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Vestments ~ Colors and Symbols in the Eastern Orthodox Church

Vestments ~ Colors and Symbols in the Eastern Orthodox Church
Vestments ~ Colors and Symbols in the Eastern Orthodox Church

What Vestments are Worn by Orthodox Clergy?

Orthodox clergy wear non-liturgical and liturgical robes. Non-liturgical robes, or cassocks, are worn daily under liturgical robes or vestments. Vestments are worn during church services. In some Orthodox traditions, monastic clergy wear black, dark blue or brown cassocks while married clergy often wear lighter colors. It is interesting to note that the color of the lining in the sleeve of the outer cassock indicates the status of the priest. This tradition, however, may no longer be practiced in some Orthodox orders.

What are the Colors of Vestments and what do the Colors Signify?

The Orthodox Church uses six liturgical colors.

1. White: symbolic of the purity of God’s energy
2. Gold: symbolizes the Kingdom of heaven and the abundance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit
3. Green: the color of life
4: Purple: represents the sufferings of Jesus. (John 19:2 ~ And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe.) In the Roman Empire, the color purple was associated with triumph. Along with the crown of thorns, the purple robe was intended to show the triumph of the Romans and humiliate Jesus’ royalty.
5. Red: signifies the blood Jesus shed on the cross and is symbolic of the blood of martyrs. Red also is symbolic of the fire of the Holy Spirit.
6: Blue: honors the Mother of God

The color for death and mourning, traditionally, is black in the West and white in the East.

When are Certain Colors Worn?

Certain colors are worn for important feast days and sacred events.

Light blue and white: Feast days honoring the Mother of God
Purple or dark red: days commemorating the Crucifixion of Jesus
Red: feast days observing martyrs
Green: feasts honoring monastic saints and ascetics, Palm Sunday, Pentecost and the Monday after Pentecost which is known as Holy Spirit Day.
Dark blue, purple, dark green, dark red and black: Lent.
Sundays and Feast Days during Lent, vestments are a dark color with gold.
White: Funerals

It is interesting to note that in earlier times, there were no black vestments in the Orthodox Church.

Are Specific Colors Used for Various Customs?

Different areas have their own traditions as to what colors are used for certain customs but, generally they are:

White: Epiphany, the Transfiguration, and Pascha
In the past, Christmas and Epiphany were celebrated as one feast called Theophany of the Lord. In some areas, white is worn on Christmas Day but gold is worn from the day following Christmas until Epiphany.
In the custom of the ancient principality of Moscow, priests change into white vestments for the psalm or canticle refrain at certain points in the Holy Saturday Liturgy. In some areas of Russia, white is worn from Ascension to Pentecost but in other places, the chosen color is gold.
Green: Pentecost and feasts of prophets and angels. In some areas, green is the color worn for the Elevation of the Cross which is a feast day in September.
Gold: from Christmas to Epiphany and during the Nativity fast.
When no color is indicated, gold is worn.
Red: the fast for Saints Peter and Paul and the nativity fast and feasts of all martyrs
Blue: all feasts honoring the Mother of God, including the presentation of Our Lord, Annunciation and the Dormition fast and feast.
Purple: weekends during Lent
Black: week days during Lent and Holy Week
Orange or rust: in some areas, these colors are used for the Saints Peter and Paul fast and in other areas for Saints Peter and Paul feast through the Transfiguration.

What is the Purpose of these Vestments?

The intention of the vestment is to draw attention away from the priest’s personality and to, instead, see him as a representative of God.

Of all the pieces that make up the total vestments, only five are worn by all priests. The remaining are earned as the priest rises in rank.

1. The robe: although not officially part of the Eastern Orthodox vestments, it is worn daily by the clergy for general business inside the church.
2. Tunic: made of linen or silk, a reminder of the universality of the church
3. Stole: worn around the neck. The two sides are often attached and hang at the priest’s front to the hem of the tunic. When he is not performing a full Mass, he can wear the stole with the cassock to symbolize his position.
4. Cuffs: worn to represent the bonds of Christ
5. Belt: tied at the waist to symbolize the priest’s tie with Jesus
6. Thigh shield: a diamond-shaped piece of stiff cloth worn near the knee to symbolize the spiritual sword and the word of God.
7. Chasuble: represents the robe of Christ and righteousness. It is worn over the shoulders and hangs low in the back and below the chest in the front
8. Pectoral Cross: the last thing a priest puts on is his large pectoral cross which is silver, intricately designed and hangs below his chest. It represents that the priest does not keep Jesus only in his heart.

Bishops also wear a round image of Mary, Mother of God.

Marilyn Nash