Following the example of the Old Testament Church, which had
its high priest, priests, and Levites, the holy Apostles instituted bishops,
priests, and deacons as the priesthood of the New Testament Christian Church.
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. This enables them to celebrate the divine services, to
teach the laity the Christian faith and holy life, and to direct ecclesiastical
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 may serve the usual Liturgy,
but they alone may consecrate others into the priesthood, or consecrate Holy
Chrism and an Antimins. A bishop is sometimes given another bishop, called a
vicar bishop, to assist him in his duties.
In their degree of priesthood, bishops are all
equal, though the senior and most deserving of them are called archbishops. 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 those of the capitals of certain 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 which restored the rule of the Church to
the "Most Holy Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.").
Priests comprise the second rank of the sacred
ministry. With an episcopal blessing, priests may serve all the Mysteries and
ecclesiastical services, save 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 may also 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 through a short series of prayers
with an episcopal blessing.
Readers have the duty to read and chant with the
choir during divine services, and at homes when services are conducted by a
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
vestments. These are special, sacred robes which 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. It is in
the form of a cross with an opening for the head and has wide sleeves. The
deacon's 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. It is fringed on the ends. It is worn over the left
shoulder, on top of the sticharion. For protodeacons, it is wound once around
the body; for simple deacons, it is worn as shown [***there is no image]. The
orarion signifies the Grace of God received by the deacon in the Mystery of
The cuffs, or manacles, are of the same material
as the sticharion. They 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 sticharion
or the under-vestment, the epitrachelion, the belt, the cuffs, and the phelonion.
The under-vestment is a simpler form of the
sticharion, differing from the sticharion in that the sleeves are narrow, with
laces at the wrist. 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. The under-vestment also recalls the tunic which the Lord Jesus
Christ wore on earth and in which He accomplished our salvation.
The epitrachelion, or stole, is similar to the
deacon's orarion, only it is worn around the neck. It comes down in front so
that the two inner edges are fastened together for convenience. The
epitrachelion 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
wear his orarion.
The belt is worn over the epitrachelion and
under-vestment. It 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 to wash the
disciples' feet at the Mystical Supper.
The phelonion is worn over the other garments. It
is a long and wide cape without sleeves. The phelonion has an opening for the
head at the top, and is 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 all
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
For long and dedicated service, a priest can be
given different awards. One is called a nabedrennik, or thigh shield, which is
a stiffened, rectangular cloth. It is hung on the right hip from the shoulder
by a strap fastened at two upper corners; the nabedrennik signifies a spiritual
sword. Another award, similar to the nabedrennik, is the palitsa, which is a
diamond-shaped cloth. It is worn on the right hip, while 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. Other awards are the skoufia
and kamilavka, which are head coverings.
The bishop is vested with all the vestments of a
priest--the sticharion, epitrachelion, belt and cuffs. However, for a bishop,
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 deacon's sticharion, but is longer
so that the sticharion and epitrachelion are visible underneath. Like the
phelonion, the saccos 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
saccos. For exceptional service the right to wear the palitsa is granted by the
ruling bishop to worthy archpriests. For archimandrites, as well for bishops,
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 shoulders.
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. Some say it signifies the
crown of thorns which was placed on the head of the Saviour, others, that 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 more worthy archpriests the right to wear one in place of
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 they are the heads of monasteries.
During the service, an "orlets," a
circular rug with the image of an eagle flying over a city, is placed under the
bishop's feet. This symbolizes that the bishop should soar from the earthly to
the heavenly like an eagle, and, just 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 wears only a cross.
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