The Deacon’s Vestments
By B. D. Kennedy, B.A., M.Div., Th.M., B.Ed.
Protodeacon, Eparchy of Toronto, UGCC

Here, we will address only the clerical attire of deacons, hierodeacons, protodeacons and archdeacons. Given current legislation on clerical attire, this will be framed with the current practice of the Orthodox Churches of the Byzantine rite in mind. It should be remembered that the descriptions that follow are broad and general in scope. We will speak of the current Greek and Slavic customs. However, the reader should bear in mind that clerical attire in not a prescribed uniform. It is not the equivalent of military dress.
The purpose of this material is to be descriptive in respective to the issues it addresses. While the material is accurate, because of the fluidity of the nature of the topics covered, it is not definitive. Neither is it legalistic in its intent not does it pretend to be normative. It is written in response to the queries posed to the author in regards to the “best practice”.
Within the Byzantine rite the exact cut and minute tailoring details of clerical attire differ from one Church sui iuris to another. Current and past legislation has taken a rather general approach in regard to details. The legislation does not come with prescribed patterns for tailors to follow. While clerical attire tends to be very conservative, over the years minor changes have been introduced. Sometimes these changes are in continuity with legitimate customs, at other times they are not.
The clergy have a responsibility to educate those who will tailor their attire to fashion clerical attire according to the tradition. Excellent tailoring skills do not imply that the tailor has the requisite knowledge to attire the clergy. This requires an historical knowledge and without it the best-intentioned cleric or tailor can go astray. One is best to seek out a tailor who has a detailed knowledge of Orthodox clerical attire. This is usually not the case with commercial firms that specialize in Western vesture and clerical attire. What follows is a general description and guide.
There are only two vestment colors in the Byzantine tradition: bright and dark. Dark is worn during penitential services, for example from the prokeimenon of Sunday Lenten Vespers to the completion of Friday Lenten Vespers. Bright colored vestments are worn during non-penitential times.
The material for the inner rason may be of any color. The material for the outer rason is black in color in the Greek Churches. However, in the Slavic Churches the outer rason while usually black may be of any color. The most common colors of the inner rason are black, blue or gray. Some of the Slavs wear white at Pascha. The Patriarch of Bucharest and all Romania customarily wears a white outer rason. Purple, scarlet, blue or green have no hierarchical significance, nor do they indicate a special rank among the clergy and thus may be worn by any of the clergy. Patriarchs and metropolitans in the Slavic Churches wear a white klobuk; i.e. the veil on the kamilavka is white. Ukrainian and Russian protodeacons, if granted the privilege, may wear a purple or maroon skoufia, or purple or maroon kamilavka.
Clerical attire may be of any material as long as it is simple, decent and not extravagant. The rason is usually made of wool or of a wool and synthetic blend. The kamilavka of protodeacons and archdeacons is usually covered in velvet. In the choice of fabrics for the inner and outer rasons it should be born in mind that regular cleaning is necessary. Modern fabrics may be washed if they are pre-shrunk before tailoring. This should be checked before purchasing.
The Inner Rason, Imation, Anteri, Podryasnik
This is a tunic like garment cut like a double-breasted coat. It extends from the neck to the ankles. Customarily fastened on the left side. In some, the fastenings are visible, in others they are not. It has a continual neckband and in this differs considerably from the cassock or soutane of the West. The shirt collar or Roman collar is not visible as with the Western style. The neckband is not cut away.
The Greek style rason buttons at the neck and waist and, with some, the cuffs also have buttons. It is tied at the waist with a broad ribbon and usually has exterior pockets on the breast and sometimes at the sides.
The Slavic style also has buttons at the neck and waist and in some the cuffs also have buttons. Pockets are hidden on the inside and it has a more tailored appearance than the Greek style.
