Orthodox vestments I

Carolina is going to have vestment week this week, and since I have a bunch of pictures, I thought I’d help kick it off. Orthodox vestments fall into two categories: The austere, and the downright gaudy. So let’s start with the austere, which is actually the more common of the two.

We don’t have the wide variety seen in the West. Bishops look like bishops, priests like priests, monastics like monastics, and monasticism never splintered into orders in the East. Eastern monasticism is seminal: All are contemplative. We have no “teaching orders” or other alternative forms of monasticism (like Franciscans or Dominicans, for example). Eastern monastics differ only in living arrangements. Monastics either live in a community as do traditional Western monastics; a skete, a loose community in which the members only come together infrequently; or as hermits. Monks do not shave, and are forbidden from cutting their hair.

Oh. All of this applies equally to Eastern Rite, except that Eastern Rite monastics are, well, just all mixed-up and hard to figure out. There are, for example, Eastern Rite Benedectines, and I really don’t understand what that could mean, especially since some look like Orthodox monks and others look like Catholic monks.

Monastics wear the riassa (black cassock) and the klobuk (hat and veil, which are separate in Byzantine tradition). Nuns usually cross the veil underneath their chins, but the vestments are the same. Monks who have taken vows as priests (heiromonks) sometimes wear a pectoral cross, the badge of the priesthood. An abbess also often wears a pectoral cross.



When monks celebrate the liturgy as priests and are vested, they still wear the klobuk, as the picture of the monks from Balamand Patriarchal Monastery in Lebanon below shows.


The highest level of monasticism is the Great Schema monk or nun. They are allowed to wear the megaloschema over the riassa. The only picture I have is of now Bishop Melchisedek, who wore the megaloschema at his consecration (the picture is taken from the side, so you can’t see it very well — he is reading from the Horologion, on the right).



This monk is only wearing the Epitrachelion, the priest’s stole, which is attached at the center. He is possibly getting ready to celebrate Matins, Vespers, or one of the Liturgies of the Hours. I do not know why the laptop is there.


Because it is Eastern tradition to consecrate bishops from the ranks of the monastery, our bishops when not vested for liturgy look like monks. Bishops carry a staff as shepherds of the Church, and wear at least one icon of the Theotokos and Christ (sometimes with another icon of Christ Pantocrator, and sometimes with a pectoral cross).

Here is my bishop, +Melchisedek, alone, and speaking after the consecration, with several other bishops. It is Slavic tradition for archbishops to wear a white klobuk; Metropolitan Jonah is in the white klobuk.



And here is a picture of a Russian metropolitan, not vested for liturgy.

Orthodox priests traditionally wear the riassa and a pectoral cross. However, in the United States and Canada, priests sometimes dress like Western priests, in black suits with clerical collars, and may or may not wear the pectoral cross. It is Eastern tradition for all clerics to wear beards, and most American and Canadian clergy are bearded.


Deacons, sub-deacons, and tonsured chanters and readers wear only the riassa. Deacons and sub-deacons may wear the riassa daily, but typically, chanters and readers only wear the riassa in church.

2 Responses to Orthodox vestments I

  1. Kat says:

    I was actually going to feature mostly Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic vestments… you know where my heart truly lies. 🙂

  2. Richard Barrett says:

    I would also note, with respect to the matter of cantors and readers wearing the cassock, there is something of a variety of custom depending on to whom one speaks. I have been told very plainly and earnestly that we are not to wear it outside of the parish where we have been blessed to serve the function of the reader/cantor, and even then only when we are serving that function; I have also been told very plainly and earnestly that we should wear it whenever we’re on church property, no matter what parish we’re at, we should travel with it, etc.

    At the 2006 PSALM Conference, an e-mail went out in advance strictly instructing readers and cantors to leave the cassocks at home unless somebody involved with the conference had specifically asked them to do otherwise on an individual basis. As I recall there was a line about the last thing the conference needing being “readers walking around like they’re bishops”.

    For various reasons I have adopted the practice of not wearing mine when I am not performing a liturgical function, and I don’t presume to wear it when visiting other parishes unless explicitly asked to do so. Others may differ with me.


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