This glossary of church terms is included for your enjoyment. These are terms which are commonly used in Orthodox worship and practice.
Aer – The large chalice veil that covers the Bread and Wine which was prepared at the Liturgy of Preparation.
Ambo – The Ambo (or Amvon), in an Orthodox church building, is the space immediately in front of the Royal Doors. It is the place where the Gospel is normally read and the sermon is given. In many churches, the ambo has one or more curved steps between it and the lower part of the nave.
Antidoron – The Blessed Bread and Wine from which the offertory gifts of bread and wine were taken during the Liturgy of Preparation (prior to Consecration), the remainder is blessed and offered in love to all present, to joyfully break their fast. Antidoron means “instead of the gifts.”
Antimension – Known as a Corporal in the Western churches, this altar cloth is the Bishop’s blessing for a priest to perform the Divine Liturgy; it is consecrated with Holy Chrism, signed by the Bishop, and often contains relics, usually of a martyr.
Bishop – Highest rank of clergy, possessing the fullness of Holy Orders as successor to the Apostles, and invested with Apostolic authority within his diocese (sometimes referred to as a metropolis).
Blessings – The Blessing of Christ Himself, given by Bishops and Priests to the faithful, always in the sign or form of the Cross.
Candles – From the days of the Catacombs, Christians have accompanied their prayers with the lighting of lamps and candles, symbolizing their perpetually burning love for, and constant prayer to, our Lord Jesus Christ the “a light to enlighten the Gentiles,” (Lk 2:32) So we are called to be. (Lk 13:47)
Catechumen – A catechumen is one preparing for entrance into the Church, usually by baptism and chrismation. The standard period for preparation of catechumens is one liturgical year, though in ancient times it often lasted two years.
Chant – All prayers and readings are chanted, or sung, in Orthodox Church Divine services, according to the ancient Christian tradition and teachings of the Church which says, “He who sings, prays twice.”
Cherubic Hymn – The Hymn which is sung at the Great Entrance reminding all present that they are standing in the place occupied by the Heavenly hosts, and that they should set aside all worldly cares to prepare for the coming of the King of Glory, since we stand mystically in the place of those who stand perpetually in God’s presence.
Communion – The Orthodox Church sees the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist as a sign of unity, and not a means to it. Therefore, only Orthodox Christians who have properly prepared themselves are invited to receive of Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church.
Cuffs – Liturgical Vestments used by Deacons, Priests, and Bishops to wrap the sticharion sleeves and keeps them out of the way. They represent to the wearer that he does not celebrate the Liturgy, according to his own desires or strength, but must rely entirely on the strength of Almighty God.
Deacon – Third Order of the clergy, and lowest of those in Holy Orders, they assist the Bishop, and therefore, the priest when the Bishop is not present, in their pastoral, charitable, and liturgical responsibilities. The Deacon leads the people in prayer and worship, teaches and preaches the Word of God, cares for their spiritual well being of the Bishop’s flock, assists the Bishop and the priests in whatever way he can. He acts as a bridge between the Church and the world, heaven and earth.
Dikiri and Trikiri – The Blessing Candles only used by a Bishop during Divine Liturgy. They symbolize the Holy Trinity (3 Candles – Trikiri) and the Two natures of the Savior (2 Candles – Dikiri).
Diskos – The paten or plate, on a pedestal, on which the Lamb rests until the Consecration of the Elements.
Epitrahilion – The priest’s stole. Not so long ago, it was made of lamb’s wool, like the Bishop’s Omophorion, symbolizing the lost sheep he must take upon his shoulders. It is also symbolic of the grace of unity, calling to mind the second verse of Psalm 133, prayed by the priest when vesting, ‘Blessed is God, Who pours out His grace upon His priests, “as myrrh upon the head, running down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron, running down on the border of his robes!”’ Ps 133
Epiclesis – The calling down of the Holy Spirit upon the gifts offered according to Christ’s Holy Command, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” This is the most solemn moment of the Divine Liturgy. It occurs shortly after the Words of Institution are spoken by the celebrant.
