This is the text of a class given at Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church in McComb, MS on June 13, 2007.

III. Proskomede

To continue with our discussion of the Divine Liturgy, we will now move to the service of Proskomede. After the priest has vested, he goes to the Table of Oblation to begin. Before looking at the text and movements of the service, we should spend a moment talking about the items that are on the Table of Oblation.

Table of Oblation—the table on the northern part side of the sanctuary that is reserved for the preparation of the Holy Gifts for Divine Liturgy. Other holy items (oils, etc.) are also sometimes kept on the Table.
2 cruets—one holds the wine to be used in the Eucharist, and the other holds water
Discos or Paten (round dish)—the portions of bread cut in memory of Christ (the Lamb), together with the Mother of God and all the Saints are lain on this dish [the icon of the Nativity on the Paten will be discussed at the end of the Service]
Star or asterisk—is placed on the discos after the Service of Proskomede is finished. It prevents the aer from disturbing the bread on the discos.
Spear—a spear shaped knife used to take portions out of the bread. The spear that pierced the side of Christ.
Chalice—the wine and water are mixed here in the preparation of the Sacrament, and the Eucharist will be given to the people from the Chalice.
Spoon—used to distribute the Eucharist to the communicants.
Small and large aers—2 small ones cover the Chalice and discos, and the large one then covers the pair together. They protect the Gifts from dust and insects.
5 Prosphora—the bread used in the preparation of the Sacrament. The bread must be made of wheat flour, mixed with water, leaven and salt. It should be freshly baked and clean. The loaves are called prosphora, “oblations—offerings.” Each consists of two smaller round loaves connected together, indicating that in Christ two natures are united. Each loaf is stamped with a Cross, which contains the letters IC, XC, NI, KA—“Jesus Christ Conquers (Victor, Prevails).”
Wine—of grape juice, without additions, sweet.
Cutting plates—also, on most Tables there will be several plates or boards for cutting the Prosphora. Typically, there would be a wooden tray for use at the Service of Proskomede, and a small metal plate that would be put on the Altar and used to divide the Lamb on for the communion of the people.

Service of Proskomede
[My comments on each portion of the service follow the section of the service that they comment on—service in italics, my comments not]

“Proskomede” means “the bringing of the gifts.” In ancient times this was the selection of the Eucharistic gifts from the offerings brought to the Church by the people. The remained of the offerings were distributed to the poor.

Having made three reverences before the prothesis, each says:
O God, cleanse thou me a sinner and have mercy on me.
And the priest:
Thou hast redeemed us from the curse of the Law by thy precious blood; nailed to the Cross, pierced with the spear, thou hast poured forth immortality upon man, as from a fountain. O our Savior, glory to thee.

We remember the work of Christ that we are about to re-member, to participate in again, the sacrifice of His life for our salvation.

Then the deacon says: Bless, Master.
And the priest begins:
Blessed is our God always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.
Deacon: Amen.
Then, taking one of the prosphoras in his left hand and the holy spear in his right hand, and signing it three times over the seal of the prosphora, he says:
In remembrance of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. thrice
And immediately he thrusts the spear into the right side of the seal, (i.e., to his own left) and he says as he cuts it:
As a sheep He was led to the slaughter.
And into the left side:
And as a blameless lamb before his shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.
Into the upper part of the seal:
In His humility His judgment was taken away.
Into the Iower part:
And who shall declare His generation?
The deacon, gazing reverently at this Mystery, says at each incision, Let us pray to the Lord, holding his orarion in his hand. After this, he says, Take away, Master.
The priest, thrusting the holy spear obliquely into the right side of the prosphora, takes out the holy bread, saying:
For His life is taken away from the earth.

The Lamb (Paschal Lamb, Christ) is cut in the size of the seal on top of the prosphora. As the priest cuts the Lamb, he prays the words of Prophet Isaiah who speaks of the Messiah as the Lamb that comes and takes on the sins of the whole world.

And when he lays it inverted on the holv diskos, the deacon says:
Sacrifice, Master.
And he cuts it crosswise, saying:
Sacrificed is the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world for the life and salvation of the world.

