The Old Testament Priesthood as compared to the New Testament Priesthood

In my earlier post, we explored the women mentioned in Jesus Christ’s Genealogy from Matthew 1:1.  We explored the lineage of the Virgin Mary as given in the first five chapters of the Protoevangelium of James and discovered that she carried both the bloodline of the Tribe of Judah (King David) from her Father; and, the bloodline of the Tribe of Levi through her Mother Anna who was of the daughters of Aaron.

In ancient Israel, one tribe of the 12 tribes of Israel was set aside to perform priestly functions.  This was the tribe of Levi (Numbers 3).  Specifically, within the Levi Tribe, the sons of Aaron were further set aside to be the Liturgical Priests.  The Levites taught the people about the Hebrew faith and therefore lived within the other 11 tribes.  They did not inherit property from their father Jacob (later called Israel),  their sole responsibility was to live within the other tribes and teach the faith (Joshua 13:33).

Exodus 29 and Leviticus 8 speak of this priesthood.  The Old Testament priesthood was one of progeny.  To clarify, just Aaron was the first anointed Priest within the tribe of Levi and was known as Christos (the anointed one).  His sons were then acknowledged by a sprinkling.  Whenever the anointed priest died, his next eldest son became priest and so forth.

Jesus Christ, carries both the bloodline of the tribe of Judah (as foretold in the Old Testament) and the tribe of Levi (the tribe of the Priestly class) as discussed in the previous post.  Jesus Christ’s relative, John the Baptist (Luke 1:36)  (Son of Priest Zachariah (of the sons of Aaron) and Elizabeth (of the daughters of Aaron) were relatives to the Virgin Mary through her mother, Anna, who was of the daughters of Aaron.  Therefore, Zachariah and Elizabeth were of the Levi tribe and the sons and daughters of Aaron.  John the Baptist is referred to as the Forerunner, because he was approximately 4 months older than Jesus Christ, and he went before the Messiah to prepare them for Jesus Christ’s Ministry when Jesus became of age according to God’s plan.

In the Old Testament, it was prophesied by Isaiah and Ezekiel that the Lord God would come as a shepherd to His flock (Isaiah 40:11) (Ezekiel 34:12, 34:23) which is something the Old Testament priesthood was not – they did not go forth to evangelize and bring all into the faith.  The Old Testament priesthood promoted good works and proper teachings. and although the New Testament priesthood is all that, it is also now a shepherding task to bring  the flock back to God the Father – the salvation of mankind.

In John 10:7-16, Jesus Christ declares himself as the Shepherd and Jesus Christ’s ministry is precisely that, not only good works and proper teachings but also the shepherding of the people, the body of the Church – it is a priesthood of evangelism that reaches out to all people.   The New Testament priesthood is also a sacrificial priesthood in that the Shepherd lays down his own life for the salvation of his flock.   Jesus Christ is the New Testament High Priest (Heb 9:11).  Not one of progeny as the Old Testament Priesthood was, but one of the New Testament Priesthood, as High Priest and Shepherd so that God’s people may obtain salvation and inherit the Kingdom of God:

Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. ….. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.   “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12 …….. 14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.  And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.    John 10:7-16

  Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32 NKJV

Related blog post :  The veneration of the Mother of God in the Orthodox Christian Church

Sources:  NKJV Holy Bible; The Ministry of the Church, Image of Pastoral Care by Joseph Allen, Ancient Christian commentary on Scripture; The Life of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, Holy Apostles Convent, Buena Vista, Co; Protoevangelium of James from Apocryphal Gospels, Acts and Revelations: Ante Nicene Christian Library translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to AD 325 Part 16. Reverend Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson


The Meaning 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!