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Dress for Success 1

Dress for Success

Most people, who visit a Byzantine Catholic church, especially for the first time, often wonder why our clergy wear such ornate garments compared to those of the Roman Church. The response tends to be, “…because this is the way we do it”, not realizing that there is specific meaning behind the “garments” as well.

Some historians date these garments or vestments as they are known, back to the Roman Empire. At this time the common dress was a tunic which touched the ground and had long sleeves. Clergy were set apart from the public because their tunics were always made of pure white fabric. White, because it was a symbol of holiness and purity. “Let your priests be clothed with righteousness” (Ps 132:9), is the Lord’s command. To this day the tunic remains the one vestment that is the common dress of all our clergy.

In the Byzantine Catholic church, there are three major Orders of Clergy: Bishops, Priests and Deacons as well as three Minor Orders: Sub-deacons, Readers and Candle bearers. Each of these wears a tunic which we call a STICHARION--or STICHAR.

The Sticharion may be made of white fabric symbolizing our baptism into the Church. In the case of the three Minor Orders and the Deacon it is usually made of an ornate fabric such as brocade. The color of the fabric is determined by the church calendar or feast day being celebrated. During the process of vesting, the deacon prays, “My soul shall rejoice in the Lord, for He has clothed me in the garment of salvation and with the vesture of gladness He covered me.” (Is. 61:10)

The Deacon is distinguished from the others by the ORAR or ORARION. This is a long band of fabric that is draped over his left shoulder. The Orarion was a part of the ancient garb that a messenger wore. It was a visual sign of which group or family he represented. It is used by the Deacon to facilitate the order of worship, for he is considered to be the master of ceremonies for all Divine Services. You will notice that he holds one end to “lead the way” to each part of the Divine Liturgy. If you follow him carefully, you will know where to focus. When he is behind the iconostas, the focus is on the Holy Place and when hi is in front of the iconostas, the focus falls on the faithful. You may see some deacons with the orarion trailing along the floor. The belief is that it is collecting the prayers of the people and following the trail to the heavens each time the deacon raises it in prayer. Just as a note; there are two titles of honor in the deaconate; Protodeacon, conferred on a married deacon and Archdeacon, conferred on a monastic deacon. [It is proper to stand when the deacon is before the iconostas].

The Deacon also puts on the EPIMANIKIA also known as CUFFS. When putting on the right cuff he prays: “Your right hand, O Lord, is glorified in strength; Your right hand, O Lord, has shattered enemies, and in the multitude of Your glory You have ground down the adversaries.” And with the left, he prays: “Your hands have made me and fashioned me; give me understanding and I will learn Your commandments.” The cuffs symbolize the bonds of Christ and remind him that he must not rely on his own strength, but on the help of God.

Phyllis Muryn Zapraniuk



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