The diaconal vestments. I thought it might be interesting in the next several weeks to do a bit of an exploration on the stuff clergy wear - an explanation if you will, of why we wear what we do. This week we’ll look at the vestments unique to the diaconate and subdiaconate. Like bishops and priests, deacons (and subdeacons and readers) begin vesting with the stikarion (for the reader it stops here also). Deacons also wear the epimanikia (cuffs) as do priests and bishops, as their hands are actively involve in many aspects of the Divine Liturgy and thus must be girded about with a vestment appropriate to their function (as well as keeping sleeves back). The most conspicuous vestment of the deacon is his orarion, derived from the Latin word orare, to pray or to plead, to speak in front of an assembly, as an orator would. It’s basically a priest’s stole that’s not joined in the middle and worn over the left shoulder with the front portion of it draped over the left forearm. When reading litanies or emphasizing a certain portion of the Divine Liturgy, the deacon will take this front part in his right hand and lift it up as a sort of physical punctuation to his actions. In our Russian tradition there is also a “double orarion” given as an award to deacons for distinguished accomplishments or length of service; protodeacons (the senior deacon of a large parish or cathedral) and archdeacons (the chief deacon attached to the bishop) also wear this longer version.
The subdeacon also wears an orarion, but it’s usually a slightly skinnier version of the deacon’s, about the same length, but worn a bit differently. It is wrapped around the waist, with the ends being brought up over the shoulders to form a Chi (an “X”) on his back, with the ends tucked into the section around his waist. Like the reader, the special blessing of this office (and all minor and major clergy orders) is to wear the vestments while partaking in Holy Communion (you’ll note the altar servers remove theirs).