How to Cover the Liturgy


The Divine Liturgy is the most solemn and important service in the Orthodox Church. As the holy work of the people of God, the Divine Liturgy provides the faithful the opportunity to receive the Holy Eucharist and enter into communion with each other and with God. The Divine Liturgy can be celebrated by either a priest (presbyter) or a bishop (hierarch), or a combination of both. When a bishop presides over the Divine Liturgy, it is considered a “Hierarchal Divine Liturgy” because it includes liturgical hymns and rubrics specific to role and function of the bishop. A bishop, like a priest, may—and often does—celebrate the Divine Liturgy on a daily basis. In the early apostolic times, the bishop alone presided over the Divine Liturgy; as more people became followers of Christ, the Church ordained presbyters (priests), who could also serve the Divine Liturgy with the blessing of and in the name of their Bishop.

Since the Orthodox Church is a hierarchical Church, each celebrant—priest or bishop—commemorates his ecclesiastical authority during the Divine Liturgy. Priests commemorate their local bishop; local bishops commemorate their metropolitan; metropolitans commemorate their patriarch. When a patriarch or archbishop of a local Autocephalous Orthodox Church celebrates the Divine Liturgy, he does not commemorate a particular person, but rather remembers in his prayer, all Orthodox bishops who rightly teach the word of [Christ’s] truth.

While the Divine Liturgy may only be celebrated by a presbyter or bishop (deacons can participate in the Divine Liturgy, however, they are considered facilitators and not celebrants), in the Orthodox Church a concelebration of the Divine Liturgy is also very common. The presence of multiple priests makes this particular service a concelebration, and the presence of multiple bishops makes the service a hierarchal concelebration. Whether the Divine Liturgy is celebrated by a single priest or bishop, or by multiple priests and bishops, the presence of the lay faithful is required since the Divine Liturgy, as a celebration of the Holy Eucharist, is not a private event only for the clergy, but rather an opportunity for the entire pleroma (congregation) to enter into communion with each other and with God.

Although quite rare, it is also possible to have a primatial concelebration of the Divine Liturgy, in which case the Divine Liturgy is celebrated by two or more primates (patriarchs or archbishops of Autocephalous Orthodox Churches). During the Holy and Great Council, there will be two occasions for a patriarchal concelebration of the Divine Liturgy: Sunday of Pentecost (June 19th) and Sunday of All Saint, (June 26th).

Rubrics have been established over the centuries for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. This includes special rubrics for a primatial concelebration. There are a number of significant elements in such a service, including special hierarchal vestments:

  1. Saccos: This is the outer garment worn by a bishop. When the saccos is opened and stretched out, its shape resembles that of a Cross. The two sides are brought together by bells. It represents the purple cloak placed on Christ by the soldiers before his crucifixion. The embellishments of the bells denotes the instructional preaching of the bishop.
  2. Miter: During the Divine Liturgy, clergy wear a head covering specific to their rank. In the case of a bishop, the covering is a miter. The miter was first worn by the Ecumenical Patriarch after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Later, bishops were given a special blessing to wear a miter. Today, all bishops wear a miter. The miter represents the kingly ministry of Christ that has been entrusted to the bishop as the chief administrator of the Church. During a hierarchal concelebration of the Divine Liturgy, only the presiding bishop wears a miter. During a primatial concelebration of the Divine Liturgy, all primates wear a miter.
  3. Omophorion: This is the white covering over the bishop’s shoulder. There are two types of omophoria worn at different times of the Divine Liturgy. The large omophorion is worn until the reading of the Holy Gospel; and the small omophorion is worn after the reading of the Holy Gospel until the end of the service. The omophorion represents the lost sheep that Christ, as the “good shepherd,” carries upon his shoulders. The bishop, as the chief-shepherd of a local community, wears the omophorion as a sign of his pastoral responsibilities.
  4. Hierarchal Staff: The hierarchal or pastoral staff is held by the bishop during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy to express the pastoral care of his community. At its peak, the staff has a cross that is surrounded by two serpents as a reminder of the brass serpent erected by Moses in the desert (Numbers 21). When the Israelites were bitten by poisonous snakes, the brass serpent that was lifted up was a type of the cross.
  5. Pectoral Cross: Each bishop (and certain priests) wear a pectoral cross during the Divine Liturgy. This is worn as a reminder of Christ’s invitation to deny ourselves, carry our cross, and to follow him.
  6. Engolpion: The engolpion is a pendant worn only by bishops and is the article that denotes the presence of a bishop. The engolpion is ornate and often has an icon of the Mother of God or of Christ. Historically, the engolpion was a pendant reliquary containing the Holy Eucharist and carried by a bishop as he traveled to give Holy Communion to people who were either ill or lived far from the central community. During the Divine Liturgy, a primate will wear two pendants.

Candles: During the singing of the thrice-holy hymn (the Haghios) a bishop will bless the faithful with two sets of candles. In his left hand, the bishop holds two candles, representing the two natures of Jesus Christ (divine and human); in his right hand he holds three candles, which represent the three persons of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit).

For a video of a Patriarchal Divine Liturgy, click HERE.