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Ask An Eastern Orthodox Christian: Clergy Vestments


Ask An Eastern Orthodox Christian: Clergy Vestments

What would you like to know about the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith? Submit your question.

By Nicholas Damascus

What are the vestments of Eastern Orthodox clergy, and why do some wear veils? 

Orthodox Christians believe the priesthood of the Church is Christ’s priesthood, with the Eucharist as the first fruit offering. The clergy do not serve in place of Christ as in the Roman Catholic Church (In Persona Christi); rather, Christ himself serves in them. 

In Isaiah 6 and Revelation 1, one gets a glimpse of God being worshipped in Heaven. Clergy attire is part of this “foreshadow” of the Kingdom of God, and wearing vestments, helps to render the clergy as an iconic representations of our Lord and the angels, serving at the one altar of God. 

Exodus 28: 2 – 39, Garments for the priesthood are described in these 38 verses. “Then you shall make holy garments … a breastplate, an ephod, a full-length robe, a skillfully woven tunic with a fringe, a turban, and a sash ….of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet fabric and fine linen, and you shall make the sash of woven work … shall wear them when they come into the tabernacle of testimony or when they come near the altar of the holy place to minister as priests ….. It shall be an ordinance for ever to him (the Levites) and his seed after him.” 

Description of Eastern Orthodox Clergy Vestments 

A young man wearing a sticharion while serving/OrthodoxWiki

Pectoral cross: if blessed, is worn on the breast. 

The Sticharion: is a long-sleeved tunic (robe) worn by clergy, reaching to the ground. It is symbolic of the grace of the Holy Spirit covering the priest with a garment of salvation and joy. 

Epimanikia: are cuffs that are worn around the wrists to keep the inner garments in place and out of the way during the services. The clergy who wears them are reminded that they serve, not by their strength, but with the help of God. 

The Epitrachelion: is one of the most important vestments. It is the priestly stole, worn around the neck down to the feet. It is the symbol of their priesthood, and an Orthodox priest must wear this vestment to perform a sacrament. Short tassels extend from this vestment, indicating the priest’s responsibility of the souls of the faithful in his community. 

A zone:  is a cloth belt worn over the epitrachelion. 

Phelonion: is a large conical sleeveless garment worn over all other vestments, with the front mostly cut away to facilitate the priest’s movements. 

Crozier:  is a staff with the top with a cross and two intertwined serpents. 

Kalamaki: Greek Orthodox clergy most often wear a cylindrical black hat. 

Epanokalynafkon: is a black or white monastic veil that is attached to the Kalamaki (clergy hat) worn by celibate clergy at various services or ceremonies. 

Colors for Eastern Orthodox Clergy Vestments for Appropriate  Feast Days and Events

Byzantine practice for liturgical colors is specific colors that are used in priest’s vestments, altar covers, and analogion covers (lectern) in the different feast days of the Church. The symbolism of colors may serve to underline moods appropriate to a season of the liturgical year or may highlight a special occasion. 

  1. Vestment color: gold (yellow) of all shades. The group of feasts and days commemorating our Lord Jesus Christ, the prophets, the apostles, and the holy hierarchs. 

2. Vestment color: light blue or white. The days and groups of feasts commemorating the most Holy Mother of God, the bodiless powers, and virgins. 

3. Vestment color: purple or dark red. The days and groups of feasts commemorating the Cross of our Lord. 

4. Vestment color: red. The days and groups of feasts commemorating the martyrs. Dark red vestments are worn on Great and Holy Thursday, with black, and the holy (altar) table is covered with a white cloth. 

5. Vestment color: shades of green. The days and groups of feasts commemorating Palm Sunday, Pentecost, and the Synaxis of the Holy Spirit (Monday after Pentecost). 

6. Vestment colors during the Lenten periods are dark blue, purple, dark green, dark red, and black. For the days of Great Lent and funerals, black is primarily worn. 

There is purpose in what the Lord asks us to do. The temple, the worship in the temple, the decor, and much more are to remind us of Heaven. His will and intention for us are to be with him in Heaven. Since there is no Jewish Temple, the Orthodox Church has inherited the fullness of the Temple Tradition. So, when someone (non-Orthodox) asks what might Heaven be like? The response from an Orthodox Christian might be, “Come taste and see.” 

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