Title: The Divine Service of Preparation
Subject: Preparation of the Priest
Age: 8+ years
Liturgical Time: Any
Direct Aim: This lesson aims to demonstrate and explain to students the process a priest completes prior to entering the altar, as he puts on his vestments, and prepares the Oblation.
When you arrive on Sunday for the Divine Liturgy, the Liturgy has already begun. Even before the service of Orthros, or Matins, the priest, fully vested, is in the altar praying the first part of the Liturgy called the Proskomide, or Prothesis. This is known in English as the Service of Preparation. The actions and prayers of the priest are not fully seen by the faithful because the service takes place behind the Iconostasis. However, the service itself holds great significance and meaning.
The deacon prompts the priest to begin the service by saying, "the time is right Father." The time referred to is kairos, the time in which God acts and not the chronos, time as we know it in our daily lives. This time is outside of chronological time; it is God's time, the Kingdom's time. The specially prepared oblations of bread and wine are dedicated, made ready, and set apart for a holy and divine purpose, the Holy Eucharist or Mystical Supper of the Lord.
For clarity of study, the Liturgy of Preparation is divided into three parts.
Session 1: The Priest Prepares to Enter the Altar – The Entrance
Session 2: The Priest Prepares by Vesting – The Vesting
Session 3: The Priest Prepares the Oblation – The Oblation
1. The Entrance
During the first session, we will learn how the priest readies himself to enter into the Presence of God on behalf of himself and on behalf of the people. First, we will observe what he does to prepare himself personally, prior to coming to the Church for the Divine Liturgy. Second, we will discuss what steps he takes and what prayers he prays before entering the Altar to lead the Church to meet Christ in the Holy Mysteries, or the Holy Sacraments.
2. The Vesting
In session 2 we shall become more familiar with the special garments that clergy wear. There are five main vestments worn by our priests. Preparing to wear each of the vestments, the Priest blesses them with the sign of the cross and kisses them. As we study each garment we will learn of their symbolism and spiritual significance by listening to the prayers prayed during the Vesting.
3. The Oblation
The final session will note how respectfully and lovingly the priest approaches the most awesome and Holy Oblation Service. We will learn how he goes about receiving and preparing the bread and the wine at the Oblation Table. We will observe how he divides the bread (Prosphora; in English Offering Bread) into the Church militant (those Christians still on earth) and the Church triumphant (those Christians who live in the presence of God), and listen to the special prayers he utters through each step.
Discussion Questions that may be used for each of the next 3 sessions:
1. What does the personal Priestly Preparation teach us about God? About ourselves?
2. What does the Priestly Vesting teach us about God? About ourselves?
3. What special events are lovingly remembered during the Priestly Preparation of the Bread & Wine?
4. Design your own personal Rule of Prayer.
5. Set a time for confession.
6. List what good deeds you could do for Christ. Choose one to do during each week of lent.
Lesson 1: The Entrance
The Personal Preparation of the Priest
The following Daily Ascetic Practices prepare the priest to fulfill his priestly
duties, so that he may faithfully serve in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.
1. Personal Prayer: A daily prayer rule
2. Fasting: Following the fasting calendar of the Church
3. Repentance: Practicing repentance in confession
4. Loving Acts and Deeds of Goodness: Practicing philanthropic deeds of love
The Priest Prepares to Enter the Altar and Serve
Our priest shows us by example how we should enter into the Presence of our Holy God. Standing before the Holy Doors & Icons, he prepares to enter the Sanctuary by bowing and kissing each icon as he recites special prayers, said in love and respect of Christ, His Mother, St. John the Baptist and the Patron Saint of the Church. Let the faithful take this example of how to enter the presence of our Lord.
The Priest before the Royal Doors prays: "Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us, for devoid of all defense, we sinners offer unto thee as Master this prayer, have mercy on us. Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit….. Lord, have mercy on us, for in thee have we hoped: be not very angry with us, neither remember our transgressions, but look down now upon us, since thou art tender-hearted and deliver us from our enemies, for thou art our God, and we are thy people, we are all the works of thy hands, and we call upon thy name. Both now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen. Open unto us the door of thy tenderheartedness, O Blessed Theotokos; in that we have hoped in thee, may we not perish, but through thee be delivered from adversities, for thou art the salvation of the generation of Christians."
The Priest then approaches the icon of Christ and after making a prostration he kisses it, saying: "Thine immaculate icon do we worship, O Good One, asking pardon of our offenses, O Christ God; thou was pleased of thy good will to ascend the Cross in the flesh, to deliver those whom thou hadst fashioned from bondage to the enemy. Wherefore, in thanksgiving, we cry out to thee, with joy hast thou filled all things, O our Savior, having come to save the world."
The Priest then makes a prostration and kisses the icon of the Theotokos saying: "A fountain of tenderness art thou, O Theotokos; make us worthy of compassion. Look upon the people who have sinned; show thy power as ever, for hoping in thee, we cry out to thee, Hail, as once did Gabriel, Chief Captain of the Bodiless Ones." Prayers to St. John the Baptist and the Patron Saint are also read at this time.
The Priest bowing his head says: "Stretch forth thy hand, O Lord, from thy holy dwelling-place on high, and strengthen me for this, thine appointed service, that standing uncondemned before thy fearful Altar, I may fulfill the sacred, bloodless rite. For thine is the power and the glory unto ages of ages. Amen."
