Handbook of Liturgical Practice of the Russian Church Abroad
The arrangement of the Lamb, of the portion for the Theotokos and the nine ranks, and the other particles of commemoration upon the diskos is a matter normally addressed in the process of the liturgical formation of a new Priest, whether in the seminary or in the parish setting directly by his senior clergyman. However, since some have not received adequate instruction in this regard, or have made modifications to their practices based on observations from liturgical books from various sources, which at times illustrate customs not entirely in line with our traditions, we include here a summary of the main points of this important dimension of the liturgical offering.
The first thing to be borne always in mind is that the arrangement of the offered gifts upon the diskos is an icon of creation. In serving the Proskomedia and thus arranging the prepared offerings there, each Priest becomes an iconographer, fashioning an icon not from paint and wood but metal and bread.
There the cosmos is presented, assembled around its Creator and Saviour, gathered in the cave of incarnation and resurrection, adorned with the hosts of living and departed gathered with their King, shown their way by a star — and this icon then becomes an integral part of the whole Liturgy, with the Lamb at its centre consecrated to become not only an icon of Christ, but the very Flesh and true Blood of Christ Himself. For such reasons, the arrangement of the Lamb and various particles upon the diskos should be beautiful, as we strive to make all icons beautiful; and should be precise, as all our icons are precisely crafted. This means that the Proskomedia must be served carefully, precisely, and that the portions of the prosphopra that are lain upon the diskos must be done so in a manner that is tidy, attentive and correct. A certain carelessness is regrettably sometimes observed, by which the various particles and ranks are placed upon the diskos without due care — and what is the result of this? Not a beautiful icon of creation but a vision of one’s own inattentiveness (with portions for the various ranks removed without precision, placed in disarray in what only vaguely approximate their correct location on the diskos, etc.), and this is not what we strive to attain in our liturgical custom.
An example of a well-prepared diskos: beautifully arrayed and precisely arranged.
This being said, the following are the most common errors observed, which any making them should strive to correct with due diligence:
- Incorrect placement of the Lamb: As seen in the photograph on this page, the correct placement of the Lamb is at the centre of the diskos. In general one should keep the Lamb as close to the physical centre of the diskos as possible, as the iconographic imagery is of Christ as the centre of creation. It may be moved slightly towards the top (east) of the centre itself (as seen in the sketched illustration, above) if either the diskos is too small to properly accommodate the necessary particles beneath it with the Lamb in the actual centre (e.g. when preparing an especially large Lamb for a concelebration of a great many clergy); but the observed habit of placing the Lamb very much towards the top (east edge) of the diskos is incorrect, and distorts the liturgical imagery of the finished Proskomedia.
- Incorrect size of the portion for the Theotokos: The portion removed from the second prosphora, dedicated to the Theotokos and placed to the north side of the Lamb, should be approximately two-thirds the width of the Lamb — that is to say, substantially larger than the portions removed from the third prosphora, for the nine ranks placed at the south side (this is accurately conveyed in the photograph above, though the line-drawn illustration at the top of this page does not properly convey this). It is regularly observed that the portion for the Mother of God is made of the same size as that of the ranks, but in honour of her who is the chief of all our saints, her portion is to be larger.
- Incorrect placement and size of the chief portions for the living and the departed: Following the removal of the portions for the nine ranks, placed to the south side of the Lamb, portions are then removed from the fourth and fifth prosphoras for the chief commemorations of the living and departed. These are to be the same size as the portions removed for the nine ranks (i.e. smaller than that for the Theotokos, but substantially larger than the small particles that will in due course be removed from various prosphora with the commemoration lists). These are placed immediately beneath the Lamb: two such portions are removed from the fourth prosphora and placed first, recalling that the living are subject both to the Law of God and to the circumstances of this earthly life; while a single portion is then removed from the fifth prosphora and placed beneath the two for the living, recalling that the faithful departed are subject solely to the eternal Law of God Himself. Then, after the conclusion of the Proskomedia, additional particles for the living and the departed are removed from the commemoration prosphora as per usual, and these are in due course placed in the same region of the diskos as the main portions for the living and departed in as tidy and neat a manner as possible. (Note: Some Priests will remove additional larger portions for the living and the dead, after the initial two and one have been concluded, remembering their spiritual fathers, ordaining bishops, etc. — this results in more of the larger portions beneath the Lamb, as seen in the photographs; this is a longstanding and entirely acceptable custom.)
Additionally, certain practices have been observed which do not relate to the placement of the portions upon the diskos, but rather to the preparation of the portions themselves, which are also incorrect and detrimental to the overal liturgical iconography of the Proskomedia as a whole:
- Placing of portions upside-down upon the diskos: The triangular portions removed for the Theotokos and the various ranks are not to be place upside-down upon the diskos, as has sometimes been observed. They are to be cut from their respective prosphora in such a manner that they lay upon the diskos with their seal-side upwards and angled towards the Priest (see photographs, above).
- Use of a dull (not adequately sharpened) spear, resulting in poorly-formed portions: All the incisions made during the Proskomedia are meant to be clean, precise and well formed, resulting in straight lines cut through the loaves and clear shapes resulting from the cuts. If a spear that is too dull is used, such cuts become impossible, and what results instead are jagged, haphazard-looking incisions in the prosphora, yielding unclear shapes. Spears should be kept knife-edge sharp at all times, and if a spear has become too dull to make clean and precise cuts, it must either be sharpened or replaced with a new, sharper spear as soon as possible.
- Use of poorly-made prosphora: In some places, use of poorly-made prosphora in the Proskomedia likewise results in messy-looking results, since the bread is not of an adequate quality to produced well-defined, clean lines when cut by the spear — either being misshapen, too crumbly, containing too many air bubbles, etc. It is essential that properly-prepared prosphora be employed at all times. The Diocese will provide instruction to any Priests or laypersons requesting instruction on rightly preparing prosphora, or in the cases where the Bishop, visiting the parish, may observe that the prosphera is not adequate for the creation of rightly beautiful Proskomedia and needs to be improved.
- Improper lifting of the Lamb: There is a separate issue arising from the incorrect preparation and ‘lifting’ of the Lamb from the first prosphora, which is the subject of a separate entry in this Handbook.