On the Outerwear of the Sacred Clergy

I was asked a while ago by a brother priest for any known references regarding the dress of Orthodox Christian clergy. I found the article from which the following excerpt comes, and translated it from its original Greek. I am not entirely familiar with the author, though I know some who are; I simply present this here as-is for the interested reader.

The Outerwear of the Sacred Clergy 1

According to the royal decree that considered the act of the Standing Sacred Synod (article 41, term 77, session 23, 13 January, 1931), titled “Concerning the Standard Raiment of the Greek Orthodox Clergy,” it is explicitly stated that the garments denoting the clerical habit are: “the cloak (rason), cassock (anterion), belt (zonē), and hat (kalymmafchion)”. In addition, the veil (epirriptarion) of the unmarried clergy, long hair, and keeping of the beard may be noted.

Certainly, the path leading to contemporary clerical garb from the first Christian period up to its full configuration was long and complicated, with a variety of fluctuations in each era, of which the evidence from ecclesiastical records and art is particularly enlightening.

The period from the founding of Christianity through the seventh century did not give particular significance to the clothing of the faithful and of the clergy. The latter avoided standing out and had humble clothing, the plain tunic (chiton) and outer garment (himation), mainly dark in color (they did use white as well, but less so), they cut their hair in an even manner 2 and left their beard untouched (canon 27 of the Ecumenical Synod in Trullo of 671 (3).

Later, mainly during the Byzantine era, the clothing of the clergy remained the same; after the Schism <of 1054>, in contrast to the dress of the clergy of the Western church, we see a differentiation as regards the hair and beard. At the same time, however, we see certain differentiations concerning clerical officials, who were influenced by the opulence and luxury of the imperial court. Moreover, the development of monasticism added yet other new elements to the outerwear of the clergy, gradually influencing the garb of even the secular clergy. Along with these, there was the creation of a special order of ministering clergy, who needed clothing fitting for the ministry of its members.

During the Turkish conquest, since the clothing was originally influenced by local variations, it gradually developed in such a way that the monastic habit prevailed, and was imposed even on the secular clergy, a fact observed to this day.

The anteri, or zostikon, or esorrason, or rason (Russian podryasnik), is a hybrid inner garment, from the Turkish word “intari”. It appears to be an evolution of the sphiktourion of Byzantine archons, which were robes (himatia) reaching down to the feet, with a belt (zonē) at the waist and buttons on the upper part. During the period of Turkish conquest the buttons were removed and only one remained at the top of the neck, while it became broader and its two ends were wrapped snugly around the torso and left free below. It could also be supported by a belt, either of leather or broad fabric. According to Russian tradition, a married cleric and the clergy of the lower ranks avoided wearing black inner robes, which were worn by the unmarried clergy and monastics. The anteri of the Greek Orthodox tradition is fuller and is gathered in back with a narrow fabric belt, is usually black in color, and is worn by clergy of all ranks beneath their liturgical garments.

The rason or exorrason (Russian ryasa) is a very old term, denoting the dark-colored, broad, foot-length overcoat with wide sleeves, which, for us in the East, constitutes the most characteristic trait of the clergyman when he appears in public. It is worn on the outside, over the zostikon, and is called both “robe” (himation) and “mantle” (pallium). The Greek version tends to be lighter in weight and wider than the Russian.

The term is encountered from the 9th century, used by many Byzantine authors to denote monastic garb, that is, the black raiment of monastics, a type of robe that covered the shoulders and the back of the body, held in place by a button or tie at the front of the neck. Etymologically, the word comes from the Latin “rasum”, meaning clothing made from rough (not fluffy) and shabby fabric. It is also characterized as a “rag” by ecclesiastical authors (“you should know that, while being clothed in those divine rags, with which the true monk is adorned, you do not act in a manner befitting the image . . . you do not live as a monk” 4), thus intending to show the cheapness of the dark monastic attire relative to luxuriant secular fabrics.

