Proskomedia ceremony

If the 17th century is generally considered the epoch when the Liturgy was definitively set, this date should be understood just as an approximate one as its ceremony has been fluctuating up to now. Therefore, it was assessed during centuries and we might speak about a process of evolution of formal variation. It is true that, in its core, the Liturgy was established by Jesus Christ, but its external manifestations and ceremonies in which, this primary seed of the Liturgy that was embodied and gradually developed, were subsequently added by the Holy Apostles and their disciples, meaning by the Church itself.

At the very beginning, we have to say that proskomedia, in its origins and meaning, is understood as a preparation, as a Liturgy of Preparation, as an offering that has existed since the very beginning of Christianity. Nevertheless, it did not have the shape and the place within the Liturgy that it is known today. In the fourth or fifth century, this ceremony of Proskomedia took place at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Faithful. This thing was natural, if we take into account the fact that, at that time, the only ones who were baptized and who did not have capital sins, were allowed in the Liturgy and they could take part in the Divine Service. It is well known the existence of the Catechumens` institution at that time, that asked for a longer period of preparation for those who wanted to take part in the Church service, a time when they were not allowed inside except for the Liturgy of the Word or the Liturgy of the Catechumens as it remained nowadays.

At the appropriate moment, the prayers brought the offerings, bread and wine, to the deacons who brought them at the right time into the Altar, where the bishop or the protos priest consecrated them, offering them the quality of gift or oblation, saying a short prayer and then blessing them.

This form of preparation for the offerings preparation has been kept unaltered up to now in the Catholic Church rite. It was an intermediate act between the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic one.

The deacons or the children lay down water and wine on the Altar Table during a litany related to the herubic armies, and as I previously mentioned, the priest says prayers and blessings.
Returning to the Byzantin rite, we can naturally ask ourselves when the conversion of Proskomedia ceremony took place, from its primary place, in which it can be found today, namely, before the Liturgy of the Catechumens and what the reasons are.

Liturgy experts, most of them, are agree with the fact that, this displacement took place around 6th – 7th century. There are two reasons which explain this displacement: one of them is the decline and gradual extension of the catechumens` institution, that I previously mentioned, and the other is the gradual development of the Proskomedia rite.

Dissolving gradually the catechumens` institution, the believers were not compelled to wait for the beginning of the Liturgy in order to carry their gifts to the Altar, but they could do this earlier, mainly, after they went into the church. Naturally, the acts which made up the primitive rite of Proskomedia are changed, until they are definitively set at the beginning of the Liturgy. In short, as I previously mentioned, this rite gradually develops into shapes and ceremonies that were more and more numerous and complicated, getting current extended.

It is important to add another important thing, at the same time with this displacement, Proskomedia also changes the place in which it is performed. For symbolic and practical reasons, the blessed offerings are not performed on the Holy Table, as it used to be, but they are performed in a certain place on the left side of the altar called the Table of Preparation or Prothesis.

The process of change started with the shape of the matter for the Holy Sacrifice meaning of the loaves of breads brought and used for the Table of Preparation. From the very beginning, there were common loaves of bread, then they were shaped and sized just like the prophora as it is called nowadays; later, there would not to be used a whole loaf of bread to prepare the Holy Body, but only a graphically sized  portion called “The Lamb”.

The prayer of the offering, as we call it today, must be much older than the Lamb rite by means of sacramental offerings are consecrated and blessed. The portions derive from the nominal commemorations that in the first centuries Liturgy were performed on the Holy Table during the general prayers for the living and the dead, which took place after the consecration of the gifts. The portions have their origins in Athos, because only this way, the sixth postion in commemoration of the Athanasie could be explained.

Regarding the two prayers which accompany the portions rite, we must state that they are neither in the Greek Priest`s Service Book nor in the Russian one, but they are to be found as unique only in the Romanian one, starting with the edition from Iasi in 1845.

The importance of the Proskomedia within the Divine Liturgy

What is eternally and undeniable for human mind is the fact that all our life depends on a higher Power that is out there, beyond us. We are just a part and in fact a very smallest one, that depends on whole from which it comes and also on the separated “the One” who created and rules over this “whole”

This argument has made man be careful, inquiring, and very inclined to believe that his destiny really depends on by that power that is out there. This power is real, because we feel it, working within us, because it exists always and everywhere. He is always present in time because He has ruled over the human spirit from the beginning of time; He is everywhere in space and he has been known by all the people in the world.

