Vestments in the Greek Orthodox Church

What are the vestments in the Orthodox church?

The history of liturgical and clerical vestments in Greek Orthodox Christianity records but little change. The results already attained by the end of Christian antiquity were but little enriched. This fact corresponds with the conservative character of the Greek Church. Nevertheless, it appears that in the course of the Middle Ages slight Latin influences were active. Besides this, the relationship or correspondence between the two churches can be explained from the common origin of clerical vestments.

The liturgical vestments of the priest are composed of the following articles:

  • Sticharion, a long, white, flowing garment of heavy gold-embroidered silk, which corresponds to the alb or the dalmatic of the Roman church;
  • Zone, a girdle for drawing in the sticharion, more richly decorated than in the West;
  • Epimanikia, gauntlets, which serve the purpose of fastening the sticharion at the wrists;
  • Peritrachelion (Epitrachelion), a silken band, ornamented with golden crosses or in some other way, which encircles the neck, its fringed ends hanging down to the feet; it is the stole of the Latins and like the latter of antique origin; for the epitrachelion of the deacon, the Hellenized Latin word orarium was employed;
  • Phelonion, the mass vestment properly so called, had the same origin as the chasuble, but here the earliest form has remained. With a simple opening for the head, it hangs in folds about the body. It is commonly made of silk, is richly embroidered with crosses, and is subject to the liturgical change of color.
  • The Hypogonation, a sack of a square form with a cross or a sacred image as ornament, worn at the left side, is only an honorary distinction, and does not belong to the ecclesiastical costume.

History and use

The liturgical vestments of the bishops were the same; but peculiar to them are the Omophorion, the Greek pallium, quite similar to the Latin, and the angular, stiff sack, hypogonation, worn on the right. The origin of the latter, which the bishops received at consecration, is doubtful. The bishop's breast is decorated with a valuable cross and with a medallion bearing a sacred image (panagia). His office is indicated by the staff (rhabdos), whose crook is turned upward.

Further, one of the insignia of the bishop is the miter, a low cap resembling a crown, covered with artistic embroidery, precious stones, and gold ornaments; above it rises a cross.

The metropolitans and the patriarchs wear instead of the phelonion the Sakkos, a richly embroidered, close-fitting garment with wide sleeves. The nonliturgical dress of the priests and bishops consists of a long, black coat of many folds and a cylindrical hat, which is lower in the case of the lesser clergy. The bishops up to the patriarchs inclusive wear besides this a large mantle (mandyas), open in front and fastened by clasps; the hem is adorned with cross-stripes and the corners with pieces of colored cloth sewn on.

The patriarch has also the right to two crosses; his hood-like head-covering recalls the monastic class from which he comes. Over this he wears a broad flat hat, on the upper surface of which a light blue cross is seen.

The Armenian church shows great variety and magnificence in her ecclesiastical vestments. Still the common characteristics appear everywhere. The Coptic church has simpler forms (A. J. Butler, The Ancient Coptic Churches of Egypt, 2 vols., Ox ford, 1884). For the Nestorian Church in Syria see R. Percy Badger, The Nestoraans and their Rituals ( London, 1852).

Other Articles in This Series
  • History of Vestments
  • Cassock
  • Vestments of Catholic Priests
  • Vestments of Catholic Bishops
  • Vestments in Protestant Churches
  1. Victor Schultze, "Vestments." New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Baker Book House, 1950).