Identifying the Bishop (AKA Eparch or Hierarch)
If you come to some of our special celebrations such as the praznyk (the patronal feast of the parish on St. Sophia’s day in September), or a big anniversary of the parish, or an ordination, you might see the bishop celebrating the divine services. He is distinguished by his omophor (a wide cloth that is draped over the shoulders and hangs down both front and back). It is symbolic of Christ the Good Shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep and carries it back gently on his shoulders (Matt. 18:12-14).
The Bishop is the chief pastor (hierarch) of the church. The bishops are the successor to the Apostles and exercise the priesthood of Christ, the great High Priest. In the early Church, the Christian community was so small that the bishop presided at all the services.
Today, the Bishop delegates his ministry and power to the presbyters (priests) and the deacons are the bishop’s assistants. When the bishop is unable to be present at the divine services, they are given an area of jurisdiction in which they are authorized to act on the bishop’s behalf.
In addition to his omophor, a bishop wears a sakkos (a wide-sleeved garment fastened by bells). The garment takes its theological origins from the garments of the priests of Israel, specifically the ephod (Exodus 28:31-35). It likewise is reminiscent of the seamless garment of Christ, whose priesthood the bishop shares in as a successor of the apostles (Matt. 27:27-29). The bishop carries a zhezl (a pastoral staff) with a serpent swallowing two serpents surmounted by a cross. This symbolizes the divine authority of Moses and the power of the staff of Aaron (Exodus 7:8-12).
In addition to his neck cross, a bishop wears a panagia, which is an icon of Christ with his Mother the Theotokos, worn like a medallion around his neck. “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (Deuteronomy 11:18-19).”
Outside of divine services, a guy wearing a pidryasnyk (cassock) or “Roman collar” plus a panagia (with or without a neck cross) is a bishop.