Vested for Service
A deacon’s vestments help show that he truly is an icon of Christ
One of the distinctive visible signs of liturgical celebration since the earliest centuries of the Church is the vesture of the clergy. Vestments are not simply a uniform or a sign of one’s consecration to serve in the Lord’s house, they also serve as a critical part of the Christian iconography of the liturgy, visibly revealing in color, material, shape and form the kingdom of God through its participation in the ministry of Christ. Within the Byzantine tradition of worship, there are three distinctive garments to reflect his participation as an ordained servant in a Christian temple.
The first liturgical garment is the linen or silk sticharion, which is an ornate form of a baptismal tunic worn by all of the ranks of the clergy. This garment reveals the root of clerical identity, which is found in our status as baptized disciples of Christ. This garment is made in the liturgical colors of the season, is usually adorned with a cross and covered with garden symbols such as floral and vineyard patterns to reflect the symbolism of the vineyard of the Lord and the paradise of the New Eden in Christ.
The vesting prayer is based on Isaiah 61:10: “My soul rejoices in the Lord, for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and with a mantle of justice he has wrapped me, like a bridegroom adorned with a crown, like a bride bedecked with jewels.”
In the context of vesting, the significance of this verse is varied: The robe of salvation and mantle of justice, referring to the grace of salvation and mantle of service, worn by priests, prophets and kings in the Old Testament; the reference to the crown and jewels of the bride and bridegroom respectively reflects the nuptial joy of the wedding feast of the Lamb, with the deacon representing both Christ the Bridegroom and his bride, the Church.
The second liturgical garment is the orarion, or stole. This is the distinctive garment of the deacon and subdeacon, and is approximately 5 inches wide, 10 feet long and made of the same material and color as the sticharion and usually is adorned with seven crosses for the seven deacons ordained by the apostles (cf. Acts 6). This garment is raised by the deacon when praying the many litanies, as well as to gesture to people and objects during the service. Some speculate that its roots are Roman, found in the role of the advocate who raised a cloth to speak to the emperor or before the Senate on behalf of someone. There is no formal prayer for vesting, although there is a tradition of saying the “Holy, Holy, Holy …” from Isaiah 6:3, symbolizing the angelic ministry of the deacon since St. John Chrysostom compared the movement of the orarion to that of the wings of the angels.
The last liturgical garment is that of the epimanikia, or cuffs, which are made of the same material and color, and adorned with a cross. This garment signifies that our hands are consecrated to Christ for service at the altar.
The vesting prayer for the right hand is taken from Exodus 15:6-7, and Moses and Miriam’s Hymn of Victory over the Egyptians, speaking of the saving power of the Lord’s right hand. The prayer for the left hand, Psalm 119:73, speaks of the Lord’s creative work with his hands and the need to learn his commandments.
These prayers have added significance because the traditional icon of Christ before which the deacon stands portrays him vested in a tunic, wrapped in a stolelike garment with his right hand raised in blessing and his left hand holding the Gospel with the commands of Christ. The deacon is thus a true icon of Christ: vested in grace, vested for service.
FATHER DEACON DANIEL G. DOZIER is a Byzantine deacon and director of the San Damiano Institute for Catholic Servant Leadership (SanDamianoInstitute.com). He is an associate professor of Scripture at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh.