Originally, the Proskomidija was a part of the Liturgy. In the Liturgy of Clement, for example, the prayers of Preparation took place during the Divine Liturgy after the dismissal of the Catechumens. The, Proskomidija is now performed before the Divine Liturgy. The change to the current day practice of preparing the Proskomidija before the Divine Liturgy happened in the 6th century.
The Proskomidija– the service of preparing the holy gifts– is performed in an alcove next to the altar. In that alcove is the table of Preparation on which the sacred utensils are found: Paten (disc), Cup (Chalice), spoon, spear, asterisk, two small covers, and one large overall cover called an Aer. Also on the table are the round loaf of bread and the wine and water to be mixed in the Chalice for communion. All this can be seen in the video of the Proskomidija at http://vimeo.com/channels/ravanica.
In our Divine Liturgy Prayer Book you will find the following instruction to be followed before the Proskomidija starts:” The priest who desires to perform the Divine Mysteries must first be at peace with all people, having nothing against anyone, and insofar as is within his power, guard his heart from evil thoughts, practice abstinence the preceding evening and remain in a proper spirit until the time of Divine Service. When the time comes, enters the church and together with the deacon, facing the east, bows before the holy Doors three times.”
The priest then says a series of prayers, and kisses the icons of Christ and the Theotokos. Having entered the sanctuary, he bows three times before the holy Altar, kisses the Holy Gospel, the Altar, and the Cross. Then he takes his robe in his hands and bows three times toward the east, saying silently: “O God, cleanse me, a sinner, and have mercy on me” (three times). He asks for blessings while putting on his vestments.
The Priest wearing his vestments then washes his hands and begins to read the prayers of Preparation. You can find the words of these prayers in the first part of our Divine Liturgy Prayer Book.
The priest takes the prosphora—the bread prepared for the Divine Liturgy–in his left hand and the spear in his right, and makes the sign of the cross over the seal three times, saying:” In remembrance of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.” The Bread is impressed in the center with the stamp “IC-XC, NI-KA”, on its left has nine small elevations for the Saints, and on its right a portion for the Virgin Mary. All these portions (Serbian: čestice) are cut with the spear and placed on the Paten with prayers and commemoration. Portions also are added in the name of the faithful, both the departed and the living. The exact order of how the portions are placed on Paten can be seen on page 16 in our Divine Liturgy Prayer Book.
The deacon, holding the wine and water, says to the priest: “Bless the holy union, Master.” After the priest’s blessing, the priest pours the blessed wine and water into the holy Chalice.
Both the Paten and Chalice are covered with the two small covers and over all is placed the Aer. The Priest censes (Serbian: kaditi) the gifts and reads the prayer of Preparation also, censing the Altar. The priest concludes the Proskomidija with the prayer:” Glory to Thee, O Christ our God and our hope, glory to Thee.”
According to Stanley Harakas, every part of the Divine Liturgy symbolizes a part of Christ’s life; the Proskomidija represents the birth of Christ, hidden away from general notice.
A video recorded Proskomidija officiated by Father Živan can be seen at: http://vimeo.com/channels/ravanica. I hope you will view it. The Proskomidija is a part of the Divine Liturgy that few men, and no women, ever see.
We are interested in any questions that you have about the liturgy or orthodoxy and will be answering questions in the bulletin as we receive them.