- 1. The Kairos: Receiving the blessing from the Elder
The little service of Kairos is of relatively recent date, the older manuscripts of the Divine Liturgy starting instead with the Proskomide. It is likely that the Kairos service was originally the bishop’s private blessing of the priest. The service involves kneeling toward the east (from whence we expect the Lord’s coming) and the veneration of the holy icons. When the Canon is read, the priest and the deacon, both being vested in an exorasson (a long black garment reaching from the shoulders to the ankles), come before the bishop’s throne and make one metania (a prostration or deep bow). Then, standing on the solea before the closed Royal Doors, they make three metanias and start the entrance prayers. In two of these prayers, the priest’s main request is for mercy from the Lord. When the priest says, “Open to us the door of your compassion, O blessed Theotokos,” the Royal Doors are opened. The deacon then says the appropriate troparion for each icon on the Iconostasis: the icon of Christ, the icon of the Mother of God and the icon of John the Forerunner. The deacon then says the troparion before the icon of the patron saint of the Church. As the priest approaches the appropriate icon on the Iconostasis, he makes three metanias and kisses it. After the veneration of the icons, the priest and deacon return to their places on the solea before the Royal Doors, and the priest asks the Lord to prepare him to fulfill the sacred, bloodless service without condemnation. After reciting the dismissal, the priest enters the sanctuary through the north door of the Iconostasis while the deacon enters through the south door. The priest then recites Psalm 5:7: “I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy, and in Your fear I will worship toward Your holy temple.” Then, standing before the Holy Table facing east, the priest says: “I worship the one Godhead in three Persons, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, to the ages of ages. Amen.” The priest then kisses the Gospel book and the Holy Table, while the deacon kisses only the southwest corner of the Holy Table.
- 2. The Vesting
Vestments indicate the profession, rank, and dignity of the wearer. During the first centuries of the Church, the clergy basically wore normal clothing, though it was the best clothing possible as befitting the sacred functions of the clergy. There is some interesting mid-second century evidence, though, that hints that specifically liturgical clothing may have been worn even during apostolic times. In a letter to bishop Victor of Rome, Polycrates, a bishop in Asia Minor, wrote that the apostle John was “a priest wearing the breastplate (Greek: petalon)." The development of the specific liturgical vestments we know today started in the fourth century and continued to evolve until the ninth and tenth centuries. From the tenth to the thirteenth centuries, certain minor additions and alterations were made, but Orthodox vestments had for the most part settled into their present form around the end of the first millennium. Orthodox vestments have a certain mystical significance, symbolically transforming the celebrant as he assumes them for liturgical use. Each of the individual vestments has its own significance.
- 3. The wash of the hands
The priest then prays that he may be judged worthy to celebrate the awesome eucharistic Mystery of Christ. Specifically, he asks that he may conduct the sacrifice with pure hands, with a pure heart, and with a pure tongue. The washing of hands is a symbolic gesture signifying the purity required of those who celebrate the Eucharist. Ablutions were a routine part of the Jewish tradition at the time of Christ; indeed, every pious person washed before praying. The early Church Fathers tell us that it was common for Christians to wash before private prayer. Also, when entering a church, Christians would wash their hands in large basins placed by the front doors. In the Non-Hierarchical Liturgy, priests do not wash their hands at the Great Entrance, as is the practice in the Hierarchical Liturgy. Instead, they wash their hands saying Psalm 26:6-12 before the Proskomide is begun. Therefore, before performing the Proskomedia, the normal practice is for the priest and the deacon to wash their hands, saying: “I will wash my hands in innocence and I will compass Your altar, O Lord, that I may hear the voice of Your praise and tell all Your wondrous works. O Lord, I have loved the beauty of Your house, and the place where Your glory dwells. Destroy not my soul with the ungodly, nor my life with the bloodthirsty, in whose hands are iniquities; their right hand is full of bribes. But as for me, in mine innocence have I walked; redeem me, O Lord, and have mercy on me. My foot has stood in uprightness; in the congregations will I bless You, O Lord."
- 4. The office of preparation
- 5. The Covering