Church vestments were not inherited from any other religion but gradually evolved out of the ordinary dress of the people of the Roman Empire. In those first days of Christianity the clergy presided in their ordinary clothing although undoubtedly costlier and more beautiful garments were used.
In the Early Church, clergymen wore the same kind of garments when celebrating the church services as those worn by other people of that time. Even then however, there was a feeling that the garments of the celebrant clergy should be distinguished in some way from those of the laos (people). The feeling of reverence demanded that the garments of the celebrants should be festive, preferably white in colour (a symbol of holiness and purity) and that they be decorated with crosses to distinguish them from ordinary garments.
Unlike the earlier period which left fabric largely undecorated, the people of the Byzantine Empire used all manner of woven, embroidered and beaded surface embellishment, particularly on Church vestments and court dress.
The Bishop’s Vestments
The Bishop also wears the Sticharion, Epitrachelion, Zone, Epimanika and Epigonation in addition to these:
Sakkos: A very luxurious vestment originally worn by the Byzantine emperor. It is shorter then the Sticharion and has wide, shorter sleeves. It represents the red tunic with which the Romans dressed the Savior before his Crucifixion.
Pectoral Cross: A cross of precious metal and jewels lays over the Omophorion and is worn as a reminder that the Bishop bears his cross and upholds the commandments of Scripture and faithfully fulfills the holy and saving words of Jesus Christ. When he puts on the cross he prays: "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me."
Mandyas: This is a long purple clock of royal splender. It covers everything but the head. Its many folds represent the power of God and the wings of angels. The train is usually held by a Deacon or Acolyte. It is worn at official ceremonies, but not during the Divine Liturgy.
The Priest's Vestments
Sticharion: Long garment reaching to the floor, with long sleeves like an tunic. Sticharion means 'garment with lines' because in ancient times, it was white with darker lines running through it. This represents the baptismal robe and the spiritual cleanliness the clergy must possess when officiating in the Divine Liturgy and other church services. It signifies the white robe of the angel who announced to the Myrrh bearing women the glad tidings of the Lord's Resurrection.
Epimanikia: These are cuffs which are worn around the wrists of the priest. Symbolically they represent the creative power of God. The clergyman recites the
following prayer when he puts the Epimankia on his right hand: Your right hand, O Lord, is glorified in strength.
These are only a few vestments among many others that were worn by the bishop or priests at he holy church.
It is important to remember that when the celebrant (Bishop, Priest or Deacon) wears his sacred vestments he is an instrument of God, through whom the Holy Spirit acts. Whatever he may be as an individual outside the church, when officiating he is the representative of Christ through whom the Grace of the Holy Spirit is given to the faithful.