According to Russian tradition, <the rason> is not worn by readers, wardens, or subdeacons, as is customary in the Greek Orthodox tradition, in which they wear it over their normal outerwear while performing their services in the temple, since they are considered minor clergy (not ordained, but appointed 5). How it is, then, in our day, with the unjustifiable tolerance of metropolitan bishops, that plenty of cantors—violating the the tradition of Synods and Encyclicals—have arbitrarily transformed the humble, simple, and modest rason into “something else” is a worthy question.

We first see the special-made rason in images of the clergy of the <Greek> Revolutionary era (i.e., the beginning of the 19th century), when it appears it took its final form. During the era of Turkish rule, it also bore the name “tzoumbes”, which prevailed perhaps on account of the Turks’ broad, dark-colored overcoat (often of silk or wool, and outfitted with fur), the so-called “kaftani”, which came from the Byzantine “caftan6” or “kabbadio”, which was also worn by the Greek archons of the Danube region. The former president of Greece, Demetrios Voulgaris (1802-1877) also wore such a garment, and was recognized for this with the name “Tzoumbes”! But since this was a garment for officials, only the highest clergy wore it, and those among them who were office-holders, while the clergy of the rural areas continued to wear only local secular clothing, a custom that was observed in the provinces until recently, while they only put on the rason for official appearances and in the temple. It is true, however, that the highest-ranking clergyman, desiring to be distinguished from the laity, joined the monastic garb to the archons’ “tzoumbes”, and from the end of the 19th century the rason, exactly as it is today, was imposed upon all clergy.

Kalymmafchion (or kamelafkion or kalymmafchi) is the term used to indicate the distinctive black head covering also worn by today’s clergy of the Eastern Orthodox Church; it is cylindrical and terminates in a conical shape. Different theories have been posited as to its origin, and a variety of interpretations have been given for it.

In the first centuries of Christianity, the clergy wore a hat common to that era, without any distinction, such as the cap (pilos or skouphos), or left their head bare, as indicated by ancient monuments. During the main part of the Byzantine era, we observe the widespread use of the older turban (“phakeolion” or “phakeolis”). Still, there were different types of caps in existence: pyramidal (also called “peristeron” during the period of Turkish rule), soft and hard, which took on shapes and names, and were worn by laymen and clergy, the latter in a more conservative form. Besides their caps (pilos) they also wore the Byzantine “petastos” or “skiadion”, which retained its old shape, but added a very wide brim7. Evidence of Eastern clergy wearing the skiadion comes to us from the illustrations of St. Peter, where the famous procession of the of the Synod of Ferrara is represented.

The monastics wore the hood (koukoulion). From the combination of the Asian turban (phakeolis) and the hood (koukoulion) came the cowl (epanokalymafchon or epirriptarion) of the unmarried clergy, as we shall see shortly.

During the Turkish conquest, the Patriarchs imitated the example of the first Patriarch after the Fall <of Constantinople> (Gennadios Scholarios, to whom Mehmet the Conqueror gave the privilege of wearing the skiadion), wearing the skiadion until 1669, at which time this right was taken away from them. Wearing then the older skouphos (or skouphia, which was renamed “kalpakion”), mainly dark in color, which bore a decorative white strip (kasmpasti) with a cross or icons at its base. According to G. Soteriou, this hard, cylindrical cap later adopted the upper brim, either on account of the influence of the Turkish kalpakion, or because of the combination of the spherical cap (pilos, also called kalpakion) and the cylindrical cap, while it is yet unknown when and why the name changed to kalymmafchion, a name that would simply denote the covering of the head of clergymen.

P. Papaevangelou speculates that today’s form of our clergy’s kalymmafchion first appeared in the West during the 15th century, gradually evolved, and became a head covering for judges. Around the end of the 18th century, when it was their official head covering, with the widespread movement of the clergy towards the garb of archons and judges, the cylindrical caps of the clergy became identical to those of Westerners. Thus, since the beginning of the 19th century, both married and unmarried clergy wear the kalymmafchion, with the difference that those of the married clergy bear a white ribbon in the base—a distinction that was removed in the middle of the same era—while it is true that many priests, in contrast to bishops (according to G. Soteriou), continued to wear their peristera, that is, the conical cap of Byzantine times.

