Liturgical Vestments of Deacons and Priests

Published by Jacob P Varghese on

Clergy of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church follows the West Syriac tradition and therefore have the same vestments of the Orthodox Syriac Church. The vestments worn by the clergy vary with their hierarchical order in the priesthood. The deacons, the priests and the bishops have distinct liturgical vestments.

Normal Official Vestment of Priests

1. THE SURPLICE (Alb, White Cassock, Vella-kuppayam, Shushrusha-kuppayam, Kutino (Syr) Chiton (Gk)

This white garment of in-corruption, through purification of the Holy Spirit symbolizes that one should serve the Lord with purity, holiness and whiteness of the Holy Spirit and he who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels (Rev 7: 9).

Thus, it is symbol of pure and tranquil conscience, a spotless life, and the spiritual joy in the Lord, which follows there from, in whom, who wears it. This long, straight, ankle length vestment that covers the whole person is the robe of Salvation and garment of Joy. This white garment reminds us of the luminous whiteness of Christ’s garment at the time of transfiguration on Mt. Tabor (Matt 17: 2) and of the angels who appeared on different occasions (Matt 28: 3, Acts 1:10). In his revelation, St John saw the Church wearing ‘bright and clean white linen’, the righteous deeds of God’s men (Revelations 19: 7, 8).

The word ‘Alb’ comes the Latin word for white. A similar white robe is given to all baptised, including infants, male or female. This symbolises the garment of immortality granted to all baptised Christians, by the grace of God. This is used by clergy of all ranks, points to the spiritual purity which should adorn their souls, especially when they are mystically sacrificing the spotless Lamb. This is common the laymen, laywomen, deacon, priests, and bishops.

Altar servers, deacons, and subdeacons, wear it as their outermost vestment. Priests and Bishops, the garment is usually a simple white, intricate, linen as inner robe. The Rabbinic teaching said that Adam wore a ‘clothing of light’ before his fall. This ‘clothing of light’ that was lost with the fall would be regained in Holy Baptism. White clothing symbolises the holiness acquired with Holy Baptism. All celebrants wear white cassock as the Church sanctified in Baptism worships God. The believers who take part in worships are expected to wear white clothing.

St. Cyprian (AD 250) wore a white robe while he was martyred. Hegesippus records that St. James, brother of our Lord, was clothed in a linen tunic. At least from 2nd century, white cassock was used as clothing during worship. The priest wears the kutino by signing the cross over it three times and saying the prayer: Clothe me, O Lord, with the robe of in-corruption through the strength of Thy Holy Spirit and make me worthy to keep the true faith and walk in the paths of purity and righteousness all the days of my life.”

With second coming of our Lord, all faithful would get incorruptible ‘clothing of light’ powered by Holy Spirit. The white cassock in Holy Qurbana is a foretaste of that. The attire for those who take part in the eternal worship of the heavenly temple would be this ‘clothing of light’. White attire symbolises the sanctified body and mind taking part in worship. Only those who clothe themselves in pure and clean bridal attire have entry into the wedding feast of the Heavenly King (Matt. 22: 11 – 13).

Normal Dress of a Priest

2. The Black Robe (Karathu Kuppayam)

The priest wears a wide sleeved, full length, loosely fitted, black cassock as a symbol of the fallen, sinful nature of man, denoting sinful nature and repentance, worn by all clergy members, monastics, and nuns. It symbolizes the death to the world and all worldly things and his dedication to God and the Heavenly Kingdom.

Black Robe

3. STOLE (Oorara, Oorare, Hamniko)

The stole symbolises the wings with the angels veil their faces as they stand before the throne of God. The stole is an armour and shield, which reveals the flow of the Holy Spirit upon the wearer. This is also equipment for spiritual battle. This is to gird the strength in defeating enemies (Ps 18: 39-40). It is also the breastplate of righteousness (Eph 6: 14). This teaches that Christian life is a war against world, flesh, and the devil, the three enemies. It also means garment. It represents the breastplate of Aaron which he wore when he was entering the Holy Place to officiate a priest (Ex 28: 15). There are three crosses on the stole. Hamniko also symbolizes the rope put around the neck of Jesus Christ by the Roman soldiers. In ancient Rome, men used to wear a long shawl on their shoulders during festive occasions which would have led to this Hamniko. The custom of deacons wearing Oororo on their left shoulders was prevalent in Antioch during 4th century. The stole of the deacons is along wide band of material, which is worn over the left shoulder or crossed upon the breast, depending upon the various stages of the ordination of the deacon.