Then the Priest bows to the faithful & prays: "I will enter into thine house; I will worship toward thy holy temple in thy fear. Lord, guide me in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; direct my way before thee. For there is no truth in their mouth, and their heart is vanity. An open grave is their throat; with their tongues they have used deceit. Judge them, O God. Let them fall through their own counsels; according to the multitude of their impiety cast them out, for they have provoked thee, O Lord. And let all those who hope in thee be glad; they shall rejoice forever, and thou shalt abide in them. And those who love thy name shall boast of thee, for thou shalt bless the righteous man, O Lord, as with the armor of good thou has crowned us."
Lesson 2: The Vesting
The Sticharion, or Heton, is the inner garment that reaches to the floor. It signifies the purity of the heart that should be inseparable from the Priestly Office. The Sticharion also symbolizes the bright baptismal garment we each wore on the day of our baptism. We are to be clothed in the garment of our new life in Christ from the day of our Baptism until the day we die. When putting on this garment, the Priest recites this prayer:
"My soul shall exalt in the Lord, for He has endued me with the robe of salvation, and with the garment of joy has He clothed me. He has set a crown on my head like a bridegroom, and like a bride He has adorned me with comeliness." (Isaiah 61:10)
The Epitrachelion (stole) signifies the outpouring of Grace from above on the Priest. It also symbolizes the Cross carried by our Lord upon His shoulders. Another symbolic meaning given to that of the stole is that of a horse's harness. Our priest harnesses himself to God's work, and to each of us, and like a beast of burden he plows God's fields hoping to reap a heavenly harvest. No priest may perform any mystery of the church without wearing this garment. It is the only "required" vestment. When putting on the Epitrachelion the Priest prays:
"Blessed is God, Who pours His grace on His Priests, like the balm on the head that ran down the beard, even Aaron's beard, down to the shirts of his garment." (Psalm 133:2)
The Zoni is worn over the Sticharion and Epitrachelion. This girding shows a Priest's readiness for service and the strength he receives from the Holy Spirit to succeed in his mission. Placing on the belt, the Priest says:
"Blessed is God Who girds me with strength, and makes my way perfect." (Psalm 133:2)
The Epimanikia symbolizes the creativeness and omnipotence of God. When wearing the first cuff, placed on the Priest's right wrist, the Priest prays:
"Thy right hand, O Lord, is glorified in strength. Thy right hand, O Lord, has shattered the enemy, and through the multitude of Thy glory Thou hast crushed Thine adversaries." (Exodus 15:6-7)
And when placing the second cuff, worn on the Priest's left hand, the Priest says:
"Thy hands have made me, molded me; giving me understanding, and I will learn Thy commandments." (Psalm 119:73)
The Phelonion signifies the crimson Robe which our Lord Jesus wore. Placing it over his head, the Priest prays:
"Let Thy Priests be clothed with righteousness; and let Thy saints shout for joy, always, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen." (Psalm 132:9)
After fully vesting, the Priest then washes his hands to signify cleanliness, and recites this prayer:
"I will wash my hands among the innocent, and so will I go round Thine Altar, O Lord" (Psalm 26:6).
Lesson 3: The Oblation
"How many are there that say: how much I wish to see Christ's fair form, His figure, His clothes, His very shoes. Why? Here, you see Him: you touch Him; you consume Him; and while you are longing to see His clothes, He gives you Himself, not to look at only, but to touch and to eat and to receive within you…For it was not enough for Him to become man. Nor yet to be buffeted and slain. He ever mingles Himself with us, and makes us His Body, not by faith alone, but in very truth and reality…That which the Angels behold with trembling and dare not gaze on with fear because of the radiance that beams from Him, with that we are fed." St. John Chrysostom
The Preparation of the Oblation
The Proskomide sets forth, in short, the Divine Plan of Redemption from Christ's nativity to His Ascension.
We often hear the Oblation called "The Holy Gifts." The word "Proskomide" means "offering" wherein the faithful bring offerings of bread and wine to be used in the Eucharist. To the present day, many of the faithful still prepare and bring the Prosphora as a gift to Christ, that He may change it into his Body and Blood. Therefore, each of us must come to the Eucharist with our own offering, the offering of ourselves, to be given as a living sacrifice. As Romans 12:1 tells us, "I urge you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God that you offer yourselves, a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."
The loaves of bread are round in shape, symbolic of the teaching of I Corinthians 10:17, "For we being many are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread." The top is stamped with a seal bearing the sign of the cross and the initials IC XC NI KA, meaning "Jesus Christ Conquers All." The priest, with the liturgical knife (holy spear) in his right hand, signs the Prosfora three times, and then cuts out the section that bears the stamp, IC XC NI KA. This cube is called the Lamb. While the Priest is cutting out the Lamb from the bread, he recites Isaiah 53:7-8, "As a sheep He was led to the slaughter. And as a blameless lamb before his shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth. In His humility His judgment was taken away. And who shall declare His generation? And His life was taken away from the earth." The priest then cuts into the bottom of the Lamb in the sign of a cross, so it can be easily broken into four pieces at the time of Holy Communion in the liturgy. The Priest also symbolically pierces the side of the Lamb with the spear as he recites John 19:34,35, "One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and straightway there came forth blood and water and he that saw it bear witness, and his witness is true."
The Wine and Water
When Jesus had the spear thrust into him, the priest says "…there came forth blood & water…" At this point the wine, made of grapes and red in color reminiscent of blood, is poured, with a little water into the holy chalice.
Next, the various particles are placed on the Diskos representing The Mother of God, the Angels, the Saints, the Living, and the Dead. Commemorative prayers are then said for these. In addition, the faithful have an opportunity to present names of the living and the dead to be named during these commemorations.