Now we are prepared to look at the general shape of the Divine Liturgy. There are three major parts.
1. The Proskomidia
The first of the three parts of the Divine Liturgy is called the Proskomidia, “prohs-koh-MEE-dee-ah,” from the Greek word for it: proskomidi. It is the provision and preparation of the eucharistic elements, the bread and the wine. In this preparation, from the five breads (prosphora, “offerings”) offered by a member or members of the congregation, the “Lamb” (the main element, which will become itself the Body of Christ at the Eucharist) along with the wine, are carefully arranged on the diskos (liturgical plate). (There is also a special stamp which allows all five loaves to be presented as one loaf.) Wine and a small amount of water are poured into the chalice (liturgical cup) in preparation for their being carried in a procession from the Prothesis, the Table of Preparation, to the Holy Table at the Great Entrance, later, at the beginning of the third major part of the Divine Liturgy which we call the liturgy of the faithful. The bread must have no other ingredients than what the Church prescribes: water, flour, salt, and yeast. No oil or other additive may be used, not even on the pans. It must be well-baked, after careful preparation. Yeasted bread is always used, since the bread rises and “lives.” We never use unleavened bread. The wine must be pure red grape wine (not blush, but dark) and sweet. The Preparation is completed by the priest in the altar, usually during the course of the Service of Matins. This is the only portion of the Divine Liturgy which may be served by the priest alone.
After the priest says some introductory prayers (he himself having already said earlier the pre-communion prayers as the Church provides for all the faithful), he enters the holy altar area and dons his vestments with the usual vesting prayers and then washes his hands. Once vested, the priest does nothing in his own name, but rather all “in the Name of the One Who sent him.” The vestments are indicative of the divine, changeless and life-bestowing grace of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, Who is “He that offereth and He that is offered.” Now the priest is ready to begin the Proskomidia. At the Prothesis Table, which is like the cave of Bethlehem, Christ will issue forth for us. Each of the 5 small loaves mentioned above provides one element of cut bread to be placed on the diskos. Each portion is cut out with very exacting detail, all accompanied by specific prayers and exclamations. From one loaf is cut the “Lamb” marked with the monogram of Christ, along with another Greek word (IC XC NIKA), all of which says “Jesus Christ overcomes.” The Lamb will become the Body of Christ for Holy Communion. The mingling of the wine and the water in the chalice shows that Our Lord on the Cross shed both blood and water to accomplish our salvation: “pierced with a spear, from His side flowed blood and water.” A second loaf yields a triangular portion symbolizing the Mother of God: “the queen stood at Thy right hand” (Psalm 44). Then from a third loaf are cut nine small particles symbolizing the ranks of angels and saints. The names of many great saints are read as these are cut and placed on the diskos. Finally, the fourth and fifth loaves yield particles for the Orthodox faithful living and dead, respectively. The priest keeps a book of commemorations in which he records the names of very many persons for whom he prays: his faithful parishioners, family members, other Orthodox Christians, and the names of those for whom prayer has been requested. Note that the particles for both the living and the dead are assembled together on the diskos. We are in communion with our beloved departed; the Church does not forget those who have died in the faith!
It is customary in the parishes for the faithful who bake prosphora to include a small slip of paper upon which they write the Christian names of those whom they wish to be commemorated. To provide this slip, make two columns divided by a center line. At the top of the right-hand column, draw a cross: +. Then, write the names of the living in the left column and the departed under the + in the right column. Place this paper on top of the prosphora offering as you give it to the deacon or priest. It is a great honor and a holy work to bake bread and provide wine for the Divine Liturgy. Now that the diskos is populated with the various particles, we see in a microcosm the whole Church of the living and the departed in one body compact, with Our Lord, “the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sin of the world,” in the very center. The Oblation is covered with veils and a large cloth over both, the aer, and it is censed with the prayer of blessing. This part of the Liturgy ends with a general censing; usually at about the time the choirs are singing the Praises, toward the end of Matins. The remnants of the loaves are gathered together and cut up into bite-sized pieces to be served after the dismissal of the Liturgy to those who were not prepared to receive Holy Communion; these are called antidoron, (pronounce: ahn-DEE-thoh-rohn”) which means “(a consolation) instead of the Holy Gifts.” The Church never likes to leave anyone empty-handed!