on the meaning of prothesis

Photo taken at an old abandoned monastery in Albania

Way back at the peak of ancient Athenian glory, in about the mid fifth century BCE, there was a tradition of public burials for soldiers who had died in service to their city-state. Greeks at the time had funeral pyres (we see this even as far back as Homer, and who knows how much farther back it went). So, the public ceremony of the burial opened with a laying out of the ashes and bones of the dead soldiers.

This process was called prothesis.

Now, if you are Orthodox, this might give you a bit of a pause. Wait, you might think, isn’t that the Greek word for the Table of Preparation, on which the priest prepares the offerings of bread and wine to be ready for the Liturgy?

And indeed, you would be correct.

Just as the ancient Athenians would lay out the ashes and bones of the dead soldiers, the priest lays out the Lamb, Who comes to be slaughtered and offered as food for the faithful (as the Cherubic Hymn of Holy Saturday says), surrounded by His Mother, and his faithful servants, the martyrs, confessors, bishops, ascetics, unmercenaries, holy virgins, and so forth (see here if you want the whole service).

It always utterly fascinates me when I learn the origins of the words of Orthodoxy with which I am so familiar. I hope this is as awe-inspiring for you as it is for me!

2 thoughts on “on the meaning of prothesis

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