The Cross is cut in the bottom of the Lamb remembering that Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice on the Cross for the whole world. It also serves a practical purpose—the Lamb will be broken into four portions along the cuts made here later in the Divine Liturgy.

And he turns upward the other side, which has the cross on it.
The deacon says:
Pierce, Master.
The priest pierces the right side with the spear, saying:
One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and straightway there came forth blood and water and he that saw it bear witness, and his witness is true.
The deacon, taking wine and water, says to the priest:
Bless, Master, the holy union.
(And blessing them, the priest says:
Blessed is the union of thy Holy Things always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.)
And receiving the blessing upon them, he pours wine and a little water into the holy chalice together.

As the priest says “blood” and “water,” the wine and water are poured into the chalice. This is a quote from the Gospel of St. John, and is the living image of our Eucharist. The Lamb, one the cross, with His blood pouring out on the ground for the purification of the earth.
At this point, the Lamb is placed in the center of the Paten, and the Lamb (which will become the Body of Christ through the descent of the Holy Spirit in our offering of the Liturgy) is completed.
The remainder of the breads will be used for commemorations on the Paten—by the end of the Proskomede we will have represented on the Paten all of creation, the whole of the Church.

Then the priest, taking the second prosphora in his hands, says: 2
In honor and memory of our most blessed, glorious Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-virgin Mary, through whose intercessions do thou accept, O Lord, this sacrifice upon thy most heavenly altar.
And taking out a particle, he lays it on the right side of the holy bread, close to the center, saying:
On thy right hand stood the Queen, clothed in a garment wrought with gold and divers colors.

As our pre-emimenet Saint, the Mother of God, the Theotokos gets the first commemoration, and a special place at the right hand of the Lamb. Remember, of course, that all of us are called to be “the bearers of Christ (God)” (Theotokos)—she stands as our example of what humanity is created to be.

The third prosphora is now used for commemorations of the various hosts of saints who have been found worthy of eternity with Christ. There are nine commemorations, also referencing the nine ranks of angels that are created to serve both God and man. They are placed to the left of the Lamb in three rows of three.

Then taking the third prosphora, he says:
Of the honorable, glorious Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist John.
1 And taking out the first particle, he lays it on the left side of the holy bread, making the beginning of the first row. Then he says:
Of the holy, glorious Prophets Moses and Aaron, Elijah and Elisha, David and Jesse, of the three holy Children, of Daniel the Prophet, and of all the holy prophets.
2 And taking a particle, he lays it in order below the f i rst.
And again he says:
Of the holy, glorious and all-laudable Apostles Peter and Paul, and all the other holy apostles.
3 And he sets a third particle below the second, ending the f irst row.
Then he says:
Of our Fathers among the Saints, the Hierarchs, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom, Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria, Nicholas of Myra in Lycia, [Michael of Kiev, Peter, Alexis, Jonah, Philip and Hermogenes of Moscow, Nicetas of Novgorod, Leontius of Rostov] and all holy hierarchs.
4 And taking a fourth particle, he sets it near the first, beginning a second row.
And again he says:
Of the holy Apostle, First-Martyr and Archdeacon Stephen, the holy great Martyrs Demetrius, George, Theodore of Tyre, Theodore Stratelogos, and of all the holy martyrs, and of the holy women martyrs, Thecla, Barbara, Cyriaca, Euphemia, Praskovia, Katherine, and all the holy women martyrs.
5 And taking a fifth particle, he sets it below the first which is at the beginning of the second row.
Then he says:
Of our venerable and God-bearing Fathers, Anthony, Euthymius, Sabba, Onuphrius, Athanasius of Athos, [Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves, Sergius of Radonezh, Varlaam of Khutin,] and of all the venerable Fathers; and of the venerable Mothers, Pelagia, Theodosia, Anastasia, Euphraxia, Fevronia, Theodulia, Euphrosyne, Mary of Egypt, and of all holy venerable Mothers.
6 And then taking a sixth particle, he sets it below the second, ending the second row.
Then he says:
Of the holy wonderworking Unmercenary Cosmas and Damian, Cyrus and John, Panteleimon and Hermolaus, and all the holy unmercenary physicians.
7 And then taking a seventh particle, he sets it at the top, beginning a third row.
And again he says:
Of the holy and righteous Forebears of God, Joachim and Anne, (of the Saint of the Temple and of the day), of the Saints equal to the Apostles, Methodius and Cyril, teachers of the Slavs, [of the Saint equal to the Apostles, the great Prince Vladimir,] and of all Saints, through whose supplications do thou visit us,O God.
8 And he places an eighth particle in order below the first in the third row.
Then he says:
Of our Father among the Saints, John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople.
If it is his Liturgy that is sung, but if it is that of St. Basil the Great, then he is commemorated: Of our Father among the Saints, Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappodocia.
9 And then taking a ninth particle, he sets it at the end of the third row, completing it.

