρτος, while the younger do not have any problem. On the contrary, they even say that it tastes good.


Beside the ἀντίδωρον and the ἀρτοκλασία, another act of worship is the kollyva made not from baked bread but from wheat. In the Orthodox Church in Korea memorial services are conducted with rice instead of wheat in the kollyva.


Something similar would be appropriate also in the case of ἀρτοκλασία. The bread of the ἀρτοκλασία could probably be replaced with the traditional Korean tteog (떡), which is exclusively prepared with rice[6].


The tteog has an ancient origin which accompanies not only every great and important Korean feast, but also every joyous social event [the completion of the first hundred days of a new-born child (백일 baeg-il); birthdays (생일 saeng-il); weddings, the opening of companies and shops, housewarming events (집들이 jibdeul-i), and others.]


Since the ἀρτοκλασία is also served on great feasts and festivities, and in general it accompanies the joyous events of the ecclesiastical liturgical cycle, tteog could probably help the Orthodox Koreans to better perceive and experience the joy of the ecclesiastical feast in which they participate.


Additionally, the word “rice” has already been included in the ἀρτοκλασία prayer in the Korean Orthodox Euchologion: “… εὐλόγησον τὸν ἄρτον, τὸ ρύζι, τὸν οἶνον καὶ τὸ ἔλαιον” [“… bless the bread, the rice, the wine, and the oil”]. Furthermore, it should be noted that in cases when the ἀρτοκλασία is served during the Matins of feasts and followed by the Divine Eucharist, during the simultaneous distribution of the ἀρτοκλασία and the ἀντίδωρον after the dismissal of the Divine Liturgy, the difference of one from the other is not noticeable, because in Korea the ἀρτοκλασία is plain bread, i.e. without sugar (because Koreans, especially the older, do not like sweet tastes) or other ingredients that the folk tradition in Orthodox countries has invented in order to emphasize both the difference and the taste.


However, in relation to the thorny issue of the Divine Eucharist, things are different. The deep awareness of those that draw near to Divine Communion that they partake of the Body and Blood of Christ does not allow any space for dealing with issues of taste. The faith and the experience of this Mystery bridge cultural differences and create common spiritual experiences to all nations.


Furthermore, the ἀντίδωρον too, I think, is not possible to be exchanged with rice, because it comes from the πρόσφορον of the Proskomide.


At this point I consider it appropriate to give the word to the Orthodox Koreans themselves. From discussions that I have had with them about the issue under examination, I reached the conclusion that they themselves have different ways of dealing with the issue. For methodological reasons, I have categorized the conclusions of my discussions with them into the following two groups:


  1. The taste of the ἀντίδωρον and of the ἀρτοκλασία is a unique and unprecedented taste for those who are received into the Orthodox Church, because the taste of bread that is prepared at various western-type shops in Korea is different from the homemade πρόσφορον and the ἀρτοκλασία.


Therefore, Orthodox Koreans have an ecclesiastical taste, a special experience, only within ecclesiastical life. “This is something very beautiful and we like it. Our children also like it, because they have connected the Orthodox Church with a particular taste,” a Korean mother mentioned to me.


  1. Nevertheless, the positive opinion of the first category has a negative dimension for other Koreans. “The things that we taste in Church, of course we have the sense that they are holy, but they do not have any relation to our everyday life,” another Korean said to me.


In his words I can feel the anxiety about how everyday reality could be made ecclesial. In other words, how can the experience of the liturgical life be continued after the Worship. How will the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist touch and transform their life.


Finally, we will add without comment the very interesting opinion of a Korean woman about the πρόσφορον, which raises many concerns: “I saw in Greece that women bring the πρόσφορον for the Divine Liturgy in the Church with the names of their relatives for commemoration. I liked this practice a lot. We have to learn to do it here, too. I also want to bake πρόσφορον for the Divine Liturgy. However, as you know, our houses do not have ovens, because we do not use ovens for any Korean food.”


I have to note here that in the Orthodox Metropolis of Korea the priests or their wives bake the πρόσφορον in ovens that exist in the parishes or in the houses of the priests.


* * *


Therefore, the answer to the question that I posed at the beginning of my article – which is more than simply rhetorical – is not easy or simple at all. It could be articulated as follows:


If, hypothetically speaking, the Incarnation of the Word occurred in a non-Mediterranean country, not one of us could know with what material substance Christ would transmit His All-Holy Body and Blood.


The uniquely sacred and great salvific and significant event that took place in the upper room of Jerusalem during the Mystical Supper, should be respected in every place where the Gospel might be proclaimed. The Divinely instituted Mystery of Mysteries, the Divine Eucharist, this sublime Mystery of the Church and the material elements that comprise it, do not belong to the category of the variable and evolving elements of Divine Worship.


However, other elements of Orthodox Worship (the ἀρτοκλασία, the vasilopita or other breads and cakes in honor of various saints), which because of tradition are associated with bread, I think should be studied so that they may be naturally replaced by rice products, i.e. the basic everyday food of the Koreans, unto the most substantial incarnation of Orthodoxy among the Korean people.

[1] All references to Koreans have parallels in almost all residents of Eastern Asia. In my study I make specific references to Korea, first because Koreans have been growing rice since the Neolithic Era (8000 BC), as is evident from the findings of excavations (e.g. in the cities 봉산 Pongsan and 평양 남경 Pyongyang Nanjing of North Korea), and second, because I have been living in Korea for a decade and the lifestyle of Koreans has become more familiar to me.


Different opinions exist among scientists about which country first grew rice, and many countries of Eastern Asia (China, Japan, Korea, Indo-China, India) claim its paternity. The cultivation of rice was propagated from Asia to Africa around AD 500-600. Arabs later introduced it in Spain and from there it was propagated to the rest of Mediterranean Europe. In Greece the cultivation of rice likely arrived during the Middle Ages.


[2] Regarding my subject matter, it is interesting that St Innocent Veniaminov, the famous Russian missionary of Alaska (1797-1879), when he translated the Lord’s Prayer into the language of the Aleuts, rendered the word ἄρτος into the word fish, because for the Aleuts, fish are the “ὁ ἄρτος ὁ ἐπιούσιος” [“the daily bread”].


[3] The issue of translations of the Holy Scriptures into the Korean language is very complex, because a great number of translations exists today. Almost every Christian church has its own translation. In my study I basically use the translation (공동 번역) that was made with the cooperation of the Roman-Catholics and the Protestants in 1977, and the Roman-Catholic Church’s 2005 translation.


[4] See Origen, Περὶ εὐχῆς, XXVII, 1: “… ἐπεὶ δὲ πᾶσα τροφὴ ῾ἄρτος᾽ λέγεται κατὰ τὴν γραφήν” [“… since every food is called ῾ἄρτος᾽ according to the scripture”].


[5] See John of Damascus, Περὶ τῆς ἐνσάρκου, PG 94, 1152: “Οὗτος ὁ ἄρτος ἐστίν ἡ ἀπαρχὴ τοῦ μέλλοντος ἄρτου, ὅς ἐστιν ὁ ἐπιούσιος. Τὸ γὰρ ἐπιούσιον δηλοῖ, ἤ τὸν μέλλοντα, τουτέστι τὸν τοῦ μέλλοντος αἰῶνος, ἤ τὸν πρὸς συντήρησιν τῆς οὐσίας ἡμῶν λαμβανόμενον. Εἴτε οὖν οὕτως, εἴτε οὕτως, τὸ τοῦ Κυρίου σῶμα προσφυῶς λεχθήσεται.” [“This bread is the first-fruits of the bread to come, which is the supersubstantial bread. For supersubstantial either means that which is to come, that is, the bread of the world to come, or it means that which is taken for the sustenance of our substance. So, whether it be the one or the other, the term will be suitably applicable to the body of the Lord”]


[6] For Koreans, tteog is equivalent to bread. Therefore, in some Protestant translations of the Holy Scriptures, the word ἄρτος has been translated as tteog.