Finally, the epirriptarion is part of the attire of the unmarried clergy, and is worn in particular situations during the course of the day. The word “epirriptarion” comes from the word “epirripto”, which, according to the Medieval Greek Popular Grammmar8 means to give to someone of one’s own volition. It constitutes part of the outer garb of unmarried clergy, and is seen as a symbol of monastic obedience and humble-mindedness.

There are many theories as to its provenance, many of which are clearly seen to be mythical. In other words, for example, this garment has no relation to the sheepskin that the African monastics would throw upon their shoulders. According to K. Kalokyres, it came from the sacred covering—“klaft”—of the pharaoh and magnates of Egypt, which, since it covered the head, was divided into two small strips, which fell upon the shoulders and to the front. This klaft was monochrome, but that of the pharaoh was polychrome, with horizontal gold-colored decorative stripes, just as we see in surviving monuments. The Coptic monks received this and simplified it, keeping it undecorated and black in color (like their rasa). From them it was transmitted to other monks of the East, and prevailed until today. Originally, it was worn directly upon the head (or upon the monastic skouphos), as it appears in Byzantine monuments, and, gradually it prevailed in the Orthodox liturgical tradition.

Moreover, from the 6th and 7th centuries, Byzantine sources already refer to a monastic garment that covers the head9. Also, in the 10th century, sending an epirriptarion to a clergyman as a gift constituted an act of friendliness, as is concluded from the letter of Metropolitan Leo of Synada to the archivist of Hagia Sophia10. Characteristically, from the same period—and particularly debatable as a political move—is the occasion of the meeting of the Bulgar abbott, Symeon, by Patriarch Nikolaos Mystikos of Constantinople in 913, outside the walls of the City, where, after negotiations and the giving over of numerous gifts and spoils of war so that he might leave, the Patriarch blessed him, placing his epirriptarion on the head of the abbott: “While the Patriarch was praying, he placed his own epirriptarion upon <the abbott’s> head as a statement, instead of a crown”11.

However, apart from clerical garb, sources from the 9th and 10th century refer to it as a secular garment, such as the Guest List (Klētorologion) of Philotheos, which testifies to a certain royal epirriptarion being offered to mark the awarding of the office of protospatharios 12. Likewise Konstantinos Porphyrogennetos13 mentions in his texts epirriptiaria among the gifts sent to foreigners, likely denoted by a short cloak (mandya) with a hood (koukoulion), thrown upon the shoulders, and these were separated into three categories, analogous to the hue of the porphyry in which it had been dyed: “first, second, and third intensity”14.

During the 14th century the epirriptarion is referenced in many situations as an ecclesiastical head covering by Pseudokodinos15. G. Soteriou accepts this, and supports the idea that in the end the epirriptarion constitutes an evolution of the phakeolion of the clergy, which was a black square of fabric for the covering of the head. The transformation of the latter into today’s form of the epanokalymafchion, worn by Byzantine hierarchs and clergy upon the skouphos, also in agreement with evidence from art, seems to have happened after 1204, according to the same researcher.

Certainly there are other notions concerning the epirriptarion, emanating from contemporary monastic circles. According to these, the epirriptarion is identified with a particular decorative veil, square in shape, usually made from gold-embroidered silk fabric, whose decoration in most cases is recommended to be a cross in the center surrounded by decorative flowers. This veil, which is characteristically called “aeras” (though having no relationship whatsoever with the liturgical aer, which covers the Precious Gifts and accompanies the procession of the Great Entrance) or “handkerchief” (mandēlion cheiros) or “shirt” (blattion), or “shoulderpiece” (epomion), used by monks (not necessarily clergy) or nuns who serve in the monastery churches when they cense with the hand-censer (katzion), or by the deacons and subdeacons during festal vespers services and vigils of the monasteries, in order to transport an incense boat (a silver likeness of a small church that holds incense) upon their left shoulder, while with their left hand they hold one of its corners as a symbol of their service. In some monasteries, the long hood (kalyptra) that nuns wear over their headscarves (mandēlion) is also called an epirriptarion.