These nine commemorations cover all of the departed—men, women, married, monastic, ordained, lay…everyone in the Heavenly Kingdom is now present on the Paten. The Fathers say that all of the Heavenly Hosts worship with us at each Divine Liturgy—now they are present in our worship.

Then he takes a fourth prosphora and he says:
Remember, O Master, Lover of man, every Bishopric of the Orthodox, our [lord, the Most Reverend] Metropolitan N., our [lord, the Most Reverend] Archbishop N., (or our [lord, the Right Reverend] Bishop N.,) the honorable presbyters, the diaconate in Christ, and every order of the priesthood, and our brethren and fellow-ministers, priests, deacons, and all our brethren whom thou hast called unto thy communion, through thy tenderness, O All-good Master.
And taking a particle for each bishop he sets them below the holy bread.
Then he remembers the Iiving for whom he has names, by name, and at each name he takes out a particle, saying:
Remember, O Lord, N.
And then he sets all the particles he has taken out below the holy bread.

This fourth loaf is used for prayers for the living—beginning with our bishops, and then extending to anyone we would like to pray for. On the table of Oblation I have a 3-ring binder full of lists of names that people have asked to have prayed for—each of this is remembered during the service of Proskomede. The Fathers write that these are some of the most powerful prayers of the Church, because we are literally joining the person being prayed for with the Body and Blood of Christ (all of these particles will be placed into the Chalice at the end of the Liturgy).

Then taking the fifth prosphora, he says: 5
In memory and for the forgiveness of sins of the most holy Orthodox Patriarchs, of Orthodox and God-fearing Kings and Queens and Rulers, and the blessed founders of this holy temple. (If it is a monastery: of this holy monastery.)
Then he remembers the bishop who ordained him and others, whom he will, of those who have fallen asleep, by name. At each name he takes out a particle, saying:
Remember, O Lord, N.
And finally he says:
And of all our fathers and brethren, the Orthodox, who have fallen asleep in hope of the resurrection, of life eternal, and of communion with thee, O Lord, Lover of man.
And he takes out a particle.

The fifth loaf is used as the fourth was, but for the remembrance of the departed.

After this he says:
Remember also, O Lord, my unworthiness, and forgive me every offense, both voluntary and involuntary.
And he takes out a particle from the fourth prosphora. Then he takes the sponge and gathers the particles together below the holy bread, so that they will be secure and that none may fall off.

Now the offering is complete. We’ll finish the Proskomede in a moment by covering the gifts with the aers, but the offering of the Gifts is completed with the priest prayer for himself. So now the entire Church is present as an offering to Christ in our worship—the Lamb, all the Saints, and the living and the departed. Everything is lifted up to Christ in worship. The Fathers even say the creation is offered in the material elements, the bread and the wine—sun, earth, rain, air, all of creation works together with the grace of God to bring forth the wheat and the grape of our offering. The Liturgy brings together all of creation, and we offer it back to Christ. This is our purpose as the overseers of creation—to care for it, and to offer it back to God. In the Liturgy not only will participate in the greatest gift of God to man—His very Life—but we will also be most perfectly fulfilling our role in the created order—to offer it to Christ.

