Monday, October 14, 2013

Eastern Rite: The Byzantine Catholic Church

"The Eastern Churches are the Treasures of the Catholic Church" - Pope John XXIII

Deacon, Priest and Bishops

“The Church is not just the shadow of our bell tower. It embraces a vastness of people and populations that profess the same faith. They're nurtured through the same Eucharist, they're served by the same Pastors. Feel the communion with the other Churches, with all the Catholic communities, small or large, in the world.”

“We are not all the same, and we should not all be the same. We are all diverse, different. Each one has their own qualities, and this is the beautiful thing about the Church. Each one contributes what God gave them to enrich all others.” – Pope Francis


1. Sticharion – the tunic, which is worn by anyone serving in The Holy Place, is in fact the baptismal garment, the robe of glory. Since no other vestment is worn over the deacon's Sticharion, it is generally more ornamented then that of the priest who uses it as an undergarment.

2. Epimanikia – the cuffs worn by the deacon and higher ranks of clergy. The priest and bishop wear the cuffs over the sleeves of the sticharion while the deacon places them underneath his sticharion's broader sleeves.

3. Orarion – the diaconal stole, a long band ornamented with crosses and often the word ‘holy’ repeated three times. The orarion is worn on the left shoulder, passes across the chest and falls down front and back.


1. Sticharion (discussed earlier)

2. Epitrachelion – the priestly stole, a long band worn around the neck and falling down to the ground in front where the two extremities are sewn together. It is usually marked with seven crosses.

3. Zone – the sash or belt, girding the sticharion and passing over the epitrachelion to hold it in place.

4. Epimanikia or cuffs (discussed earlier)

5. Phelonion – this outer cloak has the same origin as the Roman chasuble. Its very full form in the Byzantine usage is reminiscent of the ancient paenula which gradually replaced the Roman toga as the outer garment of the upper classes toward the close of the imperial period. This ample vestment is often cut slightly up the front to facilitate arm movements and is marked by a large cross on the back.

6. Epigonation – a lozenge shaped ornament suspended by a cord from the left shoulder and hanging at the right knee. It is properly a Bishop's vestment but is worn by some priests as a sign of dignity. It probably originated in the imperial regalia as a sort of purse or bag but now is purely ceremonial,


1. Sakkos – that vestment proper to Bishops which gradually replaced their use of the phelonion. Directly copied from late imperial regalia, it is a shorter tunic with ample sleeves and marked with a cross on the back. It is worn over the sticharion or under-tunic.

2. Omophorion is probably one of the most ancient of the Bishop's vestments with a strictly' symbolic origin. Copied from the scarf of office worn by the Roman Emperor and other officials, it identified the Bishop as head of the community. A large, long band of cloth it is marked with crosses and is passed around the neck hanging in front and behind. A “small” omophorion worn simply around the neck and hanging in two pendants on the chest is properly worn in place of the large one after the gospel at the Liturgy. The omophorion is worn by all Eastern Bishops and by Western metropolitans in an abbreviated form (the pallium).

3. Pectoral Cross (discussed later)

4. Engolpia (discussed later)

5. Crown – the Bishop's head covering, adapted from the imperial regalia when the Byzantine clergy began assuming civil functions. The crown is embroidered and bears small icons and is often surmounted by a cross. Some Archimandrites and Archpriests, although not of episcopal character, have the right to the use of the crown.

6. Dikerion and Trikerion – candlesticks used by the Bishop to give solemn blessings. The dikerion holds two candles, symbolizing the dual nature of Christ as God and Man. The trikerion holds three candles, symbolizing the Trinity. The Bishop also wears all the vestments of a presbyter indicated above with the exception of the phelonion.

The Eagle Rug – Bishops stand at their throne on a small oval or circular rug on which is embroidered an eagle in flight above a city. This represents his governance of the local Church under his care.


Besides these liturgical vestments, Byzantine clergy employ several distinctive garments for their ordinary dress. These are simply ritualized forms of the ordinary dress of the Middle East which is still regularly worn in traditional societies. These include:

Mandyas – or mantle is the monastic choir and processional cloak. A Bishop's mandyas is generally purple in color and is adorned by icons of the four evangelists and by ornamental bands, suggesting the streams of grace flowing through the Bishop's ministry. The mandyas is closed at the front bottom as well as at the neck.

Pateritsa – the pastoral staff of a Bishop or Abbot. It is terminated by two serpents looking toward an orb surmounted by a cross, and is reminiscent of the brass serpent erected by Moses to heal the Israelites. The Bishop carries a shorter and simpler staff of wood topped by a simple knob when walking.

Pectoral Cross – In the Byzantine usage this is not a distinctive emblem of Bishops but may be worn by any priest as a sign of a special honor or dignity. In the Russian usage all priests make use of it. The Bishop wears the pectoral cross in conjunction with the Engolpion.

Engolpia or medallions depicting Christ and the Mother of God are a distinctive sign of the Bishop in the Byzantine Church. A Bishop usually wears one with the pectoral cross; a Metropolitan, Archbishop or Patriarch employs two.

Kamelavkion – a cylindrical hat with a small brim on top worn by the three orders of priesthood. Monks, Bishops (since they were monks) and certain dignitaries cover this hat with the Epanokamelavkion, the black monastic veil. (other name Klobuk)

The (outer) Rason -a wide-sleeved tunic worn over the Andirion or inner rason (not visible in the illustration). The andirion, which may be of any color, is usually girt by a sash or, in the case of monks, by a leather belt. The outer rason is usually black although Russian metropolitans often wear white.

His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk,
Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
holding Dikerion and Trikerion

His beatitude Sviatoslav, Patriarch of Ukrainian Rite Catholic Church
wearing Engolpia and Pectoral Cross

Typical Interior of Byzantine Catholic Church

Fr. David Baier O.F.M. puts it in this way “The principal purpose of liturgy is the glorification of God. The liturgical vestments must also contribute to the glory of God. Our internal acts must find expression in our outward appearance, for man is not only spirit, but also flesh. Acts of adoration and reverence, which proceed directly from the soul, are expressed by acts of the body”

Byzantine Liturgical Vestment description was taken from the Official Website of Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Eparchy* of Newton, USA:
*Eparchy is equivalent unit of Diocese

Photo credit


  1. I have run into many Roman Catholics, that say "The Roman Catholic Church, the true Church of Christ." And where I would say it is not entirely incorrect, how do you help them understand that the Catholic Church is more than just the Roman Church? The various Eastern Catholic Churches are part of the whole, but are not Roman, their traditions and Divine Liturgies and sacraments are valid. And even a Roman Catholic may participate in an Eastern Catholic Divine Liturgy (Mass) or go to confession with a priest of an Eastern Church.

  2. try just telling them what you wrote after your question. if they still have questions, direct them to Orientalium Ecclesiarum from Vatican II.


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