The priest’s stole is broader than the deacon’s and hangs from the neck (around) down to the bottom of the front, falls low over the surplice. It is made of the same material and colour as of the cope (chasuble) and other vestments (Exodus 28:31-32; Leviticus 8: 7). This typifies the consecrating grace of priesthood and is symbolic of the dignity and power and must be worn by the priest at all liturgical services. St John Chrysostom in one of his speeches had pictured this as the live wings of angels. When a priest wears Hamniko, he signs the cross, twice and recites a prayer which includes this verse from “Gird me with strength unto the battle and subdue under me them that rise up against me, defeat my enemies before me and I will silence them who hate me” (Ps. 18: 39, 40). This can be seen as armour against the forces of evil. The priest should wear, whenever he officiates a public prayer as God’s minister and when reading the Gospel.

STOLE (Hamniko)

4. GIRDLE (Arrakettu), Zunoro, Zenoro, Soonoro

It is a sort of belt with which the priest girds himself above the surplice (alb) and stole. This is also called Cincture. This is the sword of the Triumphant (Ps. 45: 3) and the belt signifies tying the waist the truth (Eph 6: 14). The girdle speaks of the control over all bodily desires, and it is symbolical of the gift of strength, wherewith God abides in him in his service and exhorts him to blamelessness of life. It also shows preparedness for service, for worship and for war against enemy girding the lions, shows readiness for action. Tying a belt across one’s waist is a sign of preparation. It was a custom that Passover meal had to be eaten wearing the belt (Exodus 12: 11). The use of the girdle dates to very early times (Exodus 28: 4; Leviticus 8: 7) and the first authoritative use to the girdle as a liturgical vestment date to the sixth century AD. Jesus Christ washed the feet of his disciples tying a towel on his waist as sign of readiness to serve (John 13:4). Prayer recited by the priest while tying the girdle across his waist contains thoughts of wearing a sword of Divine power to confront the might of evil. When he wears the girdle, he signs the cross once over it, reciting “Gird Your sword upon your loin, O Most Mighty, with Your glory and Your majesty; Your majesty triumphs” (Psalms 45: 3).

GIRDLE (Arrakettu, Zunoro, Zenoro, Soonoro)

5. SLEEVES (Kai- Urrakkal, Zindo, Zendo, Zende)

Two sleeves, worn over both the forearms and are also called cuffs, maniples. This signifies a priest’s readiness to keep God’s law, to make the hands instruments of righteousness and good works (Ps 18: 34-35). They are armours that no longer belong to him, but to Jesus. When he blesses, we receive the blessings of Jesus Christ. Those cuffs tell of their readiness to serve and to do the works of righteousness. They are made of the same material as of the cope and stole and is a sign of being strengthened and to show that hands are prepared for Divine service. The priest prays over the two zende: “O Lord, make my members instruments of righteousness, meet for all good and right works, make us pure temples and chosen vessels fit for the service of Thy Glory, Our Lord and God foreverHe puts on the left zendo, signing the cross twice over it and saying: He trains my hands to war; and he strengthens my arms like a bow of brass(Ps. 18: 34). He puts on the right zendo, signing the cross once over it, saying: Let Thy right hand help me up, and let Thy Loving discipline raise me(Ps. 18: 35).

6. CHASUBLE (Cope, Kappa, Phayno, Phaino)

This distinguishing vestment of a priest is a long, ample, outer garment without sleeves and is put over the other vestments.The word Phayno would have originated from the Greek word phelonion. In Greek and Roman culture, men used to wear a cassock (paenula) like clothing above their normal dress. The Cope was in use from the 4th century. In early days, deacons in Roman Church were using Cope, but in Eastern Churches, only Bishops and Priests were wearing this and can be compared to the bridal clothing for the heavenly feast mentioned in Matt. 25: 11. This symbolises the holiness through the invocation of the Holy Spirit. This is the robe of glory and righteousness (Ps 132:9-10). This also signifies Aaron’s robe of many colours, Elijah’s fallen cloak or mantle (2 Kings 2:13), the seamless robe of our Saviour (Jn. 19: 23). Jesus Christ wore a red cassock before his crucifixion (Jn. 19: 5). The significance of Cope is explained using the symbols of the cassock worn by Jesus when the bleeding woman touched it (Matt. 9:20).

