Following the example of the Old Testament Church, in which
there were a high priest, priests, and Levites, the holy Apostles also
instituted in the New Testament Christian Church the priesthood: bishops,
priests, and deacons.
They are all called members of the clergy because
by means of the Mystery of the priesthood they receive the Grace of the Holy
Spirit for sacred service in the Church of Christ: enabling them to celebrate
the divine services; teach the laity the Christian faith and holy life; and
direct ecclesiastical affairs.
The bishops comprise the highest rank in the
Church, and therefore receive the highest degree of Grace. Bishops are also
called hierarchs, or leaders of the priests. They may celebrate all the
Mysteries and all ecclesiastical services. Bishops have the right not only to
serve the usual Liturgy, but they alone may consecrate others into the
priesthood, as well as consecrate Holy Chrism and the Antimins.
In their degree of priesthood they are equal,
though the senior and most deserving of the bishops are termed archbishops,
while the bishops whose sees are centered in major cities are termed
metropolitans, after the Greek word for a large city, "metropolis."
The bishops of the ancient major cities of the Roman Empire,
Jerusalem, Constantinople, Rome, Alexandria and Antioch, and of the capitals of some Orthodox countries such as Belgrade and Moscow, are called patriarchs.
From 1721 to 1917 the Russian Orthodox Church was
governed by the Most Holy Synod. In 1917 an All-Russian Council was summoned
and restored the rule of the Church to the "Most Holy Patriarch of Moscow
and All Russia."
A bishop sometimes is given another bishop, called
a vicar bishop, to assist him in his duties.
Priests comprise the second rank of the sacred
ministry under the bishop. Priests may serve, with an episcopal blessing, all
the Mysteries and ecclesiastical services, with the exception of the Mystery of
Ordination and the sanctification of Holy Chrism or an Antimins. The
congregation of Christians subject to. the supervision of the priest is termed
his parish. The more worthy and distinguished priests are granted the title of
archpriest; the first among these priests is called a protopresbyter.
If a priest is also a tonsured monk he is known as
a hieromonk. Hieromonks appointed to direct monasteries, or those honored
independently of any appointment, are usually given the title of igumen or
abbot. Those of a higher rank are called archimandrites, and bishops are chosen
from this rank.
Deacons form the third and lowest rank of the
sacred ministry; in Greek "deacon" means a "server."
Deacons assist a bishop or priest during the serving of the Divine Liturgy or
other Mysteries and services, but they may not serve alone. The participation
of a deacon in the divine services is not obligatory, and therefore many
churches conduct services without them.
Some deacons, particularly in cathedral churches,
are deemed worthy of the title of protodeacon. Monks who have received the rank
of deacon are called hierodeacons, and the senior of them is called an
The subdeacons are also ordained and help in the
altar. They primarily take part in episcopal services. They vest the serving
bishop in his sacred vestments, hold the trikiri and dikiri, and hand them to
the bishop to bless those present. They also may assist in changing the altar
In addition to the three orders of sacred
ministry, other lower orders of service in the Church include the readers or
"psaltis" (Greek), and the sacristans or "ecclesiarchs."
They belong to the ranks of church servers who are not ordained to their duties
through the Mystery of Ordination, but only by a short series of prayers with
an episcopal blessing.
Readers have the duty to read and chant both on
the cliros during divine services, and at homes when services are conducted by
The sacristan is obliged to call the faithful to
the divine services with bell-ringing, to light the lamps and candles in the
church, to ready and to hand the censer to the serving priest, and to assist
the readers in the readings and chantings.
Those who conduct services must be dressed in
special, sacred robes or vestments. These are made of brocade or some similarly
suitable material and adorned with crosses or other symbolic signs.
The vestments of the diaconate are the sticharion,
the orarion and the cuffs.
The sticharion is a long garment, open down the
length of the sides for a deacon, but entirely unslitted for servers, in the
form of a cross with an opening for oneís head and with wide sleeves. The
deaconís sticharion may also be worn by subdeacons. The right to wear a
sticharion may also be granted to readers and servers. The sticharion signifies
purity of soul, necessary for a person of ecclesiastical rank.
The orarion is a long, wide band of the same
material as the sticharion with fringe on the ends. It is worn over the left
shoulder on top of the sticharion. For simple deacons it is worn as shown, for
pro-todeacons it is wound once around the body. The orarion signifies the Grace
of God which the deacon received in the Mystery of Ordination.
The cuffs or manacles are of the same material as
the sticharion, and are worn around the wrists and laced with cords. They
remind those conducting the services that they celebrate the Mysteries or
partake of the Mysteries of the Christian faith not by their own powers, but by
the power and Grace of God. They also remind us of the bonds that tied the
hands of the Saviour during His passion.
