An Explanation of a set of Priest Vestments in the Byzantine Tradition

The following video and images will provide a brief yet comprehensive explanation of each vestment piece according to the Byzantine Eastern Orthodox Tradition and the vesting prayers said by the Priest in the Greek Orthodox Christian tradition.

Eastern Orthodox Byzantine Priest Vestments
Eastern Orthodox Byzantine Priest Vestments. Copyright 2002-2019, Dr. Christine Kerxhalli.

(There are numbers in each image below.  Match the numbers with the explanations that follow.)

  1. Sticharion (Στιχάριον, Undergarment):  This is the very first vestment piece that the Priest puts on.  The Vesting prayers in the Greek Orthodox Church say that the Lord clothes the priest with the garment of salvation, the robe of righteousness —this garment represents the Baptismal Robe of the faithful.  As the Priest puts this vestment piece on, it not only reminds him of his own Baptism into the Christian faith, but it also reminds him that as priest, he is assuming the responsibility of leading those souls who have been baptized into the Christian faith toward God and their salvation.  He is taking on the role of a shepherd leading his assigned flock through their life toward their salvation through the Sacraments of the Church.
  2. The Epitrahelion (Έπιτραχήλιον, Stole):  The Epitrahelion (Έπιτραχήλιον, Stole) is the second garment the Priest puts on.  This is a long garment hanging from the neck down to almost the hem line as shown in the image.  As the Priest puts this garment on he says a prayer in the Greek Orthodox tradition that comes from Psalm 132 (133):2 which says that God pours His grace upon him as the priest and likens the motion of putting the Epitrahelion on over the head with the anointing of oil in the Old Testament that runs down the “beard of Aaron” (meaning those who were anointed to do a Sacred duty such as priests and kings in the Old Testament) to the hem of his garment.  This is why the Epitrahelion goes down to almost the hem of the garment.  This garment represents taking on the image of Christ, the image of The Great Shepherd, and all the priests (shepherds), “all who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ”.    On most Epitrahelions, there is fringe put on them to decorate them.  The fringe is more than just a decoration – it represents each soul in the priest’s flock that is entrusted to him.  In another sense, the Epitrahelion is rather like the breastplate of a warrior.  The priest is arming himself to stand between the faithful and the evil forces (wolves of the flock) and lead his flock safely to salvation through the Sacraments of the Church.
  3. The Zonin (Ζώνην, belt):  The belt around the waist is put on next.  The Priest “girds himself” according to the vesting prayers which come from Psalm 17 (18:32).  He Girds himself with strength and virtue.  Again very much like a warrior donning pieces of armor to fight “the good fight”.
  4. The Epimanikia (΄Επιμάνικια, Cuffs).  The Epimanikia (cuffs) are put on next, first the right hand with special prayers addressing the Lord’s strength and greatness to overthrow adversaries which comes from Exodus 15:6-7.  The cuffs are like pieces of armor that strengthen the wrists for battle, a battle against evil.  After the right cuff is fastened, the priest then fastens the left cuff.  The prayer for the left cuff in the Greek Orthodox tradition comes from Psalm 118 (119):73 which acknowledges that the Lord made him in His image and likeness and the priest prays that he will be enlightened to properly serve him. It is through the hands of the Priest that the Lord leads the faithful toward their Salvation through the Sacraments of the Church.
  5. The Epigonation (‘Επιγονάτιον, Shield, A Symbol of elevation).  If the Priest holds an ecclesiastical office and is entitled to wear the Epigonation, he puts this vestment piece on next.  According to the Greek Orthodox tradition, when he puts this piece on, he says a prayer that is based on Psalm 44(45):3-4 which speaks of girding the sword at your thigh, bowstrings prevailing in justice and righteousness.  This vestment piece is referred to as representing the Sword of the Holy Spirit.  Again, very much the image of a warrior, fighting the Good Fight, in the Church Militant (the Church in the world) that continually works at helping the faithful toward salvation.
  6. The Phelonion (Φελόνιον, Chasuble).  The Phelonion is the last vestment piece the priest puts on.  This is the beautiful, long flowing garment that covers all the other vestment pieces.  Likened to the the glory of the Kingdom of God, the glory of the Lord covering and protecting His flock from dangers through the Sacraments of the Church, the Priest says a prayer as he puts the Phelonion on that comes from Psalm 131(132):9 which acknowledges that the priest is clothed in the righteousness of the Lord and he (the priest) is joyfully thankful to be allowed to serve the Lord in this way.

All who have been Baptized into Christ have put on Christ, Alleluia!