The Divine Liturgy ~ The Liturgy of Preparation

In my previous posts I have commented on the Divine Liturgy as a whole as well as the Vestments of the Ministers and the prayers before the Liturgy. In this post I will explain the Liturgy of the Preparation or the Proskomedia.
The Proskomedia is a service that prepares the bread and wine for use during the Divine Liturgy. This service is usually done long before the people arrive but after the prayers before the Liturgy and the Vesting of the clergy.
The service usually takes place on the table of preparation of the table of oblation inside of the Holy Place. Set in the apse of the Church this place represents the cave of Bethlehem. In ancient times this was actually another room in the Church and the faithful would leave their offerings there. The brad and wine can be offered for an individual living or dead.
First a word about the bread that is used. The bread (prosfora) is baked using a very simple recipe and in the Byzantine tradition one loaf is used and in the Slavic tradition five loaves are used representing the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. The bread used in Orthodox Liturgy is leaved, yeast is added. Questions are always asked why we use leavened bread when at the Last Supper unleavened bread was used. “Christ ‘leavens’ our lives, so to speak, and the purpose of the Eucharistic celebration is not to ‘recreate’ or ‘reproduce’ a past event but, rather, to participate in an event that is beyond time and space and which, in fact, continues to happen each time the Eucharist is celebrated in fulfillment of Our Lord’s command.”
There are several items needed for this service.
1. The Chalice that will hold the water and wine
2. The Diskos that will hold the bread
3. The spear that will be used to cut the bread
4. The veils used to cover the chalice and diskos
The service begins with the prayer:
You redeemed us from the curse of the law by your precious blood. Nailed to the cross and pierced by a lance, you poured out immortality upon mankind. O our Savior, glory to You!
Then begins the preparation of the bread. Pressed into the loaf of bread is seal with various markings on it. In the center, marked with the symbols, IC XC NI KA “Jesus Christ Conquers.” This is called the lamb and the actual part that is used to commune the faithful. It is cut out of the center of the bread with the following words:
Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.
Like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, like these he never opens His mouth.
He has been humiliated and has no one to defend Him.
Who will ever talk about his descendants?
Lifting the lamb the priest says: Since His life on earth has been cut short.
The lamb is then lifted out of the center of the loaf and turned upside down where a cross is cut in the bottom with the following prayer:
The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world is sacrificed for the life of and salvation of the world.
Placed upright with the IC XC on the top in the center of the diskos. The priest then takes the spear and on the part of the lamb marked IC pushes the spear into the lamb with the following words:
One of the soldiers pierced His side with a lance…
The he takes wine and pours it into the chalice:
And immediately there came out blood and water; and this is the evidence of one who saw it and know that he speaks the truth.
The chalice is now blessed:
Blessed is the union of your Holy Things, always, now and eve and unto ages of ages.
On the left hand side of the loaf is a small triangle that represents the Mother of God. This is removed from the loaf and place on the left side of the lamb on the diskos:
In honor and memory of our most blessed, glorious lady, the Birthgiver of God, and ever-virgin Mary, through whose intercessions, O Lord, accept this sacrifice on your heavenly altar. On your right stands the queen, robed in gold.
On the opposite side of the lamb are now placed the nine ranks. There are three rows of three small triangles cut from the loaf and represents:
1. Michael and Gabriel and all bodiless powers
2. John the Baptist and all the Prophets
3. The Apostles
4. Our Holy Fathers and Teachers, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom. Athanasius, Cyril, Spyridon, and the Holy Hierarchs.
5. First Martyr Stephen. Demetrius, George, Theodore the Recruit, Theodore the Commander, Thecla, Barbara, Paraskeve, Catherine and all the holy Martyrs.
6. The God-bearers: Anthony, Euthymios, Sava, Onufrius, Athanasius of Athos (We add Herman of Alaska the First Sanctified of America) and our mothers: Pelagia, Theodosia, Anastasia, Efpraxia, Fevronia, Theodulia, Efrosyne, Mary of Egypt and all the Holy Mothers.
7. The Wonder-Workers: Cosmas and Damian, Cyrus and John, Panteleimon and Hermolaus.
8. Righteous Ancestors of God: Joachim and Anna, the saint of the day and all the saints.
9. John Chrysostom or Basil, depending on what Liturgy you are using.
Next there are three triangles placed on the diskos in front of the Lamb for the following:
1. The Bishop of the Diocese
2. The leaders of the country
3. Founders of the Church
Remembrance is then offered for all priests, deacons and Monastics. For the sick the suffering, for this holy place, missionaries, travelers etc. The living and the dead are commemorated, the bishop that ordained the priest if he is now deceased or if serving in a different diocese. Finally the priest asks prayers for himself with the following words:
O Lord, in your great mercy, remember me, and unworthy man; forgive me all my trespasses, voluntary and involuntary and because of my sins, do not withhold the grace of your all-holy Spirit from these gifts here presented.
Incense is then offered and blessed.
The star is placed over the diskos. This star represents the star that went forward and halted over the place of His birth in Bethlehem. It also serves to hold the veil off of the discos.
Three veils are used, two small and one large. The two small represent the swaddling clothes that Jesus was wrapped in after His birth and the large one represents the cloth that he was wrapped in when he was taken down from the cross.
After the veils are in place a final blessing is pronounced over the gifts:
O God, our God, who sent the heavenly bread, the nourishment of the whole world, our Lord and God Jesus Christ, savior, redeemer, and benefactor who blesses and sanctifies us, bless this offering and accept it at your heavenly altar. As you are good and love mankind, remember those who have brought is and those for whom it was brought and preserve us from all fault in the holy service of your divine Mysteries. For sanctified and glorified if your honorable and magnificent name: of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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