Vesting the Bishop in the Hierarchical Liturgy
The bishop goes to the kathedra (a raised platform with the episcopal chair) which has been set up at the bema (the center of the nave). Then, in the midst of his people, he is vested by the deacons and subdeacons and any parishioners the parish priest has designated.
Standing on the ambo, the protodeacon prays aloud the prayers of vesting while two deacons incense. There is a wonderful contrast in the theology of vesting. There are actually two sets of vesting prayers: those said quietly by the bishop and those proclaimed aloud by the protodeacon. These together illustrate the salvific dynamic of passion and resurrection. The protodeacon proclaims the victory of the Resurrected Christ, for the bishop’s vesting is a ritualization of each Christian’s “putting on Christ.” The prayers said by the bishop are taken from the passion narratives and ritualize that other aspect of our baptism, that we are baptized into the death of the Christ.
The Bishop is vested with the stikhar. This is the white garment of the saints given every Christian at baptism to symbolize that he has “put on Christ.” As Revelations 3:5 tells us, “…those who prove victorious will be dressed…in white robes; I shall not blot their names out out of the Book of Life, but acknowledge their names in the presence of my Father and His Angels” And Revelations 7:14-15 reminds us, “…they have washed their robes white again in the Blood of the Lamb, they now stand in front of God’s throne and serve Him day and night in His Sanctuary.” As this the basic garment of every Christian, the same garment (though variously decorated) is worn by those newly baptized, called neophytes, and all ranks of clergy. In contrast, the bishop prays, “Herod and his soldiers treated Him contemptuously and mocked Him, and after clothing Him in resplendent garb, sent Him back to Pilate (Luke 23:11).”
The bishop is vested with the epitrakhil, a piece of cloth that hangs down from his neck to his feet. This stole symbolizes God’s grace poured out to ordain him to the priesthood.
The Bishop is vested with the Poyas (Belt) representing the Strength of God and Protection from on High (Psalm 17:32-33). “Pass the belt around their waists and put the mitres on their head. And by irrevocable ordinance the priesthood will be theirs. This is how you are to invest Aaron and his sons” (Exodus 29:8-9) The Protodeacon proclaims, “Blessed be God who girds you with strength and makes your way blameless…” The Bishop prays, “…They bound Him, lead Him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor. (Matt. 27:1-2)”
The bishop is vested with the cuffs, ritualizing the hands of God in creation and in fashioning humanity and redeeming it, giving it wisdom to fulfill the commandments (Exodus 15:6-7; Psalm 117:15-17, Psalm 118:73). While the protodeacon proclaims, “Your right hand, O Lord, was made glorious in power…”, the bishop recalls that these same cuffs are also reminiscent of the shackles with which the Lord was bound and scourged.
The bishop is vested with the sakkos: a wide sleeved garment fastened by bells which is reminiscent of the seamless garment of Christ, whose priesthood the bishop is a successor of through the apostles (Matt. 27:27-29). The garment takes its theological origins from the garments of the priests of Israel, specifically the ephod (Exodus 28:31-35). The protodeacon prays, “Your High Priests, O Lord, shall be clothed with justice, and Your saints shall exult with joy… (Psalm 131/132:9).” The Bishop prays, “…the soldiers of the governor took Jesus…they stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak about Him, weaving a crown of thorns, they place it on His Head and a reed in His Hand…”
The bishop is vested with the epigonation: a square cloth hung on his right side, symbolizing the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Eph. 6:17). Its history is uncertain with some believing it originated with a thigh shield common in the Byzantine empire to protect the leg from a sword hitting it while others belief it was a bag in which the wearer’s documents of authority were kept. The epigonation symbolizes that the Bishop is bestowed with the authority to go forth and, guided by God’s own Hand, uphold the cause of truth, humility and justice.
The bishop is vested with the omophor, a wide cloth that is draped over the shoulders and hangs down both front and back. It is symbolic of the 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 protodeacon prays, “This is the image of the Son of God, who would leave the ninety and nine sheep in the hills and go in search of the one who had strayed, and find it, and lay it on his shoulders and bring it to the heavenly Father, and to his will, now and ever, and for ages of ages…”
The eparch is vested with the panaghia, which is an icon of Christ with his mother the Theotokos, worn in 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).” The protodeacon prays: “May God create a pure heart in you, may He put a steadfast spirit within you, now and ever… (Psalm 50/51:12).”
The Bishop is vested with the mitra, a crown reminiscent both of the diadem-mitres of the Aaronic high priests and the crowns of victory and life bestowed upon all the faithful in the kingdom. (Rev. 2:10: Keep faithful and I will give you a Crown of Life for your prize. Rev. 4:4: Priests sitting, dressed in white robes with crowns of gold on their heads.) The protodeacon prays, “O God, You have crowned him with glory and honor… (Psalm 8:6; Ps. 20/21:6,5)”. Meanwhile the Bishop prays: “O Lord, place the helmet of Salvation upon my head, that by Your help, I may be delivered from the snares of the old and ancient enemy (Ephesians 6:17).”
During the Vesting
While the bishop is being vested by his Church, the priests receive a blessing from the bishop and go to the vestry and vest. When they have vested, they return to the bema to stand with the bishop. They stand in two rows according to rank on either side of the eparch.
However, the junior-most priest remains in the sanctuary and performs the first half of the Proskomidia (preparing the Bread and Wine for the Liturgy). Stopping at the commemorations of the living and dead, he leaves the blessing of the Gifts to the Bishop, which the bishop does at the Great Entrance.