The Orthodox Church has one Sacrament reserved for those who are called to receive the Grace of the Holy Spirit through Holy Priesthood or Ordination. This is a very distinct group of men who hear the spiritual call to serve Christ and His Church as Bishops, Priests and Deacons. The Sacrament of Priesthood, derives its origins from Christ the Great High Priest, Who was “holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens…a minster in the sanctuary which is set up not by man, but by the Lord” (Hebrews 7:26, 8:2). “Christ as the Heavenly High Priest offered Himself as a sacrifice on the Cross “for all”, and conferred His Priesthood upon His Apostles” (John 20:21-23, Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15-18, Acts 2:33).
From the Apostles, the priesthood passed on in an unbroken chain to the first clergyman whom they ordained, and through them to their successors. This is called Apostolic Succession. This is fundamental in our Church because only through Apostolic Succession can the Clergymen receive the authority to become real representatives of Christ and of the Apostles in the Church.
As successors of the Apostles and representatives of Jesus Christ in His Church, Clergymen continue the Ministry of Jesus. They teach the word of God, offer the Holy Eucharist and administer the other Sacraments; they govern the Church and care for the spiritual needs of the members of their congregations.
These Clergymen “are not of this world” (John 17:16), but participants of Christ’s glory (John 17:22-24) clothed in the robes and the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is the motivation for the special garments of the officiating Clergymen to be called sacred or liturgical vestments. The symbolic meaning of each vestment is disclosed in the Bible verses which are recited by the Clergymen as they put on each garment.
According to Fr. Anthony Coniaris in his book, Sacred Symbols That Speak Vol. II, “Vestments are much like icons. They are like windows through which we look to see Christ…Vestments serve to hide and submerge the personality of the priest so that worshippers, seeing Christ through the vestments, may know that it is He (Jesus) who teaches and sanctifies through the priest…the use of vestments tells us that we are to come into God’s presence not as we are (with ordinary street dress), but better than we are, i.e., clothed with Christ, His love, forgiveness, and humility.”
Archimandrite Chrysostomos in his book Orthodox Liturgical Dress summarizes the meaning of vestments: “Byzantine vestments also hold a kind of functional mystical significance in that their symbolism is directed toward ‘transforming’ the celebrant as he assumes them for liturgical celebration. In accordance with the office of preparation for the liturgy, the clergyman takes on the garments of the Divine.”
Beginning next week, FLM will devote two weeks to a series which will explain each of the vestments our clergy wear: from the Omophorion of a Bishop, to the Orarion of a Deacon.