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"Proskomedia" is a Greek word meaning "offering." The first part of the Liturgy derives its name from the early Christian custom of the people offering the bread and wine, and all else that was needed for the Liturgy. Therefore the very bread which is used in it is termed "prosphora," another word meaning "offering." This bread or prosphora must be leavened, pure and made of wheat flour. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, for the celebration of the Mystery of Holy Communion, used leavened, not unleavened bread, as is clear from the Greek word used in the New Testament. The prosphora must be round and is formed into two parts, one above the other, as an image of the two natures of Jesus Christ, divine and human. On the flat surface of the upper part a seal of the Cross is impressed, and in the four sections are thus formed the initial Greek letters of the name of "Jesus Christ," IC XC, and the Greek word NIKA, which mean "Jesus Christ conquers."
The wine used in the Mystery must be red grape wine, as this color reminds one of the color of blood. The wine is mixed with water to remind us of the pierced side of the Saviour from which flowed blood and water on the Cross. Five prosphoras are used in the Proskomedia to recall the five loaves with which Christ miraculously fed the five thousand, an event which gave Jesus Christ the means to teach the people about spiritual nourishment, about the incorrupt, spiritual food which is bestowed in the Mystery of Holy Communion (John 6:22-58). For Communion only one prosphora is used (the Lamb), in accordance with the words of the Apostle: one loaf, and we many are one body; for all have partaken of only one loaf (I Cor. 10:17). Therefore this one prosphora must correspond in size to the number of communicants.
The Celebration of Proskomedia.
In order to prepare, according to the ecclesiastical Typikon, for the celebration of the Liturgy, the priest and deacon read the "entrance prayers" before the closed doors of the Royal Doors and then enter the Sanctuary and vest. Then going to the Altar of Oblation the priest blesses the beginning of Proskomedia, takes the first prosphora, the Lamb, and with the spear makes the sign of the Cross over it three times, saying the words, "In remembrance of our Lord and God and Saviour, Jesus Christ." These words mean that the Proskomedia is celebrated according to the commandments of Jesus Christ. The priest then cuts a cube out of the center of this prosphora with the spear and pronounces the words of the Prophet Isaiah, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a blameless lamb before his shearer is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth; in His lowliness His Judgement was taken away (Is. 53:7-8).
This cubical portion of the prosphora is called the Lamb (John 1:29) and is placed on the diskos. Then the priest cuts cruciformly the lower side of the Lamb while saying the words, "Sacrificed is the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world, for the life and salvation of the world." He then pierces the right side of the Lamb with the spear, saying the words of the Evangelist, One of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith there came out blood and water. And he that saw it bare witness, and his witness is true (John 19:34). In accordance with these words wine is poured into the chalice mixed with water. From the second prosphora the priest cuts out one portion in honor of the Mother of God and places it on the right side of the Lamb on the diskos. From the third prosphora, which is called "that of the nine ranks," are taken nine portions in honor of the saints, John the Baptist, the prophets, the apostles, the hierarchs, the martyrs, the monastic saints, the unmercenaries, the parents of God, Joachim and Anna, the saint who is celebrated that day, and finally the saint whose liturgy is being celebrated. These portions are placed on the left side the Lamb on the diskos in three rows of three. From the fourth prosphora portions are removed for the hierarchs, the priesthood and all the living, and are placed below the Lamb. From the fifth prosphora, portions are taken for those Orthodox Christians who have reposed, and these are placed just below those which were removed for the living. Finally, portions are removed from those prosphoras donated by the faithful as the names of the living and the dead are read simultaneously for the health and salvation and the repose of the servants of God. These are placed together with those portions taken from the fourth and fifth prosphoras. The Russian tradition is to use five separate prosphoras at the Proskomedia. Other traditions such as the Greek use one or two large ones from which the portions are taken.
At the end of the Proskomedia the priest blesses the censer and incense, and after censing the Star he places it on the diskos over the Lamb and the portions in order to preserve their arrangement. He covers the diskos and chalice with two small cruciform cloth covers, and over the two of them another larger veil called the "aer" is placed. Then he censes the Holy Gifts and prays that the Lord bless the offered gifts, remember those who have offered them and those for whom they are offered, and make the priest himself worthy for the solemn performance the Divine Mystery.
The sacred instruments used and actions performed in the Proskomedia have a symbolic meaning. The Diskos signifies the cave in Bethlehem and Golgotha; the Star, the star of Bethlehem and the Cross; the Covers and Veils, the swaddling clothes and the winding sheet at the tomb of the Saviour; the Chalice, that cup in which Jesus Christ sanctified the wine; the prepared Lamb, the judgment, passion and death of Jesus Christ; its piercing by the spear, the piercing of Christ's body by one of the soldiers. The arrangement of all the portions in a certain order on the diskos signifies the entire Kingdom of God whose members consist of the Mother of God, the angels, all the holy men who have been pleasing to God, all the faithful Orthodox Christians, living and dead, and in the center its head, the Lord Himself, our Saviour. The censing signifies the overshadowing by the Holy Spirit, whose Grace is shared in the Mystery of Holy Communion.
The Proskomedia is performed by the priest in a quiet voice at the Table of Oblation when the sanctuary is closed. During its celebration, the Third and Sixth (and sometimes the Ninth) Hours are read according to the Horologion.