Admitting the fact that we are just the tiniest part of this “Whole,” and together with it, we depend on Powers that are and we bring a special glory to them. The more you respect and honour the One who is the most gentle, beloved and whose Guardian Spirit makes life meaningful and useful.

The acknowledgement of our state by the Power that rules the whole universe is, thus, a grace that we bring to this almighty Power. We look at our Lord with all the devotion, we feel within us and the world, because His protecting power fills and fulfils everything and everyone of us with all kind of blessings. This unique, endless, almighty power is called God. This special glory devoted to God is called religion.

Serving God is, thus, a recognition of our state of dependence on Him and on respect towards God, our creator and protector.
The core of God`s calling is an offering that we own to Him for blessing brought in every moment and these are showed by means of a self-denial act called offering or sacrifice.

During the Divine Liturgy, apart from the thanksgiving and supplication prayers, there are prayers to the mother of God. How can we pray to God without thinking about His Holy Mother? How will we honour the Son of God without honour the Holy Virgin who carried Him in her arms? How can we serve the sacrifice of the Son of God without thanking Him for giving us in the care of His mother without asking help of That who followed the cross way to the end and saw her Son crucified!

At the very beginning of the Divine Liturgy, when the offering for oblation are prepared, we give a commemoration to the most Holy, Mother of God.

After “The Lamb” is taken out, we remove from the prosphora a second portion  and place it on the diskos next to the Lamb saying: “ For the graceful and commemoration of the our most blessed and glorious Lady, the Mother of God and ever Virgin Mary  whose prayers receive Lord this offering within your Altar beyond Heaven.” Then setting the portion on the right side of the Holy bread (the Lamb), the psalmist David`s words are added : “upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir.” (Psa 44,11).

The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Crysostom is made up three parts: Proskomedia, The Liturgy of the Catechumens, The Liturgy of the faithful.
1)    Proskomedia  (The Liturgy of Preparation) performed only by the priest as an act of preparing the bread and the wine brought by the believers for the Eucharist.
2)    The proper Divine Liturgy performed by the priest together with the believers in the purpose of becoming Holy Gifts into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and also for the believers communion.The proper Divine Liturgy is divided into two parts: a) The Liturgy of the Catechumens; b) The Liturgy of the faithful.

Proskomedia – the universal character of our Saviour`s sacrifice is revealed symbolically during the Divine Liturgy when the preparation of offerings for Eucharist takes place. The tradition of bringing the appropriate offerings by the believers was firstly a convention of the Early Church. It is said that attending the Divine Liturgy, they would commune their own gifts, as a concrete symbol of their spiritual oblation. This offering represents an act of adoration, of gratefulness and of thanksgiving, a sign of repentance and faith in the union with Him, by means of receiving these gifts that later turned into Body and Blood of His Son, and therewith with the hope of embracing the divine blessings that they have asked for themselves and for those who have brought these gifts. The term “proskomedia” comes from this act of bringing the gifts.

Thus, the term “proskomedia” means offering and in actual language, the word proskomedia also marks the Altar of Prothesis, mainly the place or the small table (also known as Table of Oblation) a place on the North side of the altar on which the preparations for the offerings take place. Thus, when our Saviour instituted the Holy Eucharist, he firstly had to offer the wine and the bread He brought on the supper table, in order to offer them as elements of bloodless sacrifice to His church. No matter the person who brings the “material” of the Sacred Mysteries, mainly the bread and the chalice, the Meaning of the Proskomedia is that we primary acknowledge Christ Himself within them, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ`s love brought by us and for us. Within Him, the One who brings it to His Father, God Himself.

The fact that, we firstly know all these until the Liturgy that the “material” is brought in order to be destined: the bread is believed to become the genuine Body of Christ and the wine Christ`s blood, making up the base and the main condition for the Eucharist.