Some monastics wear an inner rason with buttons down the front of the breast. Unlike the Roman cassock the buttons do not usually extend to the hem of the garment nor does it have a neckband that is cut away to reveal the shirt collar. Hierodeacons and archdeacons, being monastics, wear a leather belt about the waist. The leather belt is common to all monks and nuns of the Byzantine rite.
For non-monastics, a non-leather poyas may be worn with the Slavic style. Such a poyas is made of cloth and cut like the priest’s or bishop’s liturgical vestment of that name . Protodeacons in the Serbian Orthodox Church may be granted the right to wear a poyas, the color of which resembles the purple fascia or sash of Roman Catholic prelates. Such a poyas designates this deacon as a protodeacon.
There are no prescriptions in regards to what is worn under the inner rason. This writer is of the opinion that a white neckband shirt, i.e. a shirt without a collar, black trousers, black socks and black shoes are most appropriate as they harmonize in color with the upper garments and do not provide a distraction.
The Outer Rason, Mandorrason, Ryasa
This is a large and flowing garment that reaches from the neck to the ankles. It is worn always with and over the inner rason.
In the Greek style it fastens at the neck and has voluminous sleeves that extend a little below the hands.
The Slavic style is cut in a similar fashion to the inner rason of the Slavs, only it is larger in order that it may fit over the inner rason. It fastens on the left and at the neck with buttons. At times the inner lining of the sleeves is drawn back to form facings, usually of a contrasting collar. In current practice many of the Slavic clergy wear an inner rason of the Slavic style and an outer rason of the Greek style.
Skouphos, Skoufia
In the Greek style this is a circular cap with a minimum of stiffness. In the Slavic style this is a soft cap made of four equal sections. Each section is cut like a lancet window. Ukrainian and Russian protodeacons may be granted the right to wear a purple or maroon velvet skoufia.
Kalummavchion, Kamilavka
This is a cylindrical or stovepipe shaped hat. In the Ukrainian and Russian Churches, the sides flare outward at the top and it is somewhat higher than the Greek style.
The Greek style worn by the diocesan clergy and by hierodeacons and hieromonks when outside of the monastery has a top that slants upward and a brim at the top of the hat .
Ukrainian and Russian protodeacons, if granted the right, may wear one of purple or maroon velvet. The Serbian kamilavka is black with no flair and a flat top. However, a band of black silk is wrapped about the vertical section.
Sticharion, Stikar
This is a long tunic with wide sleeves, worn over the inner rason. It is decorated with bands of galloon or trim. This trim forms a yoke about the neck and bands at the hem and the end of the sleeves. Servers, readers, subdeacons, deacons, presbyters and bishops wear the sticharion. The sticharion of deacons and those in lesser orders is usually made of heavy brocade while that of the presbyter and bishop is of a lighter fabric. The equivalent vestment in the West is the alb. The sticharion is not the equivalent of the dalmatic and should not be referred to by this name. The dalmatic is a Latin vestment of bishops and deacons and similar to the sakkos of the Byzantine rite.
The sticharion of the deacon should be cut in an ample or full style. It ought to be lined and reach to the hem of the inner rason. The sleeves should be cut above the wrists so that the epimanikia are somewhat visible when the deacon raises his arms.
The sticharion is decorated on the back with one or sometimes two large crosses. The yoke and hem and sleeve hems, along with the orarion and epimanikia may be in a contrasting fabric or color. The fabrics and ornamental crosses used in the sticharion, orarion and epimanikia should be professionally dry-cleaned.
Orarion, Orar
This is a narrow band of fabric which hangs from the left shoulder, both front and back, to the hem of the sticharion. This is the foremost insignia of the deacon. It symbolizes the wings of the angels.
Sometime following the 17th century it seems that protodeacons and archdeacons were granted the right to wear two oraria. This double orarion developed into a very long band that wrapped around the body about the right hip. In the Greek Churches all deacons wear the double or extended orarion.
In the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox Churches the double or extended orarion is given as an award to deserving deacons. It is worn by all protodeacons and archdeacons but no longer seems to be an insignia of the rank of protodeacon or archdeacon.