Eucharist – Greek for ‘Thanksgiving,’ since the earliest days of the Church, the word has come to stand for the Body and Blood of Christ in the Mystery of Holy Communion, made mystically present for us. See Lev 7:15; Amos 4:5; Ps 116:17; Mal1:10 for prophecies of the Eucharist as a sacrifice of thanksgiving.
Icons – Icons form the “family portraits” of the house of God. The icons of Christ show that the Invisible God became visible flesh for our salvation, and thereby sanctified material creation. Not ‘holy pictures’, icons are images of the life transfigured in Christ, and therefore of the transfigured person. Just as most devout Christians have images of Jesus in their homes, so, too, do Orthodox Christians, but also in our Churches. These images of Christ cannot be personally interpreted by the artist any more than one could rewrite the Bible according to personal taste, but must conform to the strict likeness of the original, the same as a Biblical translation should.
Iconostasis – The iconscreen separating the Sanctuary (Altar area) from the Nave, symbolizing the Mystery of God, and of His Kingdom. Icons of Christ, the Theotokos, the Church’s Patron Saint, and other Saints are depicted therein. The iconscreen represents the place where heaven and earth meet—in Christ and the saints.
Incense – Used commonly in Orthodox services, and symbolic of the prayer of the Saints and the Faithful, as well as in the Old Testament Tabernacle, in the Wilderness, in the Jerusalem Temple, in the worship of God in heaven, (Rev 5:8; 8:3,4) and according to the prophecies found in the Bible, in the New Covenant worship of the True God by the Gentiles. (Mal 1:11). Today only the Orthodox Church is consistently fulfilling this prophecy of worship.
Lamb – That portion of the prosphora (offering) bread which is removed for consecration during the Liturgy of Preparation, and which is Consecrated during the Liturgy, becoming the Body of Christ.
Litany – A series of prayers, led by the Deacon, or in his absence, a Bishop, to which the people and the choir respond “Lord have mercy.”
Liturgy – Liturgy means “The work of the people.” The principle worship service of the Orthodox Church, celebrating the Incarnation, Resurrection, Ascension, Enthronement and Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It is the standard Resurrection service of the Orthodox Church around the world.
The Divine Liturgy is divided into 3 distinct parts:
- Liturgy of Preparation (proskomedia) – This is the first one-third of the liturgy, where the bread and wine offered by the people are prepared for the Eucharistic service by the celebrant, and his deacon. It represents in a small way the Old Testament, in that is a preparation of the world for the coming of Christ.
- Liturgy of the Word – Containing the Great Litany, Antiphons, and the Epistle and Gospel lesson, this ends with the Bishop proclaiming and expounding upon the teachings of Christ, prayers for the departed, and catechumens. It presents the era of the New Testament, and the hearing of the Gospel of our Lord.
- Liturgy of the Faithful – This is the Eucharistic liturgy, containing the Anaphora, the Words of Institution and Epiclesis, the Lord’s Prayer, Communion, Thanksgiving and the Dismissal. This offers us a foretaste of the Second Coming of Christ, and the eternal union of Christ with His people.
Omophorion – The Bishop’s stole. Like the priest’s epitrahilion (stole), it was made of lamb’s wool, representing the lost sheep which he must take upon his shoulders, like his Master, Jesus Christ – the Good Shepherd.
Orarion – The Deacon’s Stole. It is worn over the left shoulder, but crossed over the back during Communion, as the Deacon represents the Angelic powers serving at the heavenly Throne and Altar. Previously, it was made of pure white linen, and the litanies prayed were written or embroidered upon it. Oraria are still sometimes inscribed with the angelic hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy”.
Panagia – The Icon of the Incarnation – Christ and the Virgin Mary -worn by a Bishop in place of a Pectoral Cross, representing his faith in the Incarnation of Christ, which he must proclaim and defend, hence the reason he wears its image. Panagia means “All-holy.”