The Proskomedia is indeed a symbol, but within the Church is a symbol which is achieved through the reality of that new creation which already exists through Christ, but which in this world can be known only by faith, and that is why the symbols are revealed only through faith. Just as Christ`s sacrifice brought once and forever, it contains everything , even our offerings which have  their start and content in His sacrifice, “proskomedia” is an offering preparing for the Liturgy. It is indispensable to underline that what becomes proskomedia is produced or offered on the Table of Oblation and it is not the sacrifice itself, it is not our Lord`s sacrificed Body but only the gift of sacrifice which figures or symbolizes our Lord`s Eucharist body and blood in which it will mystically have turned into by the end of the Liturgy. That`s why, when we prepare the offerings for the Eucharist, we do not stop only to remove from prosphora the portion called the Lamb, but together with God`s commemoration, we also commemorate all the saints and all those who run and miss the gifts of the bloodless sacrifice but our living or dead parents and brothers meaning the first prosphora.  .

The second prosphora is taken out in graceful and commemoration of the most blessed and glorious Lady, Mother of God and it is placed in the Lamb`s  right, saying the words: “upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir.” (Psa 44,11).
From the third prosphora, there are taken nine portions, which are placed on the diskos in three rows on the Lamb` left side. The first portion is in the commemoration of John the Baptist, about which the Saviour Himself told: “among them that are born of women, there hath not risen than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11, 11). The second portion from the rows of nine is placed on the diskos for the grace and commemoration of the prophets and the patriarchs from the Old Testament. The third one is taken out in the grace and commemoration of the Holy Apostles Peter and Pavel and other Apostles. The forth one is taken out in the grace and commemoration of the Holy Hierarchs, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Crysostom, later called “golden mouth”, Athanasius , Cyril, Nicholas of Myra, Spyridon of Trimythous and all the Hierarchs. The fifth one is taken out for the grace and commemoration of the martyrs, starting with The Archdeacon Stephan. The sixth portion is taken up for the grace and commemoration of the pious men and women. The seventh one is removed for the grace and commemoration of Cosmos and Damian, the doctors without payment. The eighth one is removed for the grace and commemoration of the Holy and righteous ancestors, Joachim and Anna, the Mother of God`s parents and also the saint of that day that we commemorate then. The ninth portion is removed for commemoration and grace of the Saint Basil the Great or the Saint John Crysostom whose Divine Liturgy is performed.

Thus, we have Jesus Christ on the diskos, embodied by “the Lamb” and He appears among those who are close to Him, - The Icon of the Glorious Church – or as The Apostle Pavel says: “To the general assembly and church of the first born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect” ( Hebrews 12,23)

From the forth prosphora, we take out portion for the living, starting with the Bishop, the rulers and founders each with his name.

The fifth one is taken out postions for the dead as the Bible says “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's” (Romans 14, 8”) At the end of this ceremony, the priest also asks for God`s forgiveness for his sins and takes out of the 4th one, a portion for him saying “ Commemorate me my Lord, Have mercy upon me, Oh God, according to thy lovingkindness”  The portions for the living and for the dead are placed below “the Lamb”.
Having finished all these, the star is placed over the diskos censing it and saying:” the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.”(Matthew 2, 9) and the appropriate prayers. The priest censes the prepared offerings and covers them with Holy vests.

This is the end of the first part of the Divine Liturgy, Proskomedia.

The image of the whole Glorious Church of Christ is placed on the Holy diskos, a church that is triumphant and glorious.
If the first part of the Divine Liturgy, Proskomedia reminds us the early life of our Lord, entirely unknown, but prophesied, the second part The Liturgy of the Catechumens reveals to our spiritual eyes the life and activity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. The name “The Liturgy of the Catechumens” was given because of the fact that only those who were initiated for baptism were allowed to take part in the Church service.

This first part of the Liturgy has as a purpose the explanation of our community meaning the development of Christian belief and spirituality by means of education regarding the truth of the Gospel.
As a conclusion, we will state the fact that the Divine Liturgy comprises the great and wonderful characteristics of our Lord confessed in the Last Supper: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the father but through me” (John 14:6)

translated by: Taraboi D. Elena, licensed translator

Category: Divine Liturgy
Added: Nov 17, 2009
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