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Dress for Success 2

When a priest (or presbyter) prepares to vest before celebrating the Divine Liturgy, he too begins with the STICHARION or STICHAR as the deacon. He prays the same prayers deacon. The priest’s sticharion is not made of brocade as the deacon’s; instead it is made of satin of any number of colors--or even white cotton. It extends to the top of his shoes and may have banding or embroidery near the hem.

This is followed by the EPITRACHELION or EPITRACHI--(meaning “that which is worn around the neck”). It is a distinctive vestment which the priest wears to perform any religious ritual. The epitrachelion has seven crosses sewn onto it--one that rests on the middle of the back of the priest’s neck, signifying the Mystery of Holy Orders he has received; and six crosses down the front, representing the other Mysteries of the church administered by the priest. Before putting on the epitrachil, the priest makes a sign of the cross over it and recites this prayer, “Blessed is God Who pours out his grace upon His priest, like unto the oil of myrrh upon the head, which runs down the beard, upon the beard of Aaron, which runs down to the fringe of his garment.” By this prayer you can see the epitrachelion is meant to be long--extending to just about ankle-length.

Next the priest puts on the ZONE [pronounced: zo-NAY] or POJAS [POY-ahss] which is a BELT that holds the stichar and epitrachil in place to aid in facilitating movement. Girding himself is a sign that he is loosed of carnal desires, and dedicated to Christ and is ready to serve that Lord fully. As he ties the belt he prays; “Blessed is God, Who girded me with power, and has made my path blameless. Who makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and sets me upon high places.” (Ps 18:32-33)

Following this, the priest puts on his EPIMANIKIA or CUFFS. Unlike the deacons’ cuffs, there are crosses over the wrist. But praying the same prayer as a deacon, the priest is reminded of the bonds of Christ and to rely on the strength of Christ and not his own. Originally cuffs were gloves into which the sleeves of the sticharion were tucked--to keep them out of the way. Eventually, the fingers of the gloves were removed--giving the priest even better ability to handle the sacred vessels.

Over all of this, the priest puts on the PHELONION, [PHELON or FELON]--an all-embracing garment which is often shorter in the front allowing the hands of the priest to move freely. It matches the epitrachil in length, so as to be ankle-length at the back. The phelon signifies that he is “clothed with righteousness” (Ps 132:9) and protected from all iniquities. The phelon is symbolic of the robe Christ wore during His Passion. On the back of this garment is to be a Cross, although you sometimes see an icon of the Theotokos or Christ, which is not really appropriate.

Most people do not realize that Byzantine vestments have only two colors, bright and dark. Bright (or light) is used for celebrations of Feasts and Sundays with a few exceptions. Bright includes white, gold, blue, and green as solids or even with ornamental designs or patterns. Many use blue for the Feasts of the Theotokos; green on Flowery Sunday, and Pentecost; white or gold for Pascha and Sundays, as each is a “little Pascha”, and for the Nativity of Our Lord--and other days of rejoicing.

Dark is for preparation periods and non-festive days, and for fasting and penitential days. Dark is usually red (sometimes in shades of maroon or burgundy) for the Third Sunday of Great Lent, (the Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross); for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and during the Great Lent. You will find red at the Liturgies of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts, or the Matins Service of the Twelve Passion Gospels; Great and Holy Friday, Often you will see red used at funerals.

In the Slavic tradition, the priest wears upon his chest a Pectoral Cross. Such crosses are bestowed by the bishop, and not usually bought by the priest for himself as a piece of jewelry. This is to remind him of his responsibility to not merely carry Christ in his heart, but confess Him in the face of all people. If you see clergy wearing only their black sub-riasas and/or the riasa with the wide sleeves, the pectoral cross is a way to distinguish a priest from a deacon--who would not wear the cross. Among non-Slav clergy, not every priest wears a cross--only those to whom the bishop has granted it.

You may sometimes see the priest vested in only the epitrachelion and felon. This is proper for service such as vespers--when the priest will put on and remove the felon at certain times; or at a moleben or akathist or paracalis. The same is true for services for the deceased, at the funeral home or cemetery, and at times when special blessings are held outside the Divine Liturgy.

Phyllis Muryn Zapraniuk


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