OCA- June 2015
Why are Orthodox Christian clergy “adorned” in fancy vestments at worship services? Doesn’t this stand in conflict with Christ’s teachings on humility?
The idea of those who preside at public worship services is not unknown in Scripture—read Exodus 28 and 29, for example. As such, in virtually every Christian tradition—Orthodox Christian, Roman Catholic, and much of Protestantism—presiding clergy wear vestments of some type, albeit not of the same “style,” when engaged in leading the faithful in worship. [Sometimes such garb is academic in origin, rather than strictly liturgical; nevertheless, the preacher wearing a doctoral robe does not do so out of pride or self aggrandizement.] So, those who lead public worship are “set apart” by wearing “formal” robes specific to their calling, and not for the purpose of exalting themselves above the so-called “rank and file.”
The purpose here is not to “personally adorn” the clergy or to elevate them “above the common people,” any more than judges who wear black robes or physicians who wear a white jacket are being aggrandized because of their vocations. When discharging their “official duties,” judges and physicians vest themselves accordingly, indicating their “functions,” so to speak. So too clergy, when officiating at liturgical services, wear vestments.
Vestments, obviously, do not resemble “secular” garb, in line with the fact that Orthodox Christian liturgical celebrations are not “secular” gatherings, nor are they designed to resemble them. Liturgy is our experience of and participation in the very Kingdom of God, yet to be fully revealed but already fully present in the life of the Church, her worship, and her sacraments.