By: Protodeacon David Kennedy
Apart from clerical attire, which for deacons is generally the same as priests, there is one vestment, namely the sticharion. It is worn with the orarion and the epimanikia which properly speaking are insignia.
The sticharion is a tunic type garment that reaches to the ankles. The Western equivalent is the alb. The dalmatic is a vestment proper to the Bishop of Rome and gradually by extension to the deacons of Rome, and eventually to other bishops, abbots and deacons. It has never properly been the vesture of deacons in any of the liturgical rites of the Eastern Christian Churches. (I am not taking into account Uniate liturgical aberrations.)
Originally, the sticharion of the deacon was of linen and white in colour. Currently, most deacons’ sticharia are made of brocaded fabrics and are of the liturgical colour of the day or feast. They are cut amply with wide sleeves and an A-line body. Usually, the edges are trimmed with decorative galloon or banding. This same banding is used to make a yoke and a large embroidered cross is placed on the back of the vestment. The deacon kisses the cross before donning it.
Those in minor orders also wear the sticharion: namely readers, cantors, and subdeacons. (By custom altar servers who do much but not all of the subdeacon’s liturgical role also wear the sticharion but not clerical attire.) Priests and bishops likewise wear the sticharion. However, the sticharion of the priest or bishop is not cut so amply and is usually of a light silk or satin fabric rather than the heavy brocade fabric of the deacon’s and those in minor orders.
Thus, we can see plainly that the sticharion is the common vestment of all the orders.
(Photo: Nikita Tailor http://www.nikitatailor.net/ Here is the sticharion, the orarion on the left shoulder, and the epimanikia or cuffs seen below the sleeves.)
The orarion is worn over the left shoulder (currently fastened in place by a button). It is a narrow strip of fabric running from hem to shoulder to hem. Currently, it is decorated with seven crosses and the ends often are fringed. The Western equivalent has been commonly known as the stole from about the 9th century. The orarion is the insignia of the diaconal order in the East. Canons 22 and 23 of the Council of Laodikeia in the 4th century speak of it as proper to the diaconate. Possibly, its originates as a towel and as such is a typos of the service of Christ who girded with a towel washes and dries the feet of his disciples before his passion and death. (Isidore of Pelousion, PG 78:272C) This insignia, thus emphasizes the deacon’s role of service both in and outside of the liturgical assembly founded on a participation in Christ’s Paschal Mystery wherein Christ reveals Himself but as the Servant of the Father’s will. St. John Chrysostom sees the orarion of the deacon as a typos of the angelic wings, for as the deacon moves throughout the church the orarion flutters. (PG 59:520.17-27).
Sometime, following the 17th century archdeacons and protodeacons were given a second orarion to wear as an honorific. This double or extended orarion is also worn over the left shoulder as in the manner of the single orarion. However, the other two ends are fastened on the right side below the arm about hip level. In the last century the orarion of archdeacons and protodeacons has become quite wide and decorated with extensive embroidery. In some Churches of the Byzantine rite all deacons wear the extended orarion and the single orarion has been given up. Among the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox, the double orarion is bestowed as an honor usually sometime before elevation to the rank of protodeacon.
Epimanikia are detachable cuffs, worn by bishops and priests over the sleeves of their sticharia, and by deacons over the sleeves of their inner rason (cassock). Bishops have worn them for at least the 10th century. This use was granted first to archdeacons and protodeacons, and from the mid 14th century deacons have worn them. Epimanikia are attached by long cords and remind the wearer of how Christ was bound and lead to his crucifixion. They are usually decorated with a cross.
Before vesting for any service, the deacon approaches the principal celebrant with the sticharion folded so that the cross on the back is upright and facing the celebrant. The orarion, which is also folded, and the epimanikia, are placed on the folded sticharion, but not to obscure its cross. The deacon asks for a blessing. At the Divine Liturgy but not at other services, there are prescribed prayers for the vesting.
Sticharion: My soul shall be joyful in the Lord; for He has clothed me with the garment of salvation; and the robe of gladness He has wrapped around me. He has placed on me, as a bridegroom, a crown; He has adorned me, as a bride, with jewels.
Having kissed the orarion, he lays it over his left shoulder. (There is no prayer for the donning of the orarion in the current liturgical texts. The vesting prayers developed between the 11th and 14th centuries, and there are various recensions of these prayers. In some pre-Nikonian texts the deacon says the following while donning the orarion: Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabbaoth, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. It is not uncommon for the double orarion of the archdeacons and protodeacons to have Holy, Holy, Holy, embroidered thereon. There is a typological relationship between deacons and angels.)
Right epimanikion: Your right hand, O Lord, is glorified in strength; Your right hand, O Lord, has shattered the enemies. Andin the multitude of Your glory You have crushed Your adversaries.
Left epimanikion: Your hands have made me and formed me; give me understanding I will learn Your commandments.
While singing the synaptes or litanies the deacon customarily raises the end of the orarion in his right hand. This acts as an attention getter. The deacon will use the orarion as a pointer to bring attention to a certain object or a direction to be faced or moved towards. Before communion the orarion is bound in a cross saltire (St. Andrew’s Cross) in order that it may be out of the way. If the deacon is not holding the end of it in the right hand, he drapes it over the left arm. In the procession with the Gospel Book, the deacon drapes the orarion over the book itself. During the anaphora when the celebrant sings the words of institution the deacon points to the bread and cup with the orarion. He also does this during the epiclesis when he prompts the celebrant to call down the Holy Spirit upon the gifts and the assembly and make them into the Body and Blood of Christ.
The sticharion and its accompanying insignia of orarion and epimanikia make the deacon easily identifiable during the Divine services. When a deacon is buried he is fully vested but more on that in a future post.
Woodfin, Warren T. The Embodied Icon: Liturgical Vestments and Sacramental Power in Byzantium (Oxford University Press) 2012.