Then the deacon, taking the censer and putting incense into it, says to the priest: Bless, Master, the censer. And immediately says: Let us pray to the Lord.
And the priest says the Prayer of the Incense:
Incense do we offer unto thee, O Christ our God, for an odor of spiritual sweetness, which do thou accept upon thy most heavenly altar, sending down upon us in return the grace of thy Holy Spirit.

This is the prayer that the priest prays anytime he blesses the censer.

Deacon: Let us pray to the Lord.
The priest censes the star and places it over the holy bread, saying:
And the star came and stood over where the young child was.

The star is placed on the Paten at this point, to keep the aer from the disturbing the Gifts, and to recall the star which identified the house where the Infant Jesus was. On the Paten is an icon of the Nativity, as well—the whole of Proskomede recalls the Nativity. From the moment of the Incarnation, Christ was the Lamb destined to be sacrificed for the sins of the world, and He was the King, who gathered the believers around Himself as subjects and as friends. But in His humiliation, His Divine Glory and Love shows forth most perfectly.

Deacon: Let us pray to the Lord.
The priest, having censed the first veil, covers the diskos and the holy bread saying:
The Lord hath become King; with beauty hath He clothed Himself. The Lord hath clothed Himself with power and hath girded Himself. For He hath established the world, which shall not be moved. Thy throne is prepared of old; thou art from everlasting. The rivers have risen, O Lord; the rivers have raised their voices. The rivers lift up their waves, of the voice of many waters. Wondrous are the billows of the sea. Wondrous is the Lord on high. Thy testimonies are exceeding faithful; holiness belongeth to thy house, O Lord, unto length of days.
Deacon: Let us pray to the Lord. Cover, Master.
The priest, having censed the second veil, covers the holy chalice, saying:
Thy virtue hath covered the heavens, O Christ, and the earth is full of thy praise.
Deacon: Let us pray to the Lord. Cover, Master.
Then the priest, having censed the veil, that is, the aer, and having covered both, says:
Shelter us under the shelter of thy wings, drive away from us every enemy and adversary, give peace to our life, O Lord, have mercy on us and on thy world and save our souls, for thou art good and the Lover of man.

The chalice and paten are covered with the small and then the large aers, in token that Christ is clothed with glory, that His glory covers the whole world, and that He also covers us with His grace. There is also the practical need of keeping things off of the gifts. And the very beautiful imagery of veiling—that which is holy is not seen except by those who are found worthy, and at the appropriate time. So the Gifts remain veiled until the time when they are called for, and then the Mystery is revealed to all.

Then the priest takes the censer and censes the offerings, saying thrice:
Blessed art thou, our God, who herein art well-pleased. Glory to thee,
The deacon says each time:
Always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
And both make three devout reverences. Then the deacon says:
For the offering of the honorable gifts, let us pray to the Lord.
The priest then, taking the censer, says the Prayer of Offering:
O God, our God, who didst send forth the heavenly Bread, the food of the whole world, our Lord and God Jesus Christ, Savior, Redeemer, and Benefactor, blessing and sanctifying us, do thou thyself bless this offering and receive it upon thy most heavenly altar. Remember, as thou art good and the Lover of man, those who brought it and those for whom it was brought, and keep us uncondemned in the celebration of thy Divine Mysteries.
For sanctified and glorified is thine all-honorable and magnificent name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

The final prayers are offered, asking the Lord to bless the Gifts, to accept them in the memory of those who offered them (bakers, parish) and of those on whose behalf they were offered (bakers, parish, whole world), and that He may make the priest worthy to offer the Sacrifice.

Then the dismissal is given, and it’s time to begin the Liturgy.

And after this, he gives the dismissal, saying:
Glory to thee, O Christ God, our Hope, glory to thee.
Glory … Now and … Lord, have mercy. thrice Bless.
The priest gives the dismissal:
If it is Sunday: May He who rose from the dead, otherwise, begin:
Christ our true God, through the intercessions of his all-immaculate Mother, of our Father among the Saints, John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (or of Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappodocia), and of all the Saints, have mercy on us and save us, for He is good and the Lover of man.
Deacon: Amen.