Full Kappa Set

The priest represent, Christ the King. Thus, the Cope is a robe of royalty, hence made of rich colorful silk, however, a black Cope is used often on Good Fridays. When the celebrant wears the Cope, (chasuble), the celebrant Signs the Cross thrice over it saying: Let Thy priests be clothed with righteousness and Thy righteous with glory. For Thy servant David’s sake, turn not away the face of Thine anointed’ (Ps. 132: 9,10), Clothe Thy priests with salvation and Thy saints with glory which indicates that Cope is a sign of honour for a priest to be in service to God.

Archpriest or cor-espicopa over the above, wears an oblong piece of brocade with artistic stitching on, an epigonation, an additional cope (goori)

7. SHOES (Sandal, M’sone (Syr.)

This is special ceremonial footwear for purely for worship services. It has decorations with velvet covering and silver thread designs. The priest wears ceremonial shoes while celebrating the Holy Qurbana because the sanctuary is glowing in fire. They symbolise the preparation for the Gospel of peace against all evils (Eph. 6: 15). They are to trample & underfoot serpents, scorpions and all the power of the enemy and to cast down under the foot, all false pride that is exalted against bad (2 Cor. 10: 5) and to tread down the lust of flesh.

Just as the shoes are worn at the staring of a journey this also signifies getting ready for a journey and the beginning of the journey of experiencing the kingdom of Heaven through heavenly worship. People of Israel ate their first Passover meal wearing sandals. Sandals are used in Holy Qurbana as a sign of victory over evil powers and as getting ready to gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15). Mourners and prisoners of war were not wearing sandals. Sandal symbolises joy, authority, freedom, and title (Ruth 4: 7; Ps. 60: 8; 108:9). This also symbolises that the priest is ready to celebrate Holy Qurbana and that he is prepared to lead the Church in its pilgrimage to heavenly kingdom. The sandals being used in Madbaha cannot be used elsewhere. Leather sandals are not allowed, since no animal product is permitted in the sanctuary.

As the priest puts the shoe on the left foot, he says: May my feet, O Lord God, be shod with the preparation of the Vestments Gospel of peace, so that I may tread underfoot serpents and scorpions and all the power of the enemy, for ever.” While putting the shoe on the right foot, he says: Cast down under my foot, Lord God, all false pride that is exalted against Thy knowledge, and grant that by Thy help may bring the lusts of the flesh into subjection, for ever.

8. Skull Cap (Pheero, Phiro, Zucchetto)

Priests wear a small black circular skull cap, covering almost the entire top half of the head. During the ordination of a priest his skull cap is blessed along with the other priestly vestments, and after he is vested the ordaining bishop ceremoniously places the skull cap over his head as the external sign of his Holy Priesthood. Hence it is called the fruit of priesthood (Phiro d’Kohnutho). It has seven sections, which indicates the completeness and full priesthood of the celebrant and the steps to ordination of priesthood, as well as the one, eligible to who can receive all the seven important sacraments of the Holy Church. In some Orthodox Churches, even the high priests wear it under the koobatho.

The skull cap, (Phiro) symbolizes the crown of thorns that our Lord wore when He offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world. The priest is sacramentally Christ Himself, and he must wear this symbol of the crown of thorns when he actualizes the same sacrifice of Christ. Elbishto d’Kurobo, is the cap for offering the sacrifice. Clergy of many other Churches also wear the same or similar caps or skull caps during their liturgical functions but vary in colour and shape. Large black skull caps are worn by Cor-episcopa, and Red skull caps are worn by some Bishops. If the priest is a monk, he then puts on the eskimo, a hood is always worn by monks.

Christian priest hood has taken lot of vestments from Aaronic Priesthood and Jewish priests. Wearing the skull caps has its origin in the ancient Jewish practice, that men covered their heads during prayers, which is still observed by Jewish men. The Jewish priests and rabbis during the period of the Old Testament covered their heads not only during prayers, religious services, and public appearances. The black skull cap became a common headwear for Christian clergy probably as a continuation of the Jewish priestly practice, even after the separation of the Church from Judaism.

They wear a, a small black cap which the bishop must wear during all public prayers, under the Eskimo, a hood worn by monks at all times. It consists of seven sections which indicate the full priesthood of the celebrant.  

1 Comment

Yohan mathew · February 6, 2022 at 12:33 am

Very helpful. Thanks for putting out so much information about our Traditions, as not even many people know. Will be teaching this next week at Sunday School.

Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *