Saturday, December 1, 2012

Orthodoxy is Orthodoxy: Vestments of the Priest

Orthodoxy is Orthodoxy. A close friend of mine was talking with me the other day and told me those words and it reminds me constantly how cliche this might sound but thinking about it on a deeper level proves to be true. I was reading on Bishop's Youssef's website a segment in his sevant's prep course on the vestments of a priest and what I read really stood out for me because it should how Orthodox is Orthodoxy. Now that can apply to all aspects of the faith and dogmas and beliefs etc. However this stood out to me because my ignorant mind is used to thinking that Russian and Greek priests are vested very differently than priests from the Coptic or Syrian churches. However this is not the case. To illustrate what I mean I will borrow the material from Bishop's Youssef website to show how both priests from the Coptic and the Russian and Greek traditions are vested the same way in the liturgy:

The tunic (Tonia in arabic): represents the purity of the servant and should be worn by all ranks deacons, priests and bishops.

The Stole (badrashil in arabic): a red and white ribbon that go around the shoulder of the deacon and should be worn according to the rank of the deacon. A deacon and  proto-deacon usually wear it around the left shoulder while the sub-deacon crosses himself in a form of a belt.

The presbyterial stole (sadra in arabic): this is reserved for the priest and is taken from the OT reference to the stole Aaron used to wear.

The cuffs: These are the two pieces of cloth that covers from the wrist to the elbow of the priest. According to the tradition held within the church the cuffs used to be two handkerchiefs that the bishop and priest brought to wipe the tears during the service.

The girdle (al mintawa in arabic): It is a belt that goes around the priest waist. This is taken from the reference in the book of Revelation 1.13. It reminds the priest to be always rady for the work and labor in the vineyard of Christ.

The Taylassan (priest only): It is a head cover...and its the same covering like the twenty four elders who had their crowns while they stood before reminds the priest with the honor and glory of his divine service.

The crown (bishop only): It is similar to the priest Taylassan being reserved only for the bishop.

The Cope (bornos in arabic) (for the priest and bishop): It is a rounded sleeveless loose robe. It represents of the priesthood especially that the robe was also used by the kings and prophets through out Scripture.

The ballin (in arabic): It means what is won on the shoulder. It resembles the stole of the deacon but it is a bit wider. It starts from the head and goes all the way down to under the girdle. It reminds the bishop for the readiness for the vocation and being surrounded by the righteousness of God.

The shield (bishop only): It is a diagonal shaped garment that is attached t the balling near the leg. It represents the duty of the bishop as the guard for the flock of Christ. Refer to Ps 45.13. 

(This was taken from Bishop Youssef Servants prep PDF entitled "Church Architecture and Priests vestments" pages 10 and 11).

The traditions and the beauty of the vestments of the clergy is mind blowing. I was never made aware of the vestments of Coptic clergy before I read this document. This showed many different things however, I will focus on a few points. Like my friend echoed before Orthodoxy is Orthodoxy! The beauty of the church in what is given to us is beautiful because it has been preserved for us. The preparation of the priest should make us all realize and respect the church for not only how it is today but how it's been preserved to us from generation to generation. Priests vestments is not a modern invention. This is how they used to be vested from the very beginning. This is important to maintain the tradition of the fathers to our modern time. The more we begin to forget the more the church is filled with things pertaining to this society and in filling the church with societal things the beauty and the depth of the church begins to be lost. The art of preparation for liturgy begins to be less important.Things such as "I will go to church late or right before the gospel because as long as I hear the word of God everything else is not important". This is incorrect...we are not the "religion of the book". We are the faith that is consistently being lived out. Liturgy and preparation extends to outside the church. The way we prepare for school work etc is all tided in to preparation of liturgy. If the liturgy and church has ceased to be the most beautiful aspect of our life then we are walking among the dead. Out of this lack of preparation we get things like rushed liturgies and we reduce the liturgy to a few words the priests says and then spend half an hour giving a homily that is not relevant to the gospel reading of the day. The beauty of the liturgy is found in being embodied in the community of believers in the body of Christ. Beauty is not only found in the homily of the priest but rather in the journey we all take to be the body of Christ. This culminates in our partaking of the Eucharist! Orthodoxy is Orthodoxy! 

(Tasoni another word for Matushka) Frederica Mathewes-Green said:
" partakes of mystery, what beauty represents is something that can't be put into words, we sense it with our whole being though it's not something we can define. And that is true of our worship as well as we approach God, there is something that is so beyond our words, our ability to verbalize, that it requires the mystery of beauty around it in order to enable us to come into it at all".

Matushka (Russian word which means Tasoni in the Coptic rite) speaks sound words here. Liturgy and its beauty is part of a greater mystery. If something is so beautiful sometimes words cant describe it and this is what is meant by our worship and faith. Words cant describe it. We come to experience Christ through this great mystery that we call faith. It cannot be vocalized but rather lived out. How can beauty be lived out?

Beauty should then translate into love. Love is the goal. Beauty is a delightful and effective way to escort us toward that goal. There is a reason why in our orthodox worship that deacons or priests are so frequently saying let us attend; pay attention. There is a danger that if we make our worship and prayer into something that is magical, that if we go through and say all the right words, something magical happens, rather than participating within their whole hearts. This is very dangerous to our worship. Rather we should become one with our prayers and worship through the readiness and preparation of our minds and soul. This goes for the priest and explains why his vestments are important for the service. The unity and beliefs of the Church is what unites the believers within the community of the body of Christ.  A dear friend posted on his blog about prayer which I will provide the link to at the end of this entry.

To conclude, the unity of the church does not and should not be based on politics of this world but rather come together in love which is combined with the one faith, one belief, one baptism and one resurrection. Orthodoxy is Orthodoxy! The vestment of the priests illustrate how the traditions have been preserved by all Orthodox Churches. The following are pictures of a Coptic priest and a Byzantine priest vested for service. The beauty of Orthodoxy:
                                               A priest from the Russian rite being vested

                                               A priest from the Russian rite fully vested
                                                A priest from the Coptic rite fully vested

The following is the link to the blog post discussing the concept of prayer:

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