The vestments of a priest include the under-vestment
or sticharion, the epitrachelion (stole), the belt, the cuffs, and the
The under-vestment is just a simpler form of
sticharion, differing from the sticharion in that the sleeves are narrow with
laces at the wrist, and it is usually made of a fine, white material. The white
color reminds the priest that he must always be of pure soul and lead a
blameless life. It also recalls the tunic which the Lord Jesus Christ wore on
earth and in which He accomplished our salvation.
The stole or epitrachelion is similar to the
deaconís orarion, only it is worn around the neck and comes down in front so
that the two inner edges are fastened together for convenience. It signifies
the double portion of grace bestowed on a priest, in comparison to that of a
deacon, for the celebration of the Mysteries. The priest may not conduct any
service without his epitrachelion, just as a deacon must have his orarion.
The belt is worn over the epitrachelion and
under-vestment and signifies readiness to serve the Lord. It also symbolizes
the divine power that strengthens the priest during the course of his serving.
The belt also recalls the towel which the Saviour was given for the washing of
the disciplesí feet at the Mystical Supper.
The phelonion is worn over the other garments. It
is a long and wide cape without sleeves with an opening for the head at the top
and cut away in front to give the hands freedom of movement. In its form it
resembles the purple mantle which the Lord was given during His passion. The ribbons
sewn on it recall the streams of blood which flowed over His garments. In
addition to this the phelonion reminds the priests of the garment of
righteousness with which they must be vested as servants of Christ. A priest
wears a pectoral cross around his neck, over the phelonion.
For long and dedicated service a priest is given
an award called a nabedrennik or thigh shield, which is a stiffened,
rectangular cloth hung on the right hip from the shoulder by a strap fastened
at two upper corners, and which signifies a spiritual sword. Other awards are
the skoufia and kamilavka (head coverings), and another diamond-shaped cloth,
similar to the nabedrennik, worn on the right hip, called a palitsa (in which
case the former is worn on the left). It also represents the spiritual sword,
the Word of God with which the celebrant must battle disbelief and irreverence.
The bishop is vested with all the vestments of a
priest, the sticharion, epitrachelion, belt and cuffs, but the phelonion is
replaced with the saccos and the nabedrennik with the palitsa. In addition, a
bishop wears the omophorion and the miter.
The saccos is the outer vestment of a bishop which
resembles a shorter deaconís sticharion so that the sticharion and
epitrachelion are visible underneath. It, like the phelonion, recalls the
purple mantle of the Saviour.
The palitsa is hung by a strap from the upper
corner over the right hip on top of the sakkos. For exceptional service the
right to wear the palitsa is granted by the ruling bishop to worthy archpriests.
For archimandrites, as well as for a bishop, the palitsa is an indispensable
appurtenance to their vestments.
Around the shoulders, over the saccos, a bishop
wears the omophorion. This is a long, wide fabric usually adorned with crosses.
It is wrapped around the shoulders of the bishop so that one end falls in front
and the other behind. Omophorion is a Greek word meaning "that which goes
over the shoulders" and is exclusively an episcopal vestment. As with the
priest and his epitrachelion, the bishop may not conduct any service without
his omophorion. It reminds the bishop that he must be concerned for the
salvation of the fallen like the good shepherd who, when he has found the lost
sheep, carries it home on his shoulder.
At all times, as part of his normal attire and for
services, the bishop wears a panagia around his neck in addition to a cross.
The panagia, which means "all-holy" in Greek, is a small, round icon
of the Saviour or the Theotokos, sometimes adorned with precious stones.
When serving, the bishop wears a miter on his
head, adorned with small icons and precious stones. According to some, it
signifies the crown of thorns which was placed on the head of the Saviour, and
to others it represents the Gospel of Christ to which the bishop always remains
subject. Archimandrites wear the miter as well, and in exceptional cases a
ruling bishop can grant the right to wear one to the more worthy archpriests in
place of the kamilavka.
During the divine services the bishops use a staff
as a sign of ultimate pastoral authority. A staff is also granted to
archimandrites and abbots as heads of monasteries.
During the service an "orlets," a
circular rug with the image of an eagle flying over a city, is put under the
bishopís feet. This symbolizes that the bishop should soar from the earthly to
the heavenly like an eagle, and as an eagle can see clearly over distances, so
must a bishop oversee all parts of his diocese.
The street clothing of a bishop, priest or deacon
includes a black cassock and a riassa. Over the riassa the bishop wears a
panagia and a cross, while a priest only wears a cross.
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