The Role of Vestments in the Greek Orthodox Church
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Typically when we see our ordained clergymen (Bishops, Priests, or Deacons) we find them either in two “outfit.” The first item is the Anteri or ‘inner cassock.’ This was once explained to me as the base layer. The priest wears nothing above this without wearing this. Essentially it is the underwear of the priest, everything gets put on top of this, even though it is acceptable for the priest to wear this ‘underwear’ in public. This Anteri is typically a dark color—black, blue, gray—and has tight fitting sleeves. You will most likely never see clergy wear only an Anteri to serve.
In a liturgical setting, the Exorasson is worn on top of the Anteri. The Exorasson is the flowing outer cassock that has loose fitting or very big sleeves (similar sleeves to what some evzones or traditional modern Greek warriors wear). Sometimes we see clergy, in less formal services, wear this as the base of their vestments and only wearing the defining vestments of their ordained position.
At more formal services, all the clergy wear the sticharion. The sticharion is modeled after the ancient adult baptismal robe, which also gives another reason why all three positions of clergy wear them. The clergy read this prayer when they put it on: “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 garland and as a bride adorns herself with jewels; now and always and forever and ever. Amen.” This comes from the book of Isaiah 61:10.
Each ordained position has a particular set of vestments, but traditionally a particular vestment defines each. The deacon is defined by the orarion; a long strip of fabric, typically decorated with crosses, that is worn over the left shoulder and the remainder is wrapped around the check and back of the deacon. The name for this vestment comes from the Latin word orare, which means to pray. The deacon will lift up the orarion in their right hand when making petitions to God (the part where we respond ‘Kyrie eleison’ or ‘Lord have mercy’). Oddly, the deacon makes no particular prayer for putting on the orarion, but usually it coincides with putting on the sticharion.
The priest is defined by the epitrahilion and the phelonion. The epitrahilion is a vestment that wraps around the priest’s neck and goes down the front of the priest’s body, practically to the floor. In Greek, the name of this vestment means ‘around the neck.’ When the priest puts on this vestment he prays from Psalm 132(133): 2, “Blessed is God Who pours His grace upon His Priests, as ointment upon the head, which runs down over the beard, the beard of Aaron, runs down to the hem of his garment; now and always and forever and ever. Amen.” The phelonion is the cape-like vestment that the priest’s head goes through and covers his entire back and half of the front of him. When the priest puts this on he prays from psalm 131(132): 9, “May your priests, Lord, be clothed in righteousness, and your faithful one rejoice; now and always and forever and ever. Amen.”
Lastly, the bishop is defined by the omorphorion. This vestment is worn on the shoulders of the bishop and is crossed over the chest of the bishop. This vestment is representative of ‘The Good Shepherd’ who lays down his life for the sheep, putting the sheep on his shoulder. The word omorphorion in Greek literally means ‘worn on the shoulder.’
About Andrew Athanasiou
Andrew is a student of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, located in Brookline, Massachusetts. Andrew is a Masters of Divinity Student who is also a Seminarian. Andrew is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his knowledge comes from five major sources: Greek Orthodox Seminary; Greek Orthodox Summer Camp; both being taught and teaching in Greek Orthodox Sunday School; and finally further readings and interests in other theological areas.
Categorized in: Greek Orthodox Religious Information
This post was written by Andrew Athanasiou