Sunday, June 27, 2010

Liturgical Vestments VI: the Subdeacon

Continuing a series I began last September but fell away from, I would like to take up again the vestments of sacred ministers in the Orthodox Catholic Church. Having explored various vestments used throughout, and having then further narrowed the discussion to the Priest and Deacon, I will continue by examining the Subdeacon. has a basic article explaining the role of the Subdeacon in the Orthodox Catholic Church; Wikipedia has a fuller explanation. Both articles seem to draw upon Slavic practices. The actual details of a Subdeacon's ordination, vestments, and service within the scope of Orthodox praxis are decided by one's Bishop.

To review the previous posts on this topic, click the Vestments category at the end of the post.

EDIT: Since this page receives the greatest amount of visitors out of all my posts, I thought I would update it. Last updated 17 January 2014

Eastern Rite

The Subdeacon is the highest of the minor orders of the Church, which are blessed with a different classification of ordination than that of the major clerical orders of Deacon, Priest, or Bishop. The distinction between the two classes of ordination may best be seen in the location of their ordination: the major orders receive ordination in the context of the Divine Liturgy of the Eucharist, while the minor orders receive their ordination outside of the Eucharistic context.

Other names for the Subdeacon are Hypodeacon or (in the Antiochian tradition) Deacon of the Lights. As this last name suggests, the Subdeacon has general responsibility for the care and lighting of the lamps in the church that he serves, as well as the candles of the Bishop when present.

The Subdeacon's role is an attendant to the Bishop. He looks after the Bishop's dikirotrikera and vestments, and generally provides the Bishop with all he needs during the Divine Services. When the Bishop is not present the Subdeacon serves in the altar with the servers.

The Bishop's Kairon with the Rt. Rev. Bishop ANTHONY (Michaels), Bishop of Toledo and the Midwest. Taken at St. John Chrysostom Antiochian Orthodox Church on 18 December 2011. This image may not be shared without express written permission.

There are no instructions for the Subdeacon to say vesting prayers for himself. The Subdeacon vests in the following:
  1. Sticharion - This vestment is known as the alb in the West (meaning 'white thing'); it is a variation of the baptismal garment. Its ornamentation beyond that of the simple white garment is an indication of the role of angelic service the wearer performs as a servant in the altar of God.
  2. Orarion - This vestment is tied around the waist, up over the shoulders (forming an X-shaped cross in back), and with the ends hanging down in front, tucked under the section around his waist.

Below are two examples of Subdeacon's vestments. The purple set I ordered from Katia Ogan. She does excellent work, and I certainly recommend her. The white set is one she is currently selling at the time I am writing this.

You will notice a slight variation in the length of the orarion. The white orarion is clearly shorter than the purple. In the Russian tradition the standard orarion is half as long as the standard Greek or Antiochian orarion. The Russians grant the use of the double-orarion as an award to recognized Deacons. The Russian Subdeacon's orarion is simply a single-orarion, while the Greek/Antiochian orarion is comparable in length to the double-orarion.

However, even in the Greek/Antiochian use there can be a distinction between the make of a Deacon's and Subdeacon's orarion. The Subdeacon's orarion can be slightly thinner, and adorned with only three crosses. It is very common, though, for Subdeacons to simply acquire a Deacon's set of vestments but omit the cuffs.

Western Rite

The Subdeacon in the Western Rite is more or less an assistant to the Deacon. At High Mass he reads the Epistle, holds the Gospel Book during its reading, and assists the Deacon with the preparation of the Oblations.

The Subdeacon vests with the following, saying the appropriate prayers:
  1. Amice - "Place upon me, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, that I may withstand the assaults of the devil."
  2. Alb - "Purify me, O Lord, and cleanse my heart, that being made white in the Blood of the Lamb I may come to eternal joy."
  3. Cincture - "Gird me, O Lord, with the girdle of purity, and quench in my loins the fire of lust, that with the virtues of continence and chastity I may abide in Thee."
  4. Maniple - "May I deserve, O Lord, to bear the maniple of weeping and sorrow, in order that I may joyfully reap the reward of my labors."
  5. Tunicle - Clothe me, O Lord, with the tunic of favors and the garment of joys.

During the Creed at Solemn Mass, celebrated at Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Church on 10 June 2012. The tunicle features one horizontal bar, while the dalmatic features two. The same pattern is followed on the front of the vestment. Image may not be shared without express written permission.

Also, a vestment-like item worn by the Subdeacon during the Eucharist is the Humeral Veil. The Subdeacon uses a humeral veil when carrying the chalice, paten, or other sacred vessels, which should be touched only by the Deacon or another person in major orders. Catholic Encyclopedia has an informative article about the origin and use of this "vestment."

The Subdeacon wears the humeral veil and holds the paten aloft during the first portion of the Mass of the Faithful. Taken at Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Church on 10 June 2012. Image may not be shared without express written permission.

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