In closing, as to the identification of the epirriptarion with today’s epanokalymmafchon (or, more correctly, epanokamelafkion), we can say that in Orthodox liturgical tradition this particular vestment has the form of a long, dark fabric covering, which originally covered the head directly (as it appears in Byzantine monuments), or was fitted to the hard monastic skouphos and later to the kamelafkion (the cap with a peak), as a distinguishing feature of the outer clothing of unmarried clergy—in other words, bishops, archimandrites, and the simple monks who call it “koukoulion” (as during the service of monastic tonsure there is the expression “take the koukoulion”). The difference is that in the case of the first it is fitted in a fixed way, while for the monks and the Patriarch of Constantinople it is left free. Fitted to the kamelafkion, it falls behind the shoulders, which it also covers with its two vertical flaps on either side (in other words, it is trifurcated).

The Slavophone Orthodox clergy wear it white (klobuk). The epirriptarion of the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia has its own particular shape; it is worn upon a rounded skouphos with an hexapterygon embroidered in gold in the center and a jeweled cross at the top, while the two vertical flaps, which fall upon the breast, are decorated with hexapteryga in gold embroidery as well. The Patriarch of Georgia is differentiated by wearing a black epirriptarion decorated with a large jeweled cross on the center of his kamelafkion, which is rounded as well. The metropolitans of Poland and of the Czech Lands and Slovakia wear white epirriptaria due to their prior dependency on the Russian Church.


  1. Excerpt from: Vlachopoulou, Eleni. «Μορφολογία Ιερών Αμφίων και Πέπλων της Ορθοδόξου Εκκλησίας» (“Morphology of Sacred Vestments and Veils of the Orthodox Church”), pp. 39-45. users.auth.gr/pskaltsi/Vlaxopoulou_istoria_amfion.pdf. Excerpt translation by Fr. Andreas Houpos.
  2. έκειραν συμμέτρως την κόμη
  3. Ράλλη – Ποτλή, vol. 2, 1852, p. 364 & vol. 6 1859, p. 251
  4. Eustathios of Thessalonike, PG 135, 830: «γίνωσκε ότι περικείμενος μεν τα θεια ράκη, δι’ ων ο κυρίως μοναχός κοσμειται, πράττων δε μη κατ’εκεινον …ου μονάζεις»
  5. αχειροτόνητοι (unordained) αλλά χειροθετούμενοι (but having had hands laid upon them)
  6. καφτάνι
  7. See Symeon of Thessalonike, Concerning the Ordination of Priests, PG 155, 396.
  8. Εμ. Κριαράς, vol. 6, Thessalonike 1978, p. 228
  9. The Spiritual Meadow of John Moschos, PG. 87, 3, 2950D
  10. J. Darrouzes, Epistoliers III,.48 [202. 5- 10]
  11. Συν. Θεοφάνους, 385. 5-24, Συν. Γεωργίου Μοναχού, 877. 12-878-9. Ι . Σκυλίτσης – Γ. Κεδρηνός ΙΙ. 282. 5-24. Ι. Ζωναράς ΙΙΙ. 461. 14- 462
  12. Klētorologion of Philotheos, 144. 9-11
  13. Konstantinos Porphyrogennetos, Concerning the Order of the King, 391C & Lidell- Scott, II, E-K, σ.274
  14. «οξέα πρώτα και δεύτερα και τρίτα» (Konstantinos Porphyrogennetos, Concerning the Order of the King, 470. 9 κ.εξ, 471.6-7, 473. 14-15)
  15. Pseudokodinos. 189. 19-190. 10, 214. 6-8 και 283. 4-11