Pectoral Cross – Worn by Priests, it symbolizes the reality that the priest is the representative of Christ Crucified to the people and to the world, and as Christ’s ambassador, he is to bring them the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Phelonion – The Priest’s distinctive vestment, this represents the seamless robe worn by Christ at his trial, and prior to his Crucifixion. Formerly, it was made of a dark red color symbolizing the passion of Christ.
Priest – The Second of the Major Holy Orders, priests/presbyters are the representative of the Bishop in the Parish. He receives, through Ordination, the power consecrate the Holy Eucharist, to preach and explain the teachings of the Holy Gospel, Baptize, Chrismate, celebrate Weddings, to give Holy Unction to the sick, to hear confessions and grant absolution in the name of the Lord.
Prokeimenon – the verse preceding the Epistle reading, usually taken from the Psalms, which sums up the essence of the following lesson. The word prokeimenon means ‘that which precedes.’
Prosphora – The “offering” bread baked and offered by faithful Orthodox Christians, offered and used in the Eucharist, from which the Lamb is taken, the remainder cut up to form the antidoron. Prosphora means “offering.” It is baked inscribed with the symbol of the Cross, and with the letters IC XC NIKA, meaning “Jesus Christ Conquers.”
Reader – First of the minor orders, a reader is given the responsibility of reading the Epistle during liturgy, and even celebrating some Divine Services in the absence of a Bishop or Deacon.
Relics – Relics are portions of the bone or vesture of a saint. Following the example of the early Church (Acts 19:11), and the power revealed through holy relics in the Old Testament (2 Kgs 13:21), the Church always places the relics of martyrs in the Altar, and often in the antimension, typifying Rev. 6:9.
Royal doors – The Doors in the Center of the Iconostas, thru which only Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, as ordained representatives of Christ, may pass. To the left of the Royal Doors is the Icon of the Incarnation, The Virgin Mary and the Christ Child. To the right of the Royal Doors is the icon of Christ the Teacher. This signifies that we must receive Christ Incarnate with the faith of a child, and attend to His Holy Teachings in everything we do.
Sign of the Cross – made by the earliest Christians, and today by their inheritors Orthodox Christians (also by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and even Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther), the sign of the Cross is the enduring symbol of faith in Christ our Savior, and the blessing of the Christian. It is made, consecrating the mind (touch the forehead), heart (breast), soul (right shoulder) and strength (left shoulder) to God, the Holy Trinity. It is an ancient and profound confession of faith in Christ, going back at least until the second century, as recorded by Tertullian and other Church fathers.
Star Cover – Cross-piece of gold or silver with a star located at the top, placed on the Diskos to keep the chalice veils from resting on the Lamb. Symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem, which shone over the Christ Child at His Nativity.
Sticharion – The white robe, representing the Baptismal Robe; when worn by Bishops, and Priests it is worn under their other vestments. When worn by Deacon’s it is often ornate, being made of colored fabrics. Subdeacons, readers, and altar boys also wear sticharions, like that of the Deacon.
Subdeacon – The Bishop’s personal aids, they assist him at Liturgy, and are responsible for taking care of the Sanctuary, and Liturgical vessels, and Church items. They wear the Orarion, like the Deacon, but they cross it over their backs at all times. The office of Subdeacon goes back to the 2nd century (About 150 a.d., St. Hippolytus mentions them, and the quotes prayers said over them when they are blessed to serve).
Theotokos – Greek for “Birth-giver of God,” or “Bearer of God.” A title of theological and historical significance, the Orthodox Church refers to the Blessed Virgin Mary, as Theotokos, thus safeguarding the truth of the doctrine of the Incarnation. There are many holy Marys who were virgins, but there is only one Theotokos.
Trisagion – The Thrice Holy/Angelic Hymn. From Isaiah 6:3 and Rev 4:8, the song of those Angels who serve God before his Throne and Heavenly Altar.
Zone – The Cincture/Belt worn by Priests and Bishops over their Epitrahilion (stole) and Sticharion (white robe).