Liturgical Handbook of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
How is the Lamb to be prepared and removed from the first prosphora during the Proskomedia?
Category: Proskomedia

In not a few places it has been observed that, when making the five incisions to the first prosfor during the Proskomedia, whereby the Lamb is removed, the four sides are in fact cut away entirely, then the Lamb lain on its side and the bottom cut away. While we would never wish to speak in strange terms of the ‘validity’ or ‘invalidity’ of such customs, we can certainly say that this is an area in which practices have crept in that minimise the connection of the Priest’s actions with the words of the prayers he is saying — words which are not about cutting away and dividing, but ‘piercing’ and ‘lifting up’. It therefore behoves those who have for whatever reason become accustomed to this practice to learn how to prepare the Lamb correctly, as is described below, in situations where it is possible, so that the full liturgical significance of the sacred act is maintained.

The most symbolically-precise manner is this: the four incisions on the sides are made down to the base of the prosfor but not through it, then the spear is held horizontally (flat) for the fifth incision, made beneath the Lamb; after this, the front side is bent forward so that the Lamb can be ‘lifted up from the earth’ (as is recited in the prayer at this moment). It is then placed on the diskos and inverted, so that the cross-wise incisions can be made, etc., and the remainder of the portions in due course removed from the other loaves.

One is left with the remnants of the first prosfor appearing much as in the photograph, below, which demonstrates how the prosfor has been incised but left intact, the Lamb lifted up from it. Traditionally, the remaining ‘sides’ of this first prosfor are used for the zapivka of the Priests and Deacons.

We note that the ability to maintain this beautiful practice of correctly lifting up the Lamb from the loaf depends on the prosfora being well made and stored, and the liturgical instruments being well maintained. If, for example, prosfora are too small, or too dense, or too hard, it is practically impossible to serve the Proskomedia in this way (indeed, if the prosfora are too dense, or the spear too dull, attempting to do so can risk the Priest inadvertently cutting himself). In such cases, the Priest must recognise the situation and has no option but to prepare the Lamb by cutting away the sides completely; but he should take this as a signal to assist the prosfora-makers on refining their skills in future, so that prosfora capable of being used properly are produced.

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