The deacon holds the orarion with three fingers of his right hand during the prayers of petition and frequently crosses himself while holding it. The deacon holding it on high, uses it to gain the attention of the assembly and to emphasize the words and actions of the liturgy.
Besides being decorated by crosses, the orarion frequently has embroidered on it the words of the seraphim: holy, holy, holy. At the Our Father the deacon binds the orarion about himself and wears it in the manner of a subdeacon. It then symbolizes the wings of the seraphim. Following communion the deacon unbinds the orarion and wears it in its usual manner. The orarion is always worn with the sticharion and the epimanikia.
When a deacon is present at a liturgical service but does not serve, he does not wear the orarion. The orarion is worn only with the sticharion and epimanikia. If a deacon is not serving but comes to communion in the bema, he is first to receive a blessing and then vest in sticharion, orarion and epimanikia. Presbyters should likewise refrain from wearing the epitrachelion unless they are serving. Such a practice is clearly a Latinization.
Epimanikia, Narukavnytsi
These are detachable cuffs worn over the sleeves of the inner rason by the deacon and over the sticharion by the presbyter and bishop. Deacons have worn them since the 17th century. They represent the bonds that encircled the wrists of Christ during his passion. They are held in place by long cords wrapped around the wrists. The cuffs may be embroidered or at least ornamented with a cross.
Deacons, hierodeacons, protodeacons and archdeacons do not wear at any time or in any style the pectoral cross. This is the privilege of presbyters when they have received a blessing from the bishop, while bishops make use of the enclopion or panagia bearing the image of the Mother of God. Archbishops add along side this panagia a pectoral cross, and metropolitans and patriarchs wear a panagia of Christ, a pectoral cross and a panagia of the Mother of God. This does not preclude the deacon from wearing under his shirt a baptismal cross. This of course is not visible.
Stavrophore monks may wear a wooden cross that is visible on the breast but it is not worn over the sticharion.
Jewelry is not appropriate with clerical attire, as it is not compatible with simplicity and poverty. Wedding bands are acceptable, as they are a sign of a sacramental witness. However, other rings, bracelets, wristwatches, chains, and earrings are not.
The Author’s Comments
The deacon always receives a blessing from the presiding bishop or presbyter before vesting. At the Divine Liturgy vesting prayers are prescribed. Deacons should memorize these prayers which are taken from the psalms. At other services the diaconal vestments are donned without prayers. At all other services in which deacons function liturgically they are to wear the sticharion, orarion, and epimanikia. Before divesting at the end of the service, the deacon is again to receive a blessing from the presiding bishop or presbyter.
When Catholic deacons of the Byzantine rite are invited to function liturgically in the Roman rite they are to wear the vestments proper to the Byzantine rite (CCEC can. 701, and Instruction for Applying… No. 57). If they are present at liturgical services in the Roman rite but not serving, they are to wear the inner and outer rasons and the appropriate head covering. There should be no liturgical syncretism.
Further comments: The clerical suit along with vest or shirt which dates from the late 19th century, and Roman collar which dates from the middle of the 19th century are not the traditional form of clerical dress in the Byzantine tradition. It is not the equivalent of, nor does it replace, the inner and outer rasons. The inner and outer rasons along with appropriate head coverings are to be worn at liturgical services. Deacons and presbyters should follow the example of the patriarchs and heads of the autocephalic churches and wear the traditional clerical attire of inner and outer rason along with the appropriate clerical hat.
The wearing of clerical attire reminds the deacon or priest to practice propriety, simplicity, poverty and humility in regards to his external behavior. It is a witness within the assembly that this person has been set aside for service to God and the Church. It also provides a witness and a sign in the secular world of the presence of God’s Kingdom and the Gospel message. Clerics have not only the right but also the obligation to wear it with dignity and humility according to the received tradition of their own Church sui iuris. And where an accurate observation of the tradition has fallen into disuse, a return to such a practice is obligatory.