“I am always slightly dumb-founded when members of the community try to call on the telephone before Liturgy on Sunday mornings, and can only come to the conclusion that they have no idea what happens before the beginning of the Hours.
As parish priest, my day in church often begins three hours before the last of the community arrive – that is those who neglect the Hours and only arrive just in time for the beginning of Liturgy.
The lamps and candles need to be lit, which takes time in a building the size of the University Church and the laying of the Zhertvenik / preparation-table needs completing before the entrance prayers and vesting prayers, for the vestments are not simply put on like clothes.
The entrance prayers that you see our bishop and the clergy recite before Liturgy mirror those said by the clergy before every Liturgy.
After this, special prayers are said when the clergy vest, then during the washing of hands. It is only then that the clergy begin to celebrate the rite of preparation of the Holy Gifts: the proskomedia.
During this rite, the priest takes portions from five prosphora (loaves of offering).
The first portion, from the first loaf, is the Lamb, which will be consecrated, and by the operation of the Holy Spirit will become the Body of Christ.
The second portion, placed to the right of the Lamb (our left), commemorates the Theotokos. ‘The Queen didst stand at Thy right hand…’
From the third loaf, the priest removes particles to remember the ranks of saints: the Forerunner, the prophets, the apostles, holy hierarchs, martyrs, monastics, unmercenary healers, the ancestors of Christ, Joachim and Anna, together with the patrons of the temple and the saints particularly significant to our local Church (Saints Cyril and Methodius, Saints Vladimir and Olga etc), and finally the saint whose Liturgy is being celebrated. These are placed to the left of the Lamb (our right).
From the fourth loaf, the priest takes two triangular potions to commemorate the hierarchy and clergy, and those in authority, and places them in front of the Lamb. He then commemorates the living whose names are offered in commemoration lists and books. Particles are removed and offered during these intercessions and placed on the diskos, next to the triangular portions.
From the fifth loaf the priest takes a triangular portion in remembrance departed hierarchs of the Church, departed Orthodox rulers and the founders of the temple. This is placed beneath the particles for the living. Turning to the commemoration lists and books, the departed are remembered by name, and particles in their memory are placed on the diskos
After communion, all of these particles representing both the living and departed are placed into the chalice with the prayer: ‘Wash away, by Thy precious Blood, O Lord, the sins of those here commemorated, through the prayers of all Thy saints.’
So, during this rite of preparation, an icon of the Church is created on the diskos, from five loaves of bread: Christ the Lamb, flanked by His Most-Holy Mother on one side and the choir of the saints on the other, with the living and departed before Him. You and I are part of this icon. Those whom you remember in your commemoration lists and pomianiky are part of this icon; those alive now, and generations of the departed reaching back through the centuries.
The next time you consider telephoning the priest before Liturgy, put the telephone away! The priest is already busy, preparing the Offering: praying for the Church and the world, and remembering the faithful – living and departed – name by name.
You have a part in this: to remember your Orthodox loved ones, and brothers and sisters in Faith, living and departed. By having them commemorated in the proskomedia, they become part of this icon of the Church as they are remembered in prayer in the preparation of the Holy Gifts.
The particles taken in memory of them surround Christ’s Holy Body, as He truly becomes present among us and calls us to Himself, to share in His Mystical Supper.”