The Proskomedia (from the Greek προσκομιδή, “offering”), sometimes referred to as prothesis (from the Greek πρόϑεσις, “setting forth”) or proskomide, is the Office of Oblation celebrated by the priest prior to the Divine Liturgy during which the bread and wine are prepared for the Eucharist.
The Proskomedia is a prerequisite for the Divine Liturgy. The priest conducts the Office of Oblation behind the Iconostasis at the Table of oblation or Table of Preparation (also Prothesis, or sometimes Proskomide) that is located to the left of the Altar Table. Proskomedia, when translated to English, means “preparation.”
The Prothesis (Table of Oblation) represents the cave of Bethlehem where our Lord and Savior was born. Originally, the Prothesis was located in the same room as the altar table, being simply a smaller table placed against the eastern wall to the north of the altar table.
During the reign of the Emperor Justin II, the Prothesis came to occupy its own separate chamber to the north of the altar, in a separate apse, and joined to the altar by a door way.
Another apse was added on the south side for the Diaconicon. From this time on many large Byzantine Parishes were built with three apses on the eastern end of the church building. However, most smaller churches continued to be built having only one apse containing the altar, the Prothesis and the Diaconicon.
The Chalice with the Diskos and Star
The bread and wine are prepared for the liturgy on the Prothesis. The chalice and a round plate on a stand called the diskos or paten that holds the bread are kept on this table.
These vessels are normally decorated with iconographic engravings, Christian symbols, and the sign of the cross. The top of each loaf is impressed with a seal bearing the sign of the cross.
The Greeks usually use one large loaf for the Liturgy of Preparation, with a large round seal on it inscribed not only with the square seal (from which the Lamb will be taken), but also markings indicating where the portions for the Theotokos, the Ranks, the Living and Dead will be removed.
Those churches which follow Slavic usage will typically use five small loaves, recalling the five loaves from which Christ fed the multitude (John 6:5-14). Normally all will be stamped with a small square seal, though special seals for the Theotokos are sometimes used.
Also on this table is a special liturgical knife, symbolically called the spear, that is used for cutting the eucharistic bread (prosphora) and a liturgical spoon for administering holy communion to the people.
There are also special covers for the chalice and diskos and a cruciform piece of metal called the asterisk or star that holds the cover over the eucharistic bread on the diskos. A sponge and cloths for drying the chalice after the liturgy are also usually kept here.
The Prothesis is decorated in a manner similar to that of the altar table. Above the Prothesis may be found various icons, often one of Christ praying in Gethsemene: “Let this cup pass…”
The incensation of the congregation and the iconostasis. “They will teach your people to obey your Law; They will offer sacrifices on your altar.”
The Little Entrance is the procession of the clergy to the altar led by the Book of the Gospels. It sometimes called the “Small” or “First” Entrance.
If the priest is serving the Divine Liturgy alone, without a bishop, the Little Entrance is made by the clergy circling the altar table and then to the middle of the church with the Gospel Book. Then he enters the altar through the royal doors of the iconostasis accompanied by the hymn of Entrance.
If the bishop is celebrating, the Gospel Book is brought out to him in the center of the church, in the midst of the people, where he has been standing from the beginning of the liturgy. This is led by the deacon (who holds the Gospel Book in the procession), and is followed by priests in order of rank.
In the Little Entrance, the movement of the entire Church, through its Head Jesus Christ in the person of the celebrant (and in the Gospel Book the celebrant is holding), to the altar, which symbolizes the Kingdom of God, can be seen.
But dwelling on this “historical-representational symbolism” can lead to a separation of the clergy and the laity and a resulting misinterpretation of the two groups from full participants in the common action to performers and audience.
Originally, the Little Entrance marked the beginning of the service, but it is now preceded by various Litanies and Psalms. It was a way the bring the Gospel Book from where it was kept to the service.
The Apostolos is the liturgical book containing the various Apostolic Readings as are appointed by the lectionary (just like the daily readings in the Roman Missal).
The letters from Apostles to Christians in the New Testament are often referred to as Epistles, such as 1 Corinthians and the book of Romans. Also in this book, are the Prokeimenon and Alleluia Verses for each reading.
Another form of the book is the complete Acts and Epistles with an index of the readings, and with the proper introduction, such as “Brethren…” or “In those days…”.
In the context of the Divine Liturgy or other liturgical service, the epistles refer more specifically to a particular passage from a New Testament epistle, or from the Acts of the Apostles, that is scheduled to be read on a certain day or at a certain occasion. The liturgical book itself often has the readings arranged in three parts according to the Byzantine liturgical year: the Pascha season, the weeks after Pentecost, and the season of pre-Lenten, Great Lent, and Holy Week.
The Great Entrance is one of the two processions in the liturgical life of the Church. Like the Little Entrance, the Great Entrance generally originated in times when functions now concentrated in the sanctuary, such as the proskomedia and the storage of liturgical vessels, were segregated into separate architectural elements and the procession was needed to bring these objects into the church.
The Great Entrance occurs at a later point during the Divine Liturgy when the bread and wine to be offered are carried from the Table of oblation, located at the north side of the sanctuary (sometimes occupying its own apse), out the North Door and back through the Holy Doors to be placed on the altar.
This entrance interrupts the Cherubic Hymn and is accompanied by a series of intercessions formulated according to the customs of the jurisdiction.
The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, celebrated on Wednesdays and Fridays during Great Lent, and is a Vespers service combined with the distribution of Holy Communion that had been consecrated the previous Sunday.
The Great Entrance is performed not with bread prepared for the offering but with bread that has already been consecrated, and in complete silence and subdued reverence.
In the Epiclesis (or epiklesis), God’s Holy Spirit is called on to come down “upon us and upon these gifts” (the bread and wine), so that they may become “truly the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” . A distinction is usually made between the invocation over the people (called a ‘communion’ epiclesis) and the one over the Gifts of bread and wine (called a ‘consecratory’ epiclesis). This is the main supplication in the Eucharistic Prayer.
The Divine Liturgy:
The Catholic Church believes, that the Holy Spirit is always “everywhere present and fills all things.” The invocation of the Holy Spirit at the Divine Liturgy is the solemn affirmation that everything in life which is positive and good is accomplished by the Spirit of God.
During the Epiclesis, the people join their hearts to the words and actions of the priest as he petitions God to make these gifts holy. The bread and wine offered in remembrance of Christ, are the gifts to be changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.
The form of the epikleses vary from anaphora to anaphora. The consecratory epiclesis of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom is as follows:
Again we offer unto Thee this reasonable and bloodless worship, and we ask Thee, and pray Thee, and supplicate Thee: Send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here offered.
And make this bread the precious Body of Thy Christ. (Amen)
And that which is in this cup, the precious Blood of Thy Christ. (Amen)
Making the change by the Holy Spirit. (Amen, Amen, Amen )
That these gifts may be to those who partake for the purification of soul, for remission of sins, for the communion of the Holy Spirit, for the fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven; for boldness towards Thee, and not for judgment or condemnation.