From the most ancient times of the Church, liturgical vestments have been present and vital to the celebration of all Church services, for they employ symbolism to express the deepest and loftiest meanings of the Faith. No opportunity was lost, in utilising the time that the faithful spent within churches, to continuously remind them and transport them towards contemplation of the supra-sensual and transcendental. Thus liturgical vestments were no exception in assisting this task of catechising/inducting the faithful into a deeper state of spiritual thought and expression, to inspire them within their own life. The vestments utilised by Orthodox Christian clergy are as such the:
EXO-RHASSON (OUTER CASSOCK)
The exo-rhasson is a long, loosely fitted, floor-length garment. The Outer Cassock is a non-liturgical robe worn by Orthodox clergy both as ordinary daily clothing (their out-of-doors and domestic distinct attire), and underneath their “liturgical robes” (vestments which are worn during church services). The outer cassock symbolizes the cessation (distancing) and burial (death) of a clergyman from this world and all worldly things, and his subsequent dedication to God and the Heavenly Kingdom. Over the outer cassock a bishop wears an engolpion and a cross, while a “stavrophore” priest wears only a cross. Wearing the outer-cassock is common to bishops, priests, deacons, monks and nuns (permission to wear a cassock is often given to seminarians, monastic novices, sub-deacons and readers in parishes).
The black cylindrical hat, worn by all ranks of clergy, as shown in the above picture, with the clergyman wearing his exo-rhasson. The EPANOKALIMAFON, is the veil which covers the Kalimafhion, and hangs from the back of the hat all the way down to the waist. It is only worn by monastic (celibate) clergy, and it is a symbol of self-denial from the worldly, and devotion to the divine.
A long, floor-length garment that is more closely fitted to the body than the exo-rhasson, and has long narrow sleeves (fitted like shirtsleeves). The Anderi is the other non-liturgical robe worn by all ranks of Orthodox clergy. It is worn under the outer cassock (exo-rhasson) both as ordinary daily clothing, and underneath “liturgical robes”. Like the exo-rhasson, the anderi symbolizes the death and burial of a clergyman from this world and all that entails, and his subsequent dedication to God and the Heavenly Kingdom. Wearing the under-cassock is common to bishops, priests, deacons, monks and nuns (permission to wear it is often given to seminarians, monastic novices, sub-deacons and readers in parishes).
Is a long liturgical robe that reaches down to the floor, and has long sleeves. It is worn by all ranks of clergy during church services over their anderi, and it symbolises the spiritual cleanliness which a clergyman must possess when he is offering the Eucharist or officiating at other services. During the Order of Preparation, the Priest takes his sticharion, blesses the cross on the back and says, “Blessed is our God, now and always and forever and ever. Amen. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, for He has clothed me in the garment of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels (Isaiah 61:10); now and always and forever and ever. Amen.” Nevertheless it is the main vestment worn by a deacon, and it is designed in the form of a cross with openings for the head and down the side of the sticharion which is bound together by buttons and elastics.
ORARION (DIACONAL STOLE)
Is a long narrow ornamented band (as shown in the picture of a deacon’s vestments), with three or seven crosses and has two banks of fringe at either end. In some cases, the orarion is embroidered with the words “Holy, Holy, Holy”, a custom dating back to Apostolic times. The deacon wears the orarion over his left shoulder with the front portion draped over his left forearm. He will often take this section in his right hand when leading litanies or drawing attention to a particular liturgical action. When preparing for Communion, the deacon will tie the orarion around his waist, bringing the ends up over his shoulders (forming an X-shaped cross in back) and then down in front, tucking them under the section around the waist. Its name derives from a Latin word which means “towel”, because originally it was used by deacons to wipe the lips of those receiving Holy Communion. Nevertheless is symbolises the wings of the angels, the servants of God, thus the responsibility of the deacon in becoming the servant of God.
Which literary means “around the neck”, is a liturgical vestment shaped like a band, worn around the neck over both shoulders as a sign of ordained ministry. It is stitched together at various intervals in front of the body, and reaches all the way down to the ankles. Across the bottom and again some six inches from the bottom it has two horizontal bands of fringe which stand for the souls of the living and dead entrusted to the clergyman. The epitrachelion symbolises the spiritual yoke of the priesthood and the grace of the Holy Spirit which flows abundantly upon officiating clergyman, yet it also signifies the double portion of grace bestowed upon a priest, for the celebration of the Mysteries. It is the one vestment (in the absence of any others) which is absolutely necessary for a priest or bishop to conduct any liturgical service.
The zoni is a narrow cloth belt that goes over the sticharion and epitrachelion, and helps a priest or bishop fasten these two vestments upon his body to facilitate his movements during liturgical services. Yet it also attests to a clergyman’s readiness for service, just as a man girds himself when he sets out on a journey, undertakes a task or sets out for battle. So also the priest girds himself when he sets about his sacred ministry, and he recites: “Blessed is God who girds me with strength, and has made my way blameless (Psalm 17(18):32); now and always and forever and ever. Amen”. It thus symbolises the strength given to a clergyman by the Holy Spirit, in order to perform the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
Epimanikia are made of stiff cloth and are worn over the wrists to cover up the ends of the sticharion sleeves, and are tied up with lace which hangs at both ends of each cuff. The excess lace is tied up and tucked into the cuff itself. All three ranks of clergy wear the cuffs, but since the deacon wears a more elaborate sticharion as an outer garment, he wears the epimanikia underneath the sleeves of his sticharion. Usually epimanikia are decorated with an embroidered cross or some other Christian symbol. They symbolise the creative power of God.
Literally “upon the knee”, the epigonation is a stiff, flat, diamond-shaped cloth, which is worn on the right-hand side of a priest or bishop, just hanging over the right knee. Within Byzantine tradition this was awarded to a priest who was elevated to the rank of a confessor or oikonomos (“steward”). In modern practice, it is worn by all bishops, archimandrites and priests who have received an offikion (honourary title) from the bishop. It represents a shield, originating from the thigh shield worn by soldiers during the days of the Apostolic Church. Yet it also symbolises a spiritual sword, which is the strength of the Word of God, the spiritual power, and the pastoral authority by which the bishops and clergy of the Church smite the enemies of Christianity, and everything which is impure and evil. In effect the epigonation denotes that a clergyman is a soldier of Christ who utilises the Word of God, to fight the wiles of the enemy. Originally though, the epigonation was a sort of towel that also was utilised for drying the hands after the celebrant washed his hands before or after handling the Holy Eucharist.
The phelonion is a large, sleeveless, outer cape-like vestment, somewhat akin to a poncho, and is worn over the sticharion. The front part reaches to just above the waist, in order to facilitate the movement of a priest’s hands during church services, while the back of the phelonion hangs as far down as the ankles. Originally within liturgical practice, bishops also wore the phelonion, just as the priests continue to do so, but their phelonion was distinguished by their design of multiple crucifixes joined together. However, later liturgical developments gave way for bishops to wearing the sakkos, with the exception of the celebration of the Divine Liturgy of St James (23 October). As a consequence, priests are the only clergy who wear the phelonion today. The phelonion symbolises the red tunic with which Pilate dressed our Lord before His Crucifixion. Thus indicating the torments and suffering that a priest will endure during his ministry in order to serve God’s faithful and bear witness to the world of the reality of the Cross as the means to pass into the grace of the Resurrection. The sleeveless nature of the phelonion, is explained by St Cosmas the Aetolian, as a reference to the fact that the priest has his hands bound close to himself, and not open, receptive or attached to worldly things, and thus can receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit unhindered.
The sakkos was originally worn by the Emperors of Byzantium as an imperial vestment, symbolising the tunic of disgrace worn by Christ during his trial and mockery. The garment itself is a tunic with wide sleeves, and a distinctive pattern of trim. It reaches below the knees and is fastened up along the sides with buttons or tied with ribbons. Within liturgical use, the use of the sakkos was a privilege bestowed by an Emperor upon individual patriarchs as a sign of his personal favour and thanksgiving for their service within the Church. In time, as Byzantium declined and civil authorities were in disarray, bishops assumed a role of governance in the absence of competent authorities, and with the Fall of Constantinople (1453 AD) in effect became “ethnarchs” (political-religious leaders of the people), and thus the wearing of the Sakkos became common place, since it expressed this dual role that circumstances had placed them in. Hence, replacing the embroidered cross-patterned phelonion, known as the “polystavrion”. The sakkos is usually made of a rich brocade fabric and may be intricately embroidered. There is normally a cross centered on the back, which the bishop kisses before it is placed on him. Buttons or loops are sewn on the back, by which the bishop’s omophorion (either great or small) may be attached. Traditionally, bells are attached to the sakkos, following the biblical directions for the vestments of the Jewish High Priest (Exodus 28:33-34; 39:25-26).
OMOPHORION (PALLIUM) – LONG & SHORT
The omophorion is a scarf-like vestment which symbolises a bishop’s spiritual and ecclesiastical authority, and is worn around the neck and shoulders. Originally there was one type of omophorion that was made of wool with two crucifixes upon it, but over time embroidered cloth has been utilised, and a small and longer omophorion has come into being. The long omophorion is worn by the bishop from the beginning of the Liturgy until the reading of the Gospel, while the short omophorion is worn after the Great Entrance till the end of the Liturgy. The omophorion is a token of the yoke of Christ, and symbolises the stray sheep carried by Christ on His shoulders as the Good Shepherd, and thus signifies the pastoral role and responsibility of a bishop as the icon of Christ. Therefore clergy and ecclesiastical institutions subject to a bishop’s authority are often said to be “under his omophorion.”
It hangs by a gold or silver chain over liturgical and non-liturgical vestments upon the chest. It symbolises the carrying of the Cross of Christ with sacrifice and self-denial. It is worn by bishops, archimandrites, protopresbyters, and priests who have received the permission of the bishop to wear it on certain occasions.
Is a highly decorated round or oval jewel with the image of Christ or the Theotokos or a saint on it, hanging by a gold or silver chain from the neck over the chest next to the cross. It is worn only by a bishop. It is a sign of the purity of the heart, and may be worn even when he is not officiating.
An elaborately bejewelled headdress worn only by a bishop. It symbolises the glory of the Lord and the highest ecclesiastical authority given to the bishop. The word itself is derived from the Greek μίτρα, meaning a ‘headband’ or ‘turban’. However some Orthodox liturgical experts point out, that this word also denotes in ancient Greek “womb” because the cloth used for headbands and turbans was the same material used for child-birth. The reason for the connection as they would cite, is that the mitre was to symbolically represent the womb of the Virgin Mary who gave birth to the true High Priest and the source of all priestly authority, Christ.
Yet Orthodox theologians would also add that this symbolism also highlighted the role of a bishop towards his diocesan congregation, which is that he serves as their spiritual father, but relates to and cares for them as a spiritual mother, reflecting St Paul’s assertion that in God’s eyes there is neither male nor female, but all are one in and under God. Historically speaking, the mitre has a very ancient heritage and can be traced back into Middle Eastern and Greek traditions, since head-coverings were a mark of position of certain religious and secular officials. In ancient Israel the Jewish High Priest (Kohen-Gadol) wore a headdress called the Mitznefetthat wound around the head to form a broad, flat-top topped turban. Officials of the court of the Byzantine Empire wore a cap called the camelaucum (Greek: καμιλαύκιον – kamilaukion) that developed into the imperial crown by the ninth century.
In liturgical use, the mitre was only bestowed upon certain bishops and patriarchs as a sign of honour for serving as confessors of the faith, usually by imperial authorities, or was a custom attached to the diocese/patriarchate that the bishop belonged to. The original Christian mitre was a small conical shaped hat, whose conical form was reminiscent of a triangle which is a symbol representative of the Holy Trinity and its perfect unity (because triangles within mathematics represent numeric perfection and strength, while in engineering the triangle is the strongest form by which to build all structures in). Furthermore the conical nature of the mitre pointed in the direction to which we must focus our spiritual endeavours towards, as well as denote the source of all priestly authority.
The mitre in its present imperial form was not used by Orthodox bishops until after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, and thus indicating their civil and religious authority as ethnarchs (leaders of the nation) during the difficult epoch of Ottoman rule. The typical present-day mitre in Orthodox churches is based on the imperial crown of the late Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire.
It is thus made in the shape of a bulbous crown and may be constructed of a number of materials such as brocade, damask, or cloth of gold. Embroidery may be used in its construction as well as use jewels for decoration. Mitres, while often of gold, may use other liturgical colours. Normally, there are four icons attached to the mitre. These usually are icons of Jesus Christ, the Theotokos, John the Baptist, and the Cross. A cross surmounts the mitre, either upright for bishop’s mitres or laying flat on mitres awarded to priests.
The awarding of mitres by bishops to priests, particularly those of the rank of archpriests, protopresbyters, and archimandrites, is a custom that occurs within the Russian Orthodox tradition.
RAVDOS/PATERISSA (CROSIER/PASTORAL STAFF)
The crosier is carried by Orthodox bishops and senior monastics as a stylized staff of office and a symbol of authority and jurisdiction. The crosier is carried by bishops, archimandrites, abbots, and abbesses. The crosier is presented to a new bishop by the chief consecrator following the dismissal at the Divine Liturgy when the bishop is consecrated. For archimandrites, abbots, and abbesses, the crosier is conferred at the time of their investitures. The crosier is carried by the bishop while outside the altar, and it is not taken within the altar area, that is behind the iconostasis. When the bishop enters the altar the crosier is placed leaning against the iconostasis next to the icon of Christ to the right of the Royal Doors.
When the prelate is not vested for services in the church, he uses a different, smaller staff (originally known as a bacterion – cf. Psalm 22:4 in a Greek Bible) that is in the form of a walking stick topped with a silver or brass pommel.
The crosier is usually a long metal staff ending at the top in the shape of two heads of a dragon facing each other, with a cross above them in the centre. It is a token of the bishop’s pastoral authority and symbolises the visible enemies of the Church and the power the bishop should possess to put them to flight and lead the faithful to God. The Eastern Orthodox crosier is found in two common forms. The older form is tau-shaped (T), with arms curving down, surmounted by a small cross. The other has a top composed of a pair of sculptured serpents or dragons with their heads curled back to face each other, with a small cross between them, representing the bishop’s diligence in guarding his flock.
This was from a pamphlet that I had first prepared for the parish of St John the Forerunner. I dedicate this work to Fr Gerasimos